Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bloomberg Hisses, Disses Reporter

New York City has had some pretty boring news coverage of local politics. Thirty years ago, I remember fondly when Jimmy Breslin used to skewer public figures. One obsession of Breslin's which made for great entertainment was with Governor Hugh Carey, who he nicknamed "Society Carey" due to his fondness for hanging out with socialites and wealth people. He once proposed seating Carey at a desk in a stadium and selling tickets so paying voters could watch Carey do a day's work. Whether Breslin was writing about the high and mighty or about common folk, his column alone was worth the price of a paper. If I were a politician, I would consider it an honour to be lampooned with such deftness as was daily fare in Breslin's columns.

I endured three terms of a Koch mayoralty. The man had an ego the size of the City. He was gratuitously offensive and vastly overrated. Crime under Koch was every bit as bad as it was under his successor, David Dinkins. I am proud to say that I never voted for him. I will concede one thing to Koch. He was not boring. He sparred with opponents, sometimes stooping to almost childish levels. But he never pretended to be a unanimous favourite. He did not suppress and deny the loud and raucous. Koch was an afficionado of movies and restaurants. After leaving office, he did movie reviews as well as writing about current issues. He and Dinkins were united in their dislike of Rudolf Giuliani, who showed New Yorkers what a real mayor was and what could be accomplished in New York City.

Under our current mayor, Mike Bloomberg ,the news coverage and commentary has been middle of the road, an even course between soporific and sophomoric. There is no Jimmy Breslin to puncture inflated egos. There is no feisty Ed Koch sparring with hecklers. There is no Nelson Rockefeller giving hecklers a gubernatorial one finger salute. We are dutifully informed by a fawning news media that the problems faced by our city demand the genius and vision of Mike Bloomberg, who even has a radio station named after himself. New Yorkers who want to doze a few extra minutes and hear the time every few minutes have a troika of radio stations for that purpose. 1010 WINS WCBS 880 and Bloomberg Radio all serve the purpose as well. Of all three stations, Bloomberg radio reminds me the most of salt free rice cakes. Both are boring space fillers. One sits in the stomach and the other on the radio dial.

The sickness of boring radio seems to have spread from Bloomberg radio to the rest of the radio dial. Instead of a raucous dialogue with an insatiable fourth estate, New York political news coverage has become as sedate as anything that ever came out of North Korea. Chicago had Mike Royko. Boston had Mike Barnicle. New York never used to lack mayoral critics. For "The city that never sleeps" to have such a lack of satire and journalistic opposition to a sitting mayor is almost sinister. Is it because our mayor makes his living from news broadcasts? I don't know. But it is a matter of historical record that competition in business and in politics results in superior products and battle tested ideas. Lack of competition leads to industrial and intellectual shoddiness.

I was moved to nostalgia by New York Observer reporter Azi Paybarah. During a press conference last week Paybarah asked if the economic improvements in New York City undercut Bloomberg's rationale for seeking a third term, that the critical situation faced by the city required Bloomberg's expertise. A video that has gone viral shows that Bloomberg was livid at the question. When the press conference ended, Bloomberg told Paybarah that he was "a disgrace." Angry Mike was picked up by a live mike.

I salute Paybarah for his single handed effort to restore debate to our narcoleptic body politic. I hope that he will be joined by journalists worthy of the name who will ask tough questions. I hope that the spirit of Jimmy Breslin will again be felt in newsrooms across the city. The video of Bloomberg cutting off a reporter's question is a telling glimpse of the prevailing journalistic mediocrity in our city. We have been a chorus of dutiful enablers to Bloomberg's perpetual drunkenness on praise and adulation. At the bar of praise, it is 4:00 AM. Even in New York, that is closing time. Mike has had one too many rounds. Now it is his turn to buy.

Watch the video below of the Dear Leader responding to a reporter's question.

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