There was an alarming spate of shootings over the weekend and one New York City tabloid quickly does what it does best: pointing its finger – and I'm not saying which one – straight in Mayor de Blasio's direction.
The New York Post rang its alarm bell yesterday with this crime story that quickly veered into the paper's political playbook: "Brooklyn residents said Sunday that they fear the return of the bad old days of 'Crooklyn' — and placed the blame squarely on Mayor Bill de Blasio — after a bloody weekend in which at least 19 people were shot in the borough."
As a former reporter for the paper where I proudly worked for nine years, it's not hard to smell a rat somewhere high up in the Post's production line. This story could have been written before any reporter was sent out to find the quotes that would damn City Hall back to Dinkinsville.
While everyone should be concerned and worried over a weekend of violence, it's also important to actually look at some numbers provided by City Hall. As of yesterday, there were five fewer shooting incidents in the city than in 2014 and there have been seven more additional shooting victims than last year. More alarmingly, homicides are up by ten percent but the numbers are still lower than they were for almost any year in the Bloomberg administration.
But perception and reality have been divided by a blurry line for the tabloid's City Hall coverage for some time now – dating back to the paper's slanted coverage of the mayoral race in 2013.
And witness the newspaper's recent obsession with a homeless man who has been wandering the streets and urinating in public for more than a decade – dating far back into Michael Bloomberg's administration.
None of this would matter if the paper was on its angry little island – but a screaming front-page headline in the Post still has influence on some radio and TV stations. And it still pressures City Hall to jump – from releasing crime statistics yesterday to having the mayor quietly visit Tompkins Square Park after the Post made it sound like it's reverted back to the bad old anarchic days of the 1980's.
Clearly, the de Blasio administration has plenty of work to do and some of the work it has already done has been far from perfect. But as journalists, it's also important to try to focus on things fairly and objectively without putting your finger on the scale. In the Post's case, it's more than a finger. It's a massive agenda.
The massive agenda the Post has against de Blasio is not only playing out in crime and quality-of-life stories, it's playing out in education stories too.
The Posties would have New Yorkers believe there is a systemic cheating scandal going on in the New York City school system that was ushered in by Chancellor Carmen Farina, that it is a "growing trend" and is only being exposed because the intrepid reporters at the Post are on the case.
As I posted yesterday, the truth is cheating has being going on for years in the NYCDOE, long before Carmen Farina became chancellor, and if anything was more prevalent during the Bloomberg Years when there was untold pressure for schools to improve their statistics and be shut down.
There were cheating scandals in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 - many reported by the NY Post, btw - and the scandal of Chancellor Klein's credit recovery scam that allowed schools to give students semester credits for watching movies or reading comic books.
Limits were placed on credit recovery programs in 2012, after Klein was gone, but the Bryant scandal is a vestige of the old Bloomberg/Klein credit recovery program - they were the first to hand out semester credits for minimal work in order to juke the overall stats.
How cheating has suddenly becoming a "growing trend" (as somebody who didn't know better and was buying the Post coverage put it on Twitter yesterday) when it's been around since the Bloomberg Years is beyond me - but that's how it's being framed in the Post.
And just as the crime stories are full of hyperbolic language meant to scare the city into electing a new mayor (crime stats are done across the board and as, Hardt noted in his NY1 piece, the homicide rate, while up, is still lower than almost any year during the Bloomberg administration) and the quality-of-life stories are meant to make people think the social fabric of the city is unraveling (as Hardt notes, the Post is using a guy who's been urinating in the streets since the Bloomberg Years as the emblem for what's wrong with "De Blasio's New York"), they're using the cheating stories at Bryant and Dewey High Schools to smear Farina and de Blasio as cheaters.
If the Post wants to do some intrepid reporting, they ought to go back to the Bloomberg/Klein Years and dig into some of the statistics to see how they got so good - how the test scores rose so high (they were inflated), how the grad rates rose so high (credit recovery, cheating.)
But of course Rupert Murdoch does not have a massive agenda to destroy his fellow oligarch and media mogul Michael Bloomberg, so the Posties never tied the cheating incidents under Bloomberg to a larger narrative of "NYC Unraveling" as they do now with the cheating incidents under de Blasio, and they'll never go back and look at the old scandals to show how bad things were in the Bloomberg Years.
The whole thing is jive and it needs to be called out as such, as Bob Hardt did in his NY1 piece about the Post coverage of the crime stats.
At Gotham Schools, one teacher puts the whole cheating scandal into perspective by noting that there's less incentive to cheat in the de Blasio Years than during the Bloomberg Years:
Michael Dowd, a social studies teacher at Midwood High School, said schools under Fariña feel less frenzied to show gains, reducing the worries that can fuel grade inflation and inappropriate credit-recovery schemes. The city has removed two of the big sources of pressure, he said: “The closure threat — coming from the city, anyway — and the progress reports, which reward you for credit accumulation.”
That's exactly right.
Alas, New Yorkers will never know that if they're only reading the Post or getting radio/TV news as influenced by the Post coverage.
Instead they'll think the cheating just started and was fanned by Farina and de Blasio.