Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The dailies ignore the Yonkers corruption trial; what's wrong with the Times?

So Bruce Bender, long the top government relations official for Forest City Ratner and former Chief of Staff for Council Speaker Peter Vallone, testifies yesterday in federal court about the developer's nearly desperate search for the vote that green-lighted the Ridge Hill project in Yonkers--a process that led to corruption charges against two others--and what do the New York dailies do?

They ignore it. (The suburban Journal News has been covering the story.)

You can almost understand the New York Post, which did have a reporter there (and did cover the testimony last week of Bender's colleague Scott Cantone), and the New York Daily News, which didn't send a reporter.

The tabloids want juicy headlines, though, by my lights, Bender's memo to lobbyist Mike Spano, now the mayor of Yonkers, qualifies as juicy insight into how development and politics really work:
"No fucking around. Get Sandy on board. Tell your brother we need help now."
Sandy would be Council Member Sandy Annabi, now on trial, and the brother would be Yonkers powerbroker Nick Spano, a longtime state Senator turned legislator with his own recent legal troubles.

What happened to the Times?

The New York Times? Well, their federal courts reporter was in the room, diligently taking notes. I'm sure he was capable of delivering a solid report. Maybe he even wrote one.

Someone decided no, maybe the same someone who decided the MTA deal Forest City Ratner renegotiated in 2009 was worth just five short paragraphs in print, or an article on the Nets' efforts to woo fans was worth 18 paragraphs.

Even if the Times folds the trial coverage into a later round-up, the immediacy and focus will be lost. (Remember, the paper has unlimited space online.)

Yesterday, as I waited on line yesterday outside the Moynihan courthouse in Lower Manhattan, I exchanged a few pleasantries with a law professor bringing a class to the ceremonial courtroom.

"There's a big Yonkers corruption trial going on in 14C," I said. "Have you heard about it?"

The answer was no.

Blame the press, especially the Times.


Why?

I've always avoided saying that Forest City Ratner, which partnered with the Times on building the Times Tower, has an influence in the newsroom. (The editorial page is another story.)

More knowledgeable people than I have insisted that's not how it works, that however bad or inadequate the Times's coverage might be, it can be explained, if not excused, by inattention, other priorities, a shrinking newsroom, etc.

I'd like to hear their explanation for the latest circumstantial evidence.

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