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August 22, 2011

Heritage of "Journalistic Enterprise and Courage" Duly Noted: The Modern Day New York Times Meets and Likes Its Boss Tweeds

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White with a spot-on essay about The Times — boy, have they a-changed.

(Above, an 1872 Harper’s Weekly drawing by Thomas Nast of Tammany Hall Boss Tweed and Horace Greeley influential publisher of the New York Tribune, modified somewhat with the modern faces of Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. and real estate partner and developer Bruce Ratner.)

A few days ago the New York Times complimented itself on its editorial page for the paper’s historic “journalistic enterprise and courage” in covering and eventually bringing to an end the corruption of Tammany Boss William M. Tweed. (Editorial: The Man Who Helped Stop Boss Tweed, August 17, 2011.)
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The Times concludes in good parable style by teasing out the following moral:

Today’s media landscape is obviously very different. But some things are unchanged. Scoops are still exciting; even more rewarding is helping to ensure civic honesty.

One might infer from all of this that the Times is promoting itself as still interested in scoops and the rewards of ensuring “civic honesty.”

Only one problem: Yes, no doubts some things are “obviously very different” (while human nature being what it is “some things are unchanged”) but the closest analogue to the Tweed Court House scandal of the 1870s in present day New York City is clearly the Atlantic Yards scandal, and when it comes to Atlantic Yards the Times is interested in neither scoops nor the rewards of ensuring “civic honesty.”

In fact, it is far worse. The Times editorial about its exemplary handling of the Tweed scandal makes the point that “Tweed forces” tried to buy off the paper, offering “$5 million — equivalent to $100 million today” to “George Jones, this newspaper’s founding publisher” to back off and refrain from publishing its scoop. In 1871 the Times didn’t accept the offer, but in this century the Times was offered an integrity-compromising deal it did accept: The Times got to benefit financially from the questionable use of eminent domain (many would shout "abuse") and from partnering with Forest City Ratner, the developer of Atlantic Yards, when the Times built its new headquarters building. Since that time the Times has not been critical of, or informative about, the abuse of eminent domain or about Forest City Ratner misconduct. They have also not been informative or critical about the bad urban planning that the Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards mega-project and the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" basketball arena represent.

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Posted by eric at August 22, 2011 10:44 AM