The front page of Wednesday's New York Times was a veritable train wreck of socio-economic bias in reporting.
In succession above the fold, the three lead stories were largely about the struggle of the economically disenfranchised. Yet you wouldn’t know it from their upbeat headlines, slanted perspectives, curious structures and crucial omissions.
The first article, “Housing Complex of 110 Buildings for Sale in City" - accompanied by the dual subheads “Metlife Seeks $5 Billion” and “Intense Bidding Seen for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village” - sounds like it was penned by Donald “Your Fired” Trump. Given three separate opportunities, The Times’ editors fail to inform their readers that this deal (which “has already drawn interest from dozens of prospective buyers, including New York’s top real estate families, pension funds, international investment banks and investors from Dubai”) is a veritable deathblow to lower-income and middle-class families in these neighborhoods.
Journalists Charles V. Bagli and Janny Scott do address this issue in the article, though its effect on the real lives of people who live in these communities is of secondary concern, relegated mainly to the continuation page on B7, which many will never reach. Moreover, even when the lives of those affected by this deal are noted, it's only in counterpoint to the ebullience felt by the minute percentage of fat cats poised to make a killing.
But most, like Marilyn Phillips, 52, a nurse who has lived in Stuyvesant Town for 14 years, pay stabilized rents. She and her husband, a social worker, pay $1,700 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. News of the sale worried her. “It may mean we may no longer be able to live here,” she said. “The management is intent on making this luxury apartments and driving the working class out.”
MetLife and real estate investors view the sale far differently.
“It’ll be the largest sale of a single property in U.S. history,” said Dan Fasulo of Real Capital Analytics, a real estate research and consulting firm. “No doubt in my mind. It’s truly an unprecedented offering and an irreplaceable property. It would be impossible today to get a property of that scale in an urban location. And that neighborhood has become so desirable.”
But such giddy business observations and behind-the-scenes jockeying are the focus of this article. It’s riddled with lines like, “As one executive involved in the sale put it, ‘This is the ego dream of the world: 80 acres, 110 buildings, 11,000 apartments, covering 10 city blocks in Manhattan.’” Or, “Given the size of the deal, buyers are expected to team up. ‘You’ll see some interesting people stepping up to the plate for this one,’ said William Rudin, whose family owns about 2,000 apartments in New York.”
Fab. But whom is this speaking to but a handful of elite financial players?
The editors and writers of this story can’t seem to figure out whether they’re filing a business article - for which, of course, there’s a separate section - or one of general local interest. Curiously, the continuation page, however, brings readers to the metro section. Not the business section.
It’s fitting that the article ends with a quote from a tenant who’s lived in Stuyvesant Town for 43 years:
“If we die, whoever comes in will pay $3,500 or $4,000. This used to be a nice middle-income place. It’s no longer that.”
A powerful quote summing up what this deal really means to regular folks. Words that should’ve found their way into the first few paragraphs.
Next up is the second lead story on the front page, “Census Reports Slight Increase in ’05 Incomes.” The Times editors, along with journalist Rick Lyman, relied on the same new Census Bureau findings as did Tuesday's news of our nation’s grim poverty statistics, in which one in eight Americans and one in four blacks still live below the poverty line. A figure that remained stagnant from the previous year. Yet, from this headline, you'd think the report bore some good news. More absurd is the fact that the lead story in The Times’ metro section, “Census Figures Show Scant Improvement in City Poverty Rate,” is based on the identical figures as this cheerier front-page counterpart.
So, beyond the Pollyannaish headline, what does that “slight increase” amount to?
The rise, however, had little to do with bigger paychecks — in fact, both men and women earned less in 2005 than 2004. Rather, census officials said, more family members were taking jobs to make ends meet, and some people made more money from investments and other sources beyond wages.
And if that headline isn't intellectually dishonest enough for you, there's this:
The glimmer of improvement came after years in which the economy slogged through the bursting of the 1990’s stock market boom, a brief economic downturn, the aftershocks from the 2001 terrorist attacks, a series of corporate scandals and growing evidence of a deepening divide between rich and poor.
