Did Reporters Ever Dig Beneath Brodsky’s Populist Rhetoric?

This weekend, in a bizarre profile of congestion pricing’s alpha opponent, Richard Brodsky, the New York Times did little to counter the Westchester Assemblyman’s populist rhetoric. The piece, by reporter Joseph Berger, is full of odd editorializing, and appears to reprint some of Brodsky’s talking points part and parcel without attribution:

Park Avenue co-op owners could easily have absorbed the $8 fee. But it
would have been tougher for the Flatbush carpenter who does not want to
schlep his toolbox on the subway so he can renovate a Tribeca kitchen
or the Queens home care attendant who might have to take a bus to a
subway to care for an elderly woman in Gramercy Park but is lucky
enough to have a husband who can drop her off on his way to work.

As commenters have pointed out in the thread for today’s headlines, it’s easy to impart made-up motivations to imaginary characters, but how about citing some real data? Is it that difficult to dig up census numbers on car commute rates or how much car owners earn compared to people who depend on transit?

Come to think of it, throughout the whole lead-up to the pricing non-vote, it’s hard to recall a news account in any of the major dailies that gave more than token print to the populist argument of the pro-pricing side. While editorial boards at the Times and Daily News were steadfast pricing supporters, for whatever reason — dull copy? a superficial attempt to maintain "balance"? laziness? — the day-to-day reporting seldom, if ever, challenged the assumptions beneath Brodsky’s "progressive" stance.

  • Spud Spudly

    I don’t think that’s true. I recall numerous articles in addition to op-eds and editorials that gave the “real data” about car commute rates, car commuter income, etc. Aren’t the media supposed to report all sides of a story (particularly the argument that won the day)?

  • Competitive Primaries

    Reporters love human interest stories and conflict. Talking to a person that will have to pay more for something has a lot more human interest than dry statistics about modal share of commuting patterns or MTA capital plans (oooh tell me more about deferred maintance).

  • JF

    Reporters love human interest stories and conflict.

    Well, but that’s my point. They didn’t talk to any real poor people who would have had to pay more. All of the actual human-interest stories I read were:

    (a) people who could easily have paid more
    (b) businesspeople who would have saved more than $8 from lower congestion

    There were ZERO examples of actual wage-earners below the median income who drove to Manhattan on weekdays. Zero.

    Reporters could have focused on the people in LIC who currently are swamped with bridge traffic – but that would have required making a connection between toll-shopping and congestion pricing. They could have talked to people who would have gotten dedicated bus lanes into the city – but that would have required making a connection between congestion pricing and transit funding. They could have figured out how much a car-less family pays in taxes to maintain the bridges they don’t use, but that would have required making a connection between congestion pricing and bridge funding. No, let’s keep it simple: some “poor” schmuck is going to have to pay $8 a day.

  • The myth of the Flatbush carpenter is also flawed because these guys routinely double park at their worksite and get hit with thousands in tickets for doing so. They just pass the cost onto the client whose building they are repairing. This amounts to an exorbitant tax on anyone who is receiving services or deliveries in Manhattan, and the resulting revenue is not dedicated to mass transit. CP would have rationalized commercial roadway and curbside uses, spread the burdens more evenly, and directed revenue to mass transit.

    Oh, and by the way, 9 times out of 10 it is the contractor, not some poor carpenter working for an hourly wage, who brings the tools to a job site. If a carpenter has contracted his or her own job and is bringing the tools, let’s be honest and say “contractor.” They undoubtedly will be passing their costs, including their driving and parking costs, along to the customer.

  • Jan

    What do you mean that the “media” is supposed to report both sides of a story? They are private businesses not public businesses. You only think that they operate for the public’s benefit. Every newspaper is either privately owned or publicly owned by shareholders. They report what is in their best interest. They choose every day what to publish, how to publish it and what not to publish. The media tells stories for their own profit not for your betterment.

    It is a falsity to expect media to report both sides. Media doesn’t have to do so. The sooner this is understood the less respect you’ll have for media. Its a business, like Wal-Mart or a green, green bike shop. Someone opened the business (started the newspaper) to reap a reward. They did start the biz to be fair.

    Nonprofits are in a different class but not necessarily free of the same issues.

    To address the original article, quote “it’s easy to impart made-up motivations to imaginary characters, but how about citing some real data?”

    Fine. But here’s the response in one post, typical of many: “Oh, and by the way, 9 times out of 10 it is the contractor, not some poor carpenter working for an hourly wage, who brings the tools to a job site.” Is this the “real data” that you write of? Because this is the kind of stuff I see on here ad naseum.

  • Mark Walker

    Break out the champagne — Jan actually makes a valid point about the nature of journalism. And I should know. I’m a journalist.

    But Jan falls down at the end by juxtaposing Ben’s plea for “real data” with an isolated quote from BicyclesOnly. This is just an arbitrary assemblage of pasted material and it’s typical of the smoke-and-mirrors methods that both Brodsky and Jan have used in the past.

  • Spud Spudly

    What does piss me off about the media — and what I admit I did see happen many times during the CP debate — is when they treat uninformed loudmouths as if they’re equally credible as established experts in the field. They’ll take an expert in traffic management and give him 30 seconds and then grab some random person off the street who happens to disagree and give him 30 seconds too and call that responsible reporting. It’s ridiculous. But remember, not only are they trying to attract viewers or readers, most journalists are just lazy.

  • galvo

    These Westchester grade schoolers are doing more to stop unnecessary car use than Mr. Brodsky.
    http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008804220347

  • Jan and Mark,

    My comment is based on my eight years work in the construction industry here in New York City. I don’t have a better source than that. Anyone with data (or experence) that confirms or disproves my experience can post it, and we will have a conversation going. That’s how blogs work. I don’t have to wait until I have a thoroughly-vetted, professional quality piece of journalism in order to post my thoughts.

    By the same token, my posted throughts don’t carry the same presumptive credibility that a published article in a major media institution like the NYT does. Journalists are one of the many professions in the U.S. that involve work for a profit AND have ethical standard enforced through self-regulation. Doctors and lawyers are not all that different, although their self-regulation is a bit more formalized. Working for a profit and having ethical standards are not mutually exclusive.

    The press isn’t called the “fourth estate” for nothing–it has a responsibility to the public ethically report the information it gathers. In dischargint that reponsibility there is wide latitude for difference based on viewpoint–I don’t pretend there is a single “objective” way to report a story.

    Frankly I think the NYT article on Brodsky probably falls just within the range of reasonable, though the editorial tone that emerges in the middle may be a bit beyond the pale. My critique of the myth of the Flatbush carpenter was not a critique of the NYT for having published it so much as a critique of the concept itself, as advanced by Brodsky during the CP battle and apparently in conenction with this article.

  • Mark Walker

    BicyclesOnly, I didn’t mean to question the validity of your post and I’m sorry if I gave that impression. My objection was to the way Jan selectively quoted and misused your post.

  • Sorry I misunderstood you, Mark. How about it, Jan?

  • JF

    In LA, Tim Rutten’s version of Brodsky’s populism may actually make more sense – but it’s still dumb:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-rutten26apr26%2C0%2C4968177.column

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