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June 27, 2011

“Page One: Inside the New York Times” Reviewed; Plus The “New York Times Effect” on New York’s Biggest Real Estate Development Swindle

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White takes an epic look at Page One, the new documentary about The New York Times, framed by the paper's failings in covering its development partner's massive Brooklyn boondoggle and viewed in parallel with Atlantic Yards documentary Battle for Brooklyn. It's none to easy to summarize, so click through and have a read.

Especially fascinating: White's recounting of The Times's Atlantic Yards coverage during two crucial months in 2005.

When it comes to “The Times Effect” on local reporting and Atlantic Yards, the biggest real estate project proposed in New York City, some of the most important events occurred in a 60 day window of time May 24, 2005 to July 27, 2005 shown about a third of the way through the film “Battle For Brooklyn.”

On May 24, 2005 New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the “MTA”) put out a perfunctory RFP soliciting bids for the railyards it was planning to transfer to developer Forest City Ratner. The 42 page RFP was a palpably insincere gesture. It allowed only an absurdly short 42 days for response. It was 42 pages whereas the MTA’s comparable later RFP for its Hudson Yards railyards site ran 1,369 pages. Doubtless, all the city’s big developers correctly perceived that, as a political matter, they were NOT supposed to bid against Forest City Ratner because even though the public property of the railyards had never been bid, this was viewed as a done deal.
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The Times briefly reported (May 26, 2005) the issuance of the MTA’s RFP but printed nothing picking up on its bogus character. The bogus character of that bid deserved to be major story. The brief report of the RFP came several days after the Times ran a story under a press release-style headline touting that the Ratner project would theoretically provide lots of affordable housing: Brooklyn Arena Plan Calls for Many Subsidized Units, by Michael Brick, May 20, 2005.

Goldstein’s concern about how the Times was promoting the Ratner project virtually as if its was an extension of the Times existing real estate partnership with Ratner was well founded and prescient. On July 5, 2005, the day before the MTA board planned to approve the project, not expecting the pending Extell proposal in response to its solicitation, the Times published a front-page article about the Atlantic Yards project (Instant Skyline Added to Brooklyn Arena Plan, By Diane Cardwell), when Frank Gehry's new design sketches were released exclusively to the Times. In an accompanying "appraisal" the Times architectural critic effused over the fantasy design (An Appraisal: Seeking First to Reinvent the Sports Arena, and Then Brooklyn, by Nicolai Ourousoff).

The very next day, July 6, the day of the intended MTA approval, the Times followed with another largely complimentary story about Ratner’s plans: Brooklynites Take In a Big Development Plan, and Speak Up, by Robert F. Worth, July 6, 2005. The day after that the Times had to run a story about Extell’s competing bid, “tailored to address some of the major criticisms of the Ratner proposal.” Its headline?: Brooklyn Plan Draws a Rival, and It's Smaller (by Diane Cardwell, July 7, 2005.)

Does it look like the Times stories were being selectively tailored by the Times to help the Ratner project? Certainly, Ratner knew the schedule for various events related to the bid during this window, not that it would have been appropriate for public officials to have been feeding him all these details. Ratner was therefore in a position to, in turn, feed appropriate stories to the Times.

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Posted by eric at June 27, 2011 11:59 AM