As was remarked upon here last week, The New York Times has for the past eight years been what can best be described as maddeningly ambivalent, when it hasn’t been fighting mad, about Rudy Giuliani.
Even when the Times occasionally saw fit to pay some form of lip service to the indisputable truth that Giuliani took a city that was dirty and dangerous – bordering on the brink of anarchy – and transformed it into one that is relatively clean and remarkably safe, there was always a catch, a caveat, a call to arms lest the “mean-spirited” mayor crush every vestige of the discredited liberal political culture that was so intrinsically linked with the Times itself.
That the Times couldn’t quite bring itself to give Giuliani his due, even as he left office on a note of unprecedented triumph and popularity, was evident in the paper’s editorials and most of its news coverage pertaining to his last days in office. (A startling exception was an analysis piece by veteran reporter Sam Roberts, who mused that Giuliani would go down in history as a greater mayor than even Fiorello La Guardia.)
An editorial that appeared on the Sunday before Giuliani’s departure was particularly churlish, typified by the claim that “Even his staunchest supporters know that much of his success was due in part to good timing. His greatest achievements - the drop in crime, the reduction in welfare cases, the economic boom – were mirrored in other cities that had milder-mannered chief executives.”
This attempt by the Times to take some of the sheen off Giuliani’s accomplishments was repeated in force the very next day, in a front-page piece by Dan Barry. “The question of how much credit Mr. Giuliani deserves for the crime reduction continues to spur debate,” Berry wrote. “Several external factors certainly played a role, including the waning of the crack cocaine epidemic and a $1 billion program begun under the Dinkins administration to increase the ranks of police officers.”
And then Barry injected a little old-fashioned Times-style editorializing into his article: “There was also a significant decline in crime nationwide, even in cities with seriously troubled police departments, suggesting that crime would have dropped in the city no matter who was mayor, no matter how improved the police work was.”
Nonsense, according to Fred Siegel, a professor of history at Cooper Union who specializes in urban issues. As Siegel recently wrote in the New York Observer, “No other city has made comparable gains…. In the closing years of the Dinkins administration, tourists stayed away in droves, while businesses and residents were racing for the exits in what seemed like an evacuation. Had Mr. Dinkins been reelected, the flight from fear would have become a flood.”
As for the tiresome assertion that crime has dropped everywhere and Giuliani merely happened to have been in the right place at the right time, that, too, just isn’t true.
“None of these critics,” Siegel pointed out, “supples specifics - with good reason. Crime didn’t fall everywhere, as anyone from Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit or a host of other big cities could have explained.
“In fact, much of the national decline in crime (anywhere from one-seventh to one-fourth) was a reflection of New York’s achievements. And just as important, in some of the cities where crime had dropped, such as Los Angeles and Boston, it has, unlike in New York, been rising again the last few years.”
The latter point was brought home in, of all places, a story the Times ran on Jan. 1. Contrary to the arguments regularly put forward on his paper’s editorial page – and by his colleague Dan Barry in his front-page article that very day - reporter Andy Newman acknowledged that “Violent crime in New York City registered its biggest drop in five years in 2001, a decline all the more startling because it came as the violent crime rates in many other cities finally started to increase.”
Conflicting signals? That’s the least of the problems that occur when a news outlet straps itself into an ideological straitjacket..
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org