From the desk of our own Wise Old Egg
Dave Anderson and the New York Times:
All the News that Fits?
March 27, 2004
I am really surprised that Dave Anderson, about as fine a sportswriter as this town possesses, would leave himself open for one of my stinging critiques, but there it was, on the first Times sports page, his column-with-attitude on our promised stadium, just asking for it.
(Sports of the Times, 3-26-04)
First, a little inside-newspaper background .
In the early 1970's, when I was a reporter with the Daily News, the printers were threatening to go out on strike. The paper's labor reporter, an old-timer whom I will call Jack, because that was his name, had the desk next to mine. Bert Powers, the head of the printers' union, had called a meeting, and all work had stopped as the printers gathered around him in the composing room, one floor below us.
This automatically became the Number One story in the world for us, because that meeting would determine whether there was going to be a paper tonight – not to mention whether the paper might be shut down by a strike.
Jack was having a copy boy bring him United Press International bulletins from the wire room. “See if there are any more bulletins,” he told the kid, and muttered, “UPI is dragging its feet on this one.” Mind you, all he had to do was go down one flight of stairs, and there was Bert Powers, live, standing up on a table and making news with every word he spoke, but Jack was waiting for the UPI reporter who was down there to phone his office and give his story to a rewrite man, who would write it and put it on the wire, it would come chattering in over the teletype at the Daily News and the copy boy would rip it and bring it to Jack.
It was the most incredible sight I saw in all my years in the news business.
I must make it clear that I am not comparing the distinguished Dave Anderson to that pitiful old hack. But here's why that experience popped into my mind.
This was a hugely exciting day, not just for football fans, but for all New Yorkers. Mayor Bloomberg was the M.C. The enthusiastic speakers included Governor Pataki, representatives of the labor unions, the hotel industry and movers and shakers who you know are going to move and shake and make this thing work, but most important of all Woody Johnson, the awesome new owner of the Jets who is going to put up not eight million, not eighty million, but eight hundred million dollars to build the stadium.
Look at it in numerals. $800,000,000.00! Those are numbers even George Steinbrenner never dreamed of. And Anderson admits that it is “the largest private investment ever put up for a stadium.” But as an old editor, let me look at the language Dave used to make this acknowledgement: “Say this for Woody Johnson.” What, he's giving Woody Johnson a break? Gee, he's swell. “Say this for” in journalese means at least we can say this much about an otherwise dubious, questionable or controversial character. Say this for Mike Tyson: he has extraordinary facial tattoos.
But I come back to EIGHT HUNDRED MILLION! As Shakespeare said, in a drastically different context, “Can I do all this, and cannot get a crown?” Can he do all this, and cannot get a stadium? Nobody at that jam-packed, celebratory event would have believed that, but now we see what Mr. Anderson came away with.
His lead, the line that establishes the theme for the article: “It was a bad omen.”
Uh-oh! Wise old sportswriter discerns bad omen. And what was it?
He asked for a copy of the press release, and they had none left! Our website's editor, who was at the event (I watched it on NY-1) tells me the event's press people were swamped by the turnout, that reporters were standing several deep because all the seats were gone. We don't know whether Mr. A. may have arrived a tiny bit late, “But when I asked for the requisite news release, I was told, ‘They're all gone.' ”
Bummer! No news handout! You mean I'm going to have to do some work?
Do you wonder that I'm reminded of old Jack waiting for someone to bring him the news? Of course old Jack would have had to go down a flight of stairs and then climb back up again. Dave didn't have to do that. The story was happening right there in front of him. The mayor speaks, the governor speaks, the $800 million man speaks, and you don't pull out that three-ways-folded sheet of paper every reporter carries and jot a few notes?
What do you care what the press department says? You're a great reporter! Great reporters say “Faugh!” to press releases. And when you got back to the office, don't you think they would instantly shoot you a fax of anything the monster New York Times asked for?
