Thursday Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office was forced to release 4,251 pages of internal emails after losing a lawsuit brought by NY1 and the New York Post. The emails offer a window into the mayor’s unvarnished views on the news media. To put it mildly, he is not a fan. From the NY Post.
Thousands of emails City Hall released Thursday under court order show Hizzoner sounding positively Trumpian as he attacks a report noting how he hit the gym instead of heading to the scene of a standoff between cops and a crazed gunman who shot a firefighter on Staten Island.
“First of all, the news media is pitiful and it’s sad for our city and nation,” Hizzoner fumed to his aides on Aug. 14, 2015.
Politico reports he is also not a fan of the NY Times:
“What did I say about how disappointing the nyt has become…?” de Blasio wrote to a group of City Hall staffers on Sept. 16, 2015, in response to an article about his plan to turn around underperforming schools.
The piece discussed the high cost and political risk of the plan, and noted Republican opposition in Albany.
Karen Hinton, de Blasio’s former press secretary, responded that the reporter had another “very good” story in the paper and may have “felt the need to criticize to balance it out.”
“I think this is disgusting,” the mayor wrote back. “She provides no balance whatsoever on the overall plan. Yes, the computer science story was good, but this story is about much more and is extremely biased. We need to figure out a new paradigm with the Times. This level of bias can’t be ignored. Either starve them or reason with them or something else — but this is ridiculous.”
He derided another Times story about his shifting political strategies as “idiotic.” The piece, he said, served as “a staggering reminder of the sad state of media that this is how they choose to use space that could be better spent covering real problems for nyers.”
Today, de Blasio appeared on WNYC radio and doubled-down on his criticism of the media:
“I think there’s a problem with mainstream media,” Hizzoner told WNYC radio. “The corporate media … it’s based on selling things. I don’t think that’s healthy. I think it leads to distortions,” he added. “I don’t think the coverage has reflected the work we’re doing or the impact it’s happening on the people of this city.”…
“I think the tabloid culture … has been harmful to New York City … and The Post is the leading edge of that,” the mayor said. “I will not shed a tear if that newspaper is no longer here … their presence in our society unfortunately is harmful.”
The mayor’s criticisms of the media sound a bit like Trump but, at least in this radio interview, they sound a lot like Elon Musk, who went on a Twitter rampage a couple days ago against the media. Compare de Blasio’s criticism of the media “selling things” to this:
Problem is journos are under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertising dollars or get fired. Tricky situation, as Tesla doesn’t advertise, but fossil fuel companies & gas/diesel car companies are among world’s biggest advertisers.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018
Since Musk’s outburst at the media, I’ve seen at least tweets and pieces attacking him as a know-nothing, at least when it comes to journalism. For instance, this one from BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith is getting lots of praise:
The good news is that journalism is not hard to understand. You don’t need a college degree to practice it, much less to figure it out. None of what we do is anywhere near as hard to explain as the behavior of lithium ions or facial recognition software. Reporters call people, write down what they say, and do their best to check it out with observable facts and public documents. They’re human beings subject to all the seven deadly sins — I’d list sloth and pride as journalists’ weaknesses — but there really isn’t much more than meets the eye in this business. I’ve always been puzzled by elaborate conspiracy theories that alleged that a piece of published journalism was somehow deeply different than it seemed. (See: Bensmithing.) The work is what it is. This is a painfully simple practice.
It’s amusing to me that Smith linked to a piece at Breitbart (where I used to work) criticizing his work on a story about Barack Obama and the New Party. As it happens, I was involved in that one. Back in 2008, Stanley Kurtz found evidence that Obama had joined Chicago’s far-left New Party. This was at a time when Obama’s connections to Rev. Jeremiah Wright (and other far-left figures) was becoming a PR problem for his campaign. Obama’s campaign denied he had ever joined the New Party it and, almost immediately, a leader of the New Party went to Ben Smith and denied the organization even had members. Smith dutifully published a story repeating these claims and the issue was considered settled by the rest of the media.
Except that four years later both Kurtz and I (with the help of a friend) found documents which proved that Obama had joined the New Party and that the New Party did, in fact, have dues-paying members. Smith even conceded the point, long after it mattered.
Journalism really is simple for Ben Smith. He talks to people and writes down what they say. But he doesn’t always know why they are saying it or whether or not it’s true. Sometimes it isn’t true and sometimes, as in this case, they were probably saying it despite knowing it was false for fairly obvious partisan reasons.
So while I still think the Mayor of New York is an embarrassment and his whining about bias at the NY Times is hilarious, that doesn’t mean the media is doing a crack job. Quite often there are alleged experts like Ben Smith becoming megaphones for obvious partisans with obvious agendas because finding out the truth sometimes involves more than talking to people and writing down what they say.
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