Saturday, September 03, 2005


The Times (belatedly) takes on The Brooklyn Standard

Well, better late than never. The New York Times, on 9/3/05, finally noticed Forest City Ratner's promotional sheet The Brooklyn Standard, which, as my report points out, was published in mid-June. (See item 7.2 of report, p. 67.)

Still, the Times took a refreshingly skeptical tone, starting with the headline: "O.K., the Whole Paper Is Basically an Ad." Also, rather impressively, the Times give the story a very prominent place, with two photographs, on the front of the Metro section. In fact, this was, as far as I can recall, the most prominent placement in the Times of an article critical of Forest City Ratner's tactics in the Atlantic Yards project.

So, was this prominence a response to the September 1 release of the "High Rises and Low Standards" report criticizing Times coverage of Ratner's Atlantic Yards? We can only speculate. The story was obviously already in the works, and the placement of a story depends on multiple factors, including other stories competing for space and the photographs/illustrations available to accompany the story. Still, as noted below, the article missed some important points and, remember, it was two-and-a-half-months late!

Included in the Times article:
To counter the impression that it is trying to fool anyone, The Standard avoids calling itself a newspaper, instead proclaiming itself "a Forest City Ratner Publication."
Efforts at transparency end there. The Standard is printed on newsprint, folded like a tabloid, laid out to look like a newspaper and distributed alongside real newspapers. Hawkers hand it out by subway stations, and its masthead is full of people with newspaper-sounding jobs like executive editor and photographer.
Articles by writers of obvious bias are consigned to pages marked Editorial and Op-Ed. In that space, an article in the first issue was signed by Bruce Ratner, namesake of the development company behind the arena project, known as Atlantic Yards. Another article was about him. In it, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry described a talk Mr. Ratner gave to schoolchildren and said Mr. Ratner was "relaxed, smiling and seated on a child's chair, in his customary humble, winsome manner."
The first issue also published letters to the editor from politicians who have endorsed the arena project, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Marty Markowitz, the borough president. Both men enlivened their prose with exclamation points. Mr. Markowitz used three.

Still, the Times could have been even more skeptical. As I wrote in a letter to the Times:

"This welcome, if belated, skeptical look at Forest City Ratner's promotional sheet, The Brooklyn Standard, could have been even more skeptical. For example, State Senator Martin Malave-Dilan, who wrote a 'letter to the editor' to the Standard, told The Brooklyn Rail that he wouldn't have written such a letter had he known that the Standard, which appeared in mid-June, wasn't a real newspaper.

Also, the tabloid includes some enormously misleading financial information: 'Expected to generate $6.1 billion over the next 30 years for the city and state...' The Standard doesn't print the source of that figure, but it most likely comes from FCR’s consultant, Andrew Zimbalist, whose tax revenue estimates are based on many questionable assumptions. Moreover, the editors of the Standard did not choose to inform readers of the enormous public costs the project would incur--well over $1 billion, according to Forest City Ratner itself.

Also, it's incomplete for the Times to describe 'the dispute between the arena's supporters and opponents' as 'amount[ing] in some ways to a clash between low-rise brownstones and large-scale public works.' I and many critics of the Forest City Ratner proposal don't oppose large-scale public works. We do question developers who provide misleading information and government officials who abdicate their responsibility to look carefully at this project, which--given that most of it is luxury housing--could hardly be described as 'public works.'"

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