Saturday, April 07, 2012

Behind the Times's Yankee Stadium story, a rather shameful failure to pursue balance and serve readers, according to an expert and parks advocate

Geoffrey Croft, president, NYC Park Advocates, sends a corrective letter in response to my analysis yesterday of the New York Times's cheerleading coverage of the belated ballfields constructed next to Yankee Stadium, Yankee Stadium controversy down the memory hole: prominent coverage of belated ballfields, no dissenters heard.

His letter is pretty disturbing--and I haven't checked with the Times-- but I did ask him if he was comfortable with me publishing it, and he said yes. His main point: the Times completely ignored dissenting voices, and that's part of a pattern. Update: Here's NYC Park Advocates' own post.

(Here's more on Croft, from Crain's; be sure to check the comments.)

Unfortunately this is not what has transpired, its a lot more irresponsible than that.

On Monday I took Winnie Hu, a reporter known for her non-critical coverage of the administration, on a tour of the area. She experienced the 20- minute walk along highways and the filthy dangerous parkland along the Harlem River to get to the replacement tennis courts from the old ones that had previously been located in the community. She learned these courts - located in the South Bronx- charge up to $80 an hour. She repeatedly said how expensive that was. Ms. Hu was even told by an employee of the tennis concession that the cafe which they are building on city parkland will be for "members only. "

On our hour plus walk she was informed about the permanent loss of parkland in the community including two ballfields in the shadow of Yankee Stadium no less; she saw the parking garage that replaced a 2.9-acre ballfield which is not going to be replaced; She saw the artificial turf field built on top of a parking garage in the asthma capital of America that regularly reaches temperatures of 145 degrees and greater; she was made aware of the $300 million dollars associated with the replacement parks, not $195 million as she reported.

A week before our tour she was made aware of the our original Broken Promises report, which she said she looked at. She was given access to a few draft pages of our soon-to-be completed, updated Broken Promises report, which goes into great detail of the numerous issues associated with this project including the three-year delay in replacing some park facilities and the fact that there is not a single penny of dedicated funding allocated to maintain these parks. Unfortunately the list goes on and on.

"As I mentioned they will be on high spin mode as this has been a major embarrassment for the administration on the highest levels," I wrote to the reporter in an email a few days before our tour. "For a while Parks including Adrian weren't even allowed to respond to media inquires re: the Yankee/replacement park issues because of the all bs they got caught on. (All requests had to go through City Hall.)"

After our tour she met with seven officials from the city and people associated with the building of Heritage field who were happy to try and make the controversy disappear. The Times complied.

“Now nobody’s complaining,” the Times used as the kicker, the place in an article reserved for the strongest quote meant to leave the reader with the most impact.

That is simply not true. The Times had plenty of information and access to people needed to present "the other side," but they choose not to. They deliberately chose not to quote critics.

Besides speaking with me, Winnie Hu spoke with Joyce Hogi, a long-time area resident and one of the few people who has followed the issue closely. She is also a person who has not been intimidated in expressing her opinion.

"When I talked her she was so effusive about how beautiful the parks were," Ms. Hogi said this morning. "It didn't matter what I said her article was already written.

"She was just so over the moon, so effusive. I don't think she understood. I went on and on and she didn't care."

Ms. Hogi isn't the only critic they have attempted to silence. I personally have been removed multiple times by editors after reporters have included me in their articles - including from one in which NYC Park Advocates spent three weeks getting a copy of the Community Benefits Program document relating to the project. After spending many months researching and writing the original Broken Promises report - and spending literally tens of thousands of hours over many years covering this issue- they removed all references to myself and the organization including to a preview of the report which I had spent more than a dozen hours working with the reporter on. Instead they inserted a quote from a Parks Department "partner group" [New Yorkers for Parks] and long-time NY Times Charity beneficiary.

The Times has even warned reporters, calling me "controversial." Apparently to the Times controversy means doing actual research and honest reporting.

The NY Times deliberately and irresponsibly mislead its readers in this latest article by ignoring the controversy which is not surprising. With the exception of one article written before the approval - as opposed to the dozens of mentions lavished on the West Side NY Jets stadium fight - the Times refused to cover this issue. They even said there was little opposition. They "forgot" to mention that the community was caught unaware of the issue. The difference between the two stadium fights was that one impacted upwardly mobile West Side residents in a well-financed $ 18 million dollar campaign, vs. South Bronx residents who raised $12,000 for the lawyers.

The article however did not fail to use this laughable quote: “We felt an obligation to deliver superb parks to this community in particular because of the disruption they had to endure,” said Adrian Benepe, the city’s Parks Commissioner.

It is no secret Commissioner Adrain Benepe and his press people complain bitterly to anyone who will listen if the coverage is not positive. And it is also no secret Benepe is obsessed with the NY Times. One particularly famous rant came out of coverage from then-Times parks reporter Timothy Williams.

The public should be made aware that Mr. Benepe and former Parks press person Warner Johnston [ed--later to work for Empire State Development Corporation] and other employees spent dozens of taxpayer dollar hours researching and writing a 36-page document they sent to the paper complaining about Mr. Williams's coverage (and, yes, me as well).

Of the nine stories highlighted - with the exception of a single editing error in which a decimal point was out of place, not a single error in reporting was found. Not a single one. The laughable document was meant to silence the paper's hard-hitting coverage of an important city agency, which it did.

Since Mr. Williams's departure from that beat, the Times coverage of park issues has for the most part gone back to administration-friendly park pieces.

The Yankee Stadium controversy has not gone down the memory hole, as the Times would have its readers believe. No, the Times has instead chosen to ignore this issue as they have done since Day One. Unfortunately for Times readers the editors never felt this was a story so is was ignored. During the Stadium and parkland approval process a Times editor famously said of the community not being aware of the impending project and initially not mobilizing opposition more quickly and strongly, "they should have known."

For Bronx residents - and for the taxpayers at large - it's not enough they will have to forever endure the impacts of this irresponsible project, apparently they will now have to continue to suffer the indignity of irresponsible coverage in the "Newspaper of Record."

According to the New York Times, everything is swell in Yankee replacement park land. I'm happy the Times reporter thought the fields looked nice, and her reporting discovered people playing on them on the first day they were open felt the same. With the enormous taxpayer funds used to build them and the delay is this really a story, much less a front-page story? Obviously not.

They chose not to report on a story that impacts some of the poorest people in the country. This is shameful, irresponsible, but unfortunately not surprising.

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