In The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert Caro notes that while the New York Times may never have ordered its writers to give Moses special treatment, “its reporters and editors… were not so insensitive as not to know what was expected of them.” Caro writes that the Times “ran more than one hundred editorials on the developer and his programs during the twelve-year LaGuardia administration,” most of them “overwhelmingly favorable.” A few less diplomatic historians have called the New York Times the “propaganda-arm” of the Robert Moses urban development machine.
Bruce Ratner, the new owner of the New Jersey Nets and soon-to-be-scourge of Prospect Heights, is no Robert Moses – at least not yet. But he might be hoping to get similar treatment from the Times. You see, Ratner and the Times are business partners; Forest City Ratner, Ratner’s real estate company, is currently the lead developer of the New York Times’ controversial new office tower on 40th Street and 8th Avenue. After repeatedly assuring funders and the city that the development would not require public subsidies, Ratner is now threatening to delay construction on the Times tower until he receives public financing for the project in the form of Liberty Bonds. Speculation is rampant that the tower, half of which will be owned by Ratner, will be a financial dud if it ever gets finished.
In effect, the new owner of the Nets is the New York Times Corporation’s most trusted real estate partner. With Ratner as the primary dealmaker on the Brooklyn arena, can New Yorkers be naïve enough to assume that the paper will cover the Nets story honestly? It’s hard to believe. The sycophantic quality of the Times’ arena coverage, meanwhile, hasn’t inspired much confidence – while the paper hasn’t hidden its relationship with Ratner, it hasn’t gone around trumpeting it, either.
Much of the Times Ratner coverage has come from sources not known for their muckraking journalism. In July 2003, long before the Ratner arena plan ever became public, the New York Post wrote that the Times and Ratner “are partners in every sense on the [Times Square] tower project, and Times Co. and Ratner officials have by some accounts forged a remarkably warm bond.” New York Daily News sports correspondent Mike Lupica has been especially critical of the Brooklyn plan, noting in his Jan. 22 column that “The New York Times covered the Nets news the way a good real estate partner should … The Nets are just part of the game here, folded inside a much bigger game about the housing that Ratner and his partners will build around the new arena, and the 21 acres in downtown Brooklyn that Ratner and his partners will be acquiring in this deal.”
Like most everything else in professional sports these days, the over-hyped plans to move the Nets to Prospect Heights seem to amount to little more than one cog in a crafty business plan. And it might be Bruce Ratner’s corporate connections—most notably, his relationship with the New York Times—that will help make his Brooklyn dreams become a reality.