The kicker on his bad-omen theme turns out to be that they're going to spend $2.8 billion, but 28 cents (get it? One10-billionth of 2.8 bill?) for more news releases was apparently too much of an expense.
Once we've done chuckling at that gem, he gets to his real story: he says he's seen plenty of these grandiose announcements, and he mentions Walter O'Malley presenting his vision of a Dodger ballpark in downtown Brooklyn as the Giants talked about a stadium atop the railroad yards about 30 blocks north of today's Javits Center. I remember that too, Dave. I was the sports editor of Movietone News, the theater newsreel, at the time, and I interviewed Walter O'Malley.
Of course that O'Malley plea for a Dodger ballpark built over the Brooklyn LIRR station was a sensational idea, but it was an act. He would have become ill if the city had gone for the cost. And let's “say this for him.” Even assuming he had been sincere, he didn't have a Woody Johnson, ready to spend hundreds of millions, standing beside him.
So, sorry, folks, it was off to Los Angeles , where they had promised him the sweetheart deal of all time. And if you think he was truly sorry to leave Brooklyn , you should have seen him at my interview, barely able to stop grinning, the cat licking the cream off its whiskers if you ever saw it. He was so thrilled to be in L.A. he let the Dodgers play in a totally unsuited football stadium till their ballpark could be built.
Another vaguely troubling item in the Times reporting of that event. There was a second column, also mocking the idea, predicting that environmentalists would sink it. When two stories about an event generally received with excitement and elight are in concert like this, an uneasy feeling creeps in.
The Times has, fairly or not, been accused in the past of having an agenda on some subjects. I can cite one from personal experience. At this point I was a theater writer for the Daily News covering the Tony Awards, somewhere around 1980. Backstage I met Arthur Laurents, the playwright who adapted “La Cage Aux Folles” for Broadway. His play had won, but he was mad.
The Times critic then, Frank Rich, had loved a Stephen Sondheim musical, (I've made enough enemies; I won't give my opinion of that show), “Sunday in the Park with George.” “Every time I opened that paper,” Laurents raged, “There was another feature about that God damn show! The Times had gotten behind their man and they were determined to make it the Tony winner.”
You know what the pipsqueak little editor at the News said when I came to him with that story? “I don't want to start up with the Times.” And he spiked it. Well, westsidestadium.org is fearless.
So one has to wonder about your stories on the stadium, boys. Are we singing, with Bobby Morse in “How to Succeed in Business,” “My way is the company way, whatever the company wants is by me OK” ? Just asking.
At the end of his story, Mr. Anderson interviews Christine Quinn, the excellent City Council member representing the West Side . And hey, you know that in politics, when your constituents start squawking, you start talking. Ms. Quinn told him “We'll fight it in the streets; we'll fight it in the courts.” She didn't say “We'll fight them on the beaches, we'll fight them on the landing grounds,” but you get the idea. She's doing her level best for the voters in her district.
Here a little history – ancient, I'm afraid – is appropriate. When the Greeks, at the height of what we call “the glory that was Greece” in the Metropolis, Athens (Metropolis means the mother of cities) made a huge decision: to create a dwelling place for their gods, they chose the highest mountain, called Acropolis, as the site of this venture second only in ambition to the pyramids, and they chased all the inhabitants out, and leveled their homes and their shops to clear the area for the building of the Parthenon and the other magnificent temples that, crumbling, still stand thousands of years later to suffuse us with awe as we gaze upon them.
It's too late to go back and interview them, but it's a safe bet that those people who had lived on the Acropolis were pretty sore. As were the people whose homes were destroyed to make way for the Coliseum in Rome . Likewise the people who had lived in, and were uprooted from the West Side area where Lincoln Center gloriously stands today. A sad fact of life is the metaphor that to make a superb omelet, ya gotta break some eggs. If whoever is dislodged by this grand project is not appropriately compensated, I am going to join them in being damn sore.
– Tom McMorrow, Sr
(Our Wise Old Egg)
© Copyright westsidestadium.org 2004
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