Interesting construction here. It would seem quite easy to miscontrue that “after….growing evidence of a deepening divide between rich and poor” means said divide has been staunched. Of course, this would be patently false. Even as poverty nationwide remained stagnant - which is to say, unquestionably high – it is also true, and not counterintuitive, that the rich have, in fact, become richer over the last year. Thus, indeed, deepening this divide.
In fact, beneath the articially sanguine surface, every single “glimmer” reported here is revealed to be negative. From median household income to “most statistical measures” to the fact that “the number and percentage of those living below the poverty line held steady in 2005 after four consecutive annual increases.” If a situation is dire, which poverty - including a skyrocketing number of uninsured - has become in this country under Bush administration policies, then holding steady is nothing to applaud. Regardless, “census officials were upbeat at a news conference while announcing the new data.”
It also doesn’t stop Lyman (apt name) from cheerleading, “The White House seized on the positive numbers, which had been in short supply in previous recent census reports,” in an effort to preface what might be the most preposterous statement of the article:
“Unemployment is low, wages are rising, and there are more jobs in America today than at any other time in history,” said Rob Portman, director of the Office of Management and Budget. “While we still have challenges ahead, our ability to bounce back is a testament to the strong work ethic of the American people, the resiliency of our economy and pro-growth economic policies, including tax relief.”
Lyman fails to challenge Portman's claim even though his previous breakdown of numbers prove Portman is - how do you say? - lying.
Finally, there’s the last above-the-fold story, “Bush, Returning to New Orleans, Repeats Vow to Help Stricken City,” with the following subheads, “Hurricane’s Anniversary” and “He Accepts Responsibility for U.S. Effort – Tour Highlights Progress.” This article ties up the front-page train wreck of socio-economic bias in a nice little bow. The headline and subheads work to paint Bush in the most favorable light possible, just shy of sounding like an Onion article. (Maybe that’s the red editing line in the sand for The Times: “Nope, can’t use that headline – sounds just like The Onion.”)
On its face, this story is exactly what one has come to expect from the mainstream media. A mere parroting of Bush talking points, little more than stenography - Bush “repeats aid vow,” “accepts responsibility” – yet completely lacking in the intellectual honesty and journalistic due diligence to cite not only his criminal negligence one year ago, but also to catalogue his broken promises to the people - many of them underprivileged - who suffered the consequences of his abject incompetence and inhumane disregard.
Don’t tell us he accepts responsibility again without detailing what he did. Don’t tell us he’s vowing to get the job done now without pointing out all of his prior broken promises. That’s not reporting. That, by its very definition, is stenography. And if those in the mainstream press are rankled by progressive media pointing out this shoddy habit, then, well, maybe they should stop whining and start doing a better job.
Another thing missing from this anniversary is also nowhere to be found in this story: Bush’s promise to tackle the issue of poverty. Now, any fool knows Bush cares about as much for the poor as he does for Iraqi civilians. But that’s beside the point here. The fact of the matter is that, in addition to promising to swiftly rebuild New Orleans, his declaration - while standing before that ludicrous Disneyland-looking backdrop - included a vow to address poverty in this country, which, the mainstream media, knowing full well he'd never do, praised his empty posturing, nevertheless. One year later, as they wade knee-deep in all the anniversary pageantry, both the White House and the press that covers it have suffered complete amnesia on this topic.
Buried in the continuation page on A19, our Empathizer-in-Chief reveals his heartfelt concern for the less fortunate:
He did not stray far from his script nor venture out of his motorcade as it sped past some of the worst destruction in the Lower Ninth Ward, where rows of gutted homes stood along deserted streets.
Also telling was this exchange, noted in the final two lines of the article:
As Mr. Bush squeezed through tables at a pancake house where he ate breakfast, a waitress asked, “Mr. President, are you going to turn your back on me?”
“No, ma’am,” he replied, with a laugh and a pause. “Not again.”
What a charmer. What a press. What a day.