Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Barclays extravaganza and the Atlantic Yards "permanent campaign"

The "permanent campaign" is a term from politics, but it could also apply to Atlantic Yards.

Here's the background. TIME magazine columnist Joe Klein, in a 10/30/05 column reminded us how young pollster Patrick Caddell coined the term "permanent campaign" in advising president-elect Jimmy Carter in 1976.
"The old cliche about mistaking style for substance usually works the reverse in politics," Caddell wrote. "Too many good people have been defeated because they tried to substitute substance for style; they forgot to give the public the kind of visible signals that it needs to understand what is happening." Caddell then made some famous suggestions about ways Carter could sell his substance: by conducting a humble, informal presidency, cutting back "imperial frills and perks," giving fireside chats, wearing sweaters instead of suits.
"Essentially," Caddell wrote, "it is my thesis governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign."


The AY "permanent campaign"

Closer to home, consider the extravaganza held Thursday at the Brooklyn Museum. There was news, to be sure, though much of it had apparently been strategically leaked. Forest City Ratner's deal with Barclays for naming rights for the planned Atlantic Yards arena, plus Barclays' commitment to improve some Brooklyn athletic fields, was worth coverage.

But what exactly did Coney Island and Ebbets Field have to do with it? Why was Frank Gehry there? And Jay-Z? Nets stars Vince Carter and Jason Kidd? Why did the promotional video--not to mention the many speeches--last longer than the amount of time Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Forest City CEO Bruce Ratner deigned to answer questions?

It's the permanent campaign.

And it works, more or less. Compare the "straight" news story by the Associated Press, a version of which was published in dozens of papers, with the sardonic and analytical columns of the Daily News's Bob Raissman and the Bergen Record's Ian O'Connor, published in a total of two papers.

The columnists

Raissman wrote:
The chance of any of these cats [Carter and Kidd] being on the team when it moves to Brooklyn is slim. The chances of the new arena being built on time (for the 2009-10 season) seem slim as well, despite the promises of Ratner & Co., who are still facing lawsuits that could delay construction.
Of course if any discouraging words were forming on the lips of anyone, the mayor - Smokeless Bloomberg - was on hand to put out the fire. This was a day to celebrate capitalism. It was a day to celebrate greed and the latest money-making device for fat-cat owners.


O'Connor wrote:
But Ratner, Stern and Bloomberg praised Barclays' standing as a "socially responsible" partner committed to repairing every tattered playground net in Brooklyn. During the formal 50-minute announcement, with Jay-Z, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter up on the dais, no politician or suit mentioned the words "New Jersey." They were as forbidden as the word "Joumana."

The AP

The AP account lacked a little flava:
Nets stars Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NBA commissioner David Stern, Gehry and Nets minority owner and rapper Jay-Z attended Thursday's announcement at the Brooklyn Museum.

An event that is more public relations than news, like the brochures that Forest City Ratner sends out and the print advertising blitz (right), deserves analysis as such. Otherwise, as Klein wrote in the context of national politics, the forms of "objective" journalism can mask rather than add to understanding:
An overcaffeinated and underdiscerning press has become complicit in the horse-race presidency.

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