Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Goodwin Redux: Did the Press Lie Down?

The lack of critical perspective on the Bloomberg mayoralty has characterized some of the media's coverage from the very beginning (with a number of notable exceptions). The most egregious from our perspective was Jennifer Steinhauer's City Hall stint. In the face of a 24% approval rating early in the term, Steinhauer wrote glowingly about the mayor and seemed to be bemused over the public's failure to grasp the mayor's political prowess.

In her first piece on the business community's basic approval of the mayor, Steinhauer had the gall to say that the small business folks generally supported the mayor. This was after the commercial real estate tax increase that had basically increase neighborhood store rental by 25% and the cigarette tax had filched $250 MILLION A YEAR FROM THE CITY'S SMALL STORES. When we called her on this she responded by saying, "Well, maybe not your bodegas!"

In the middle of the term the Times did a feature on Dan Doctoroff that managed to airbrush all of those hard-to-like characteristics that New Yorkers would soon come to appreciate in the stadium fight (Mike McIntyre was brought in on re-write for this piece and embarrassingly was in Room 9 to take undeserved credit from a beaming Doctoroff).

It is in the election run-up, however, that we find the most glaring examples of media dereliction. Precisely because the mayor unleashed an unprecedented spending spree it became incumbent on the press to give his administration the most careful examination. The series of "analyses" by the Times and News were disappointing under any minimal standard of scrutiny. It was, though, the editorial sycophancy that plumbed the depth of media abdication, elevating the competency of the mayor into a lionization that his administration simply didn't deserve.

Some Significant Exceptions

It is important to cite the work of a number of reporters who don't fall into this adulatory mold. First and foremost has been the reporting of Charles Bagli who exposed the cozy cronyism of Deputy Dan and Realted's Steve Ross and proceeded to do an excellent expose of the sweetheart BTM deal. Jim Rutenberg's comparison of Hudson and Atlantic Yards also falls into this category.

Some of the reporting of the NY Sun is also worthy of commendation. We're thinking in particular of Andrew Wolfe's pieces on the Bloombungles at the new Department of Education. Wolfe exposed the Diane Lam progressive education snafu and inveighed against her plan to eliminate T&G classes. The Sun editorial pages generally took the mayor to task for his tax and regulatory policies.

In addition, Juan Gonzales's reporting on the West Side fiasco was right-on (as was the Times editorial page here) and Albor Ruiz (small business focus) and Errol Louis (BJ's and mayoral spending) were also valuable critics. The dynamic duo of Wayne Barrett and Tom Robbins at the Voice often broke new critical ground that led the way for others to follow (Robbins' story on the BTM was just such a piece).

The irony here is that some of the most trenchant critiques of the mayor came from the right--NY Post and NY Sun editorials and op-ed pieces from Manhattan Institute fellows such as Nicole Gelinas and EJ McMahon. Steve Cuozzo of the Post might also be placed in this genre.

What has been most missed, however, is any real sharp deconstruction of the mayor's record during the campaign and while the mayor was skillfully crafting his own self-serving narrative. The mayor's spending was unprecedented and perhaps the press scrutiny of his claims should have been equally as unprecedented, serving as a check and balance on the Bloomberg blitz.