Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bloomberg's Fourth Estate Taxed

The Politicker is reporting that more and more of the media is pushing back on the mayor-and we say, it's about time, and welcome aboard the Mom and Pop express: "That the city's political press corps is now answering a mayor who has thrown verbal brickbats their way (he called an Observer reporter a "disgrace"; embarrassed a disabled reporter who was unable to reach a tape recorder which had gone off during a press conference) for close to 10 years with some brickbats of their own is something of a new development. For two terms the Bloomberg administration enjoyed, even seasoned reporters acknowledge, a relatively easy go of it in the press, and an even easier time among the editorial boards."

That's right, the mayor's been on easy street with the press-and it is the dreaded third term blues that has altered the equation to at least some extent. But it's certain reporters who have signalled the change of weather: "There has been a demarcation," said one reporter. "There is a certain sense that Mike Bloomberg's string has run out."The clearest evidence of this, political observers say, is the suddenly negative coverage the mayor has received from two columnists perceived as newsroom weather vanes: Clyde Haberman of The New York Times and Bob McManus of the New York Post. Over the past several years, Mr. Haberman has written various upbeat stories, including "Bloomberg Travels to the Old World In Search of New Ideas" and "Scenes from the Blue Room: A More Flexible Tone is Heard," but last month, the columnist openly wondered whether or not the whiz kids at City Hall were capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Mr. McManus meanwhile wrote recently that the mayor was guilty "of a spectacular failure of field leadership."

As we have also pointed out, when the NY Post, and to a lesser extent the Times, is going after Mike Bloomberg-after touting heavily his third term-we know that things have changed: "And the editorial pages of both papers, which cheered the mayor when he overturned term limits two years ago, have likewise begun to sing a new tune. "Nobody likes Mike these days," wrote the Post, and The Times called the mayor's recent initiative to ban smoking in parks "a civic disaster."

Of course the snowfu was a major catalyst: "The sharpened tone has been seen in the news pages as well. A few years ago, if the mayor was out of town during a snowstorm, the press would have pestered him about it, and then, after some stonewalling, moved on. "Editors sent the signal that they would not back you in a fight with City Hall," said one local political hack. "It became less about getting them and more about getting handouts, and Bloomberg was really effective at getting the press corps to play who likes me best. I think now reporters feel betrayed by their papers."

As they should, since the mayor's achievements have been, charitably, grandly overstated-and the beat reporters have become enraged and engaged, particularly when the snowfu is seen in conjunction with the CityTime scandal. In tandem, these events undermine the myth of the mayor's managerial acumen: "Now, two months after the mayor was AWOL as snowstorm clouds were approaching the city, the press continues to hammer him on his whereabouts, and have shown no sign of letting up."

And the managerial failures themselves, need to be placed in the context of the third term outrage-after all, it was the editorial chorus that claimed we needed the steady Bloomberg hand in a crisis: "Reporters and editors say they first noticed a change after the mayor pushed through his bid to overturn term limits in 2008. The mayor has been assiduously cultivating the city's press barons for years, and they ultimately were the ones who were cheerleaders for the move on their back pages. "Every reporter was freaked out by the term-limit thing, and they got much more critical after that," said one political reporter."

All of which says to us, however, that the fourth estate has a lot of catching up to do-even to the extent of re-evaluating the Bloomberg education effort that was similarly overly hyped by the editorialists. The Bloombergistas, after all, handed out bonuses and crowed from the roof tops about their educational achievements, based on what turned out to be fraudulent test scores (and spent billions more to reach rather meager gains).

So, all we can say once again, is welcome. We suggest that you peruse the website on a wide range of diverse issues-from small business policy and taxation, eminent domain abuse, to all of the crazy health experiments-so that you can begin to see the mayor through a clearer lens. It is the right time for the media to disenthrall itself from the Myth of Mike.