The Beat Goes On: Q&A With Atlantic Yards Watchdog Journalist Norman Oder
George Kral | Channel 13's MetroFocus
MetroFocus spoke with Oder about the ongoing Atlantic Yards story, press coverage of the development and the “culture of cheating.”
Q: The Barclays Center is built. Will those who have been fighting the development for so long continue to do so?
A: There’s been a shift in that some of the activists and organizations most involved with fighting Atlantic Yards have receded. They’re not gone and as I understand it there’s something going on with a broad range of groups for the weekend the arena opens.
The fact that the arena is opening is neither here nor there when it comes to accountability. The broad story [of Atlantic Yards] is about accountability.
Q: Do you feel the entire Atlantic Yards development has been shrouded in deceit?
A: This is not my off-the-cuff personal opinion, it’s a considered judgment based on immersion in the subject. There are numerous examples of what might be called the culture of cheating.
The Community Benefits Agreement promised an independent compliance monitor [to monitor the project] but they’ve never hired one and instead Forest City Ratner [the developer] self reports. In 2010, Bruce Ratner was interviewed by Matthew Schuerman on WNYC and he said 10 years had never been the timeframe for completing Atlantic Yards. Schuerman said that was the time they [Forest City Ratner] had consistently projected. That looks like cheating to me. It’s not criminal, but it’s misleading.
With the liquor license, a couple of months back in a letter to community boards, the developers said they would cut off alcohol sales at the end of the third quarter [the guideline for all NBA arenas]. But in June, it was announced that 1,800 VIP patrons would be allowed to drink for an hour after an event. Maybe it was a mistake, but it was a deceptive mistake.
They keep saying there are 2,000 arena jobs, but they are not full-time jobs. They’re not the careers expected. It was deceptive. [The number of people that applied (32,000)] shows the deep need for jobs in Brooklyn. But if you’re a single mom, or even a single person, 24 hours a week isn’t enough. It’s certainly something, but this project was sold to the people as transformational.
Q: You’ve written on your blog about poor press coverage of Atlantic Yards.
It’s hard to cover things that are complicated when you have shrinking news holes. The New York Times has a reporter assigned to cover the Nets, and one or two to cover the borough of Brooklyn. That’s a structural imbalance. There’s also the complexity of the story that has a lot of moving parts and a long history. And there are the journalistic conventions of he said/ she said. The developer says one thing and the community says another. Reporters are thinking they can't come to a considered conclusion about which is more credible.
News outlets also could make Atlantic Yards a priority. They have not. The New York Times has come in for a lot of criticism, from me and others, for its generally poor performance. (It’s not uniformly bad, just too often bad.) Some argue that the newspaper’s business relationship with developer Forest City Ratner–the New York Times Company and Forest City Ratner built the Times Tower together–has driven the coverage. I don’t say that–though I do think that business relationship has had an impact on the editorial page. I do argue that the business relationship should prompt The Times to be exacting in its news coverage of Forest City Ratner and Atlantic Yards, and that hasn’t happened.