November 4, 2001
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The cover article in today's New York Times magazine reports that before September 11, in New York City politics after Mayor Giuliani, "The pendulum appeared to be swinging at least slightly back to the left, which is to say back toward a more activist, ambitious government."
It's stuff like this that really makes one wonder what alternate universe the Times lives in. The whole point of Mayor Giuliani's administration was that it was activist, ambitious government. Unlike the previous administrations of "the left," which basically threw up their hands and assumed that nothing could be done about problems like squeegee men, crime, and welfare dependency, the Giuliani administration set ambitious goals for decreasing crime, improving the quality of life in New York and moving welfare recipients into work.
The Times magazine article claims that after September 11, "The critique of Giuliani came to an immediate end, and so did hopes for a new era of government activism."
By "government activism," the Times magazine seems to mean not crime-fighting and welfare-to-work programs but rather taxing and spending and intervening with market forces. But even by that strange definition, the claim that September 11 doomed hopes for a new era of government activism is suspect. An article in the Week in Review section of today's New York Times reports, for instance, that "It is a good bet that after a long period in which the virtues of unfettered capitalism have been almost unquestioned, the next new economy will reflect a wartime drift back to a recognition of the importance of government and a post-boom hangover induced by excessive faith in market forces to get it right all the time."
The Times magazine article, in other words, asserts that September 11 meant the end of "government activism." The Times Week in Review article asserts that September 11 meant the beginning of a new recognition of the importance of government.
It's perfectly reasonable that people would differ on this question. But the magazine and the Week in Review section are both part of the Times news report. When, on the same day, they assert opposite answers to the same question, it tends to undermine the credibility of the report. It would be more accurate if both articles acknowledged that there are different views on the effect of September 11 on the role of government. Instead, each article takes one side of the question without acknowledging the other side. That's an approach more at home on the op-ed page than in the news report.
Rudy the Builder: An editorial in today's New York Times asserts about Mayor Giuliani, "as mayor he has not been known as a builder." The Times magazine cover article reports, "It is axiomatic that the next mayor's central task will be rebuilding. But rebuilding what? If it is merely office space, then he may not even equal Giuliani, during whose tenure millions of square feet of commercial office space have gone up in Times Square alone." Maybe the Times editorialists should read their newspaper's own magazine to find out about the mayor's reputation as a builder in the newspaper's own neighborhood.
Neediest Cases: The metro section of today's New York Times kicks off the annual appeal for the newspaper's Neediest Cases Fund, a Times-backed charity to which the newspaper appeals to its readers for support. The subheadline of the article says, "The Times Neediest Cases Fund Helps a Man Who Has No Home." The Times catches up with this man on the night of October 30, when the man spent the night sleeping on the subway. How is the Neediest Cases Fund involved with this man? Well, the article says, the Neediest Cases Fund partly funds the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, and the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies gave a $10,000 grant to Project FIND, the Times reports. Project FIND uses the money to give out bag lunches at a cafeteria, the Times reports, adding that "One of the aims of the project is to attract the homeless to a cafeteria, where Maury Sherman, a social worker, can help them get off the streets, said Cynthia Dial, executive director of Project Find."
The Times tells us that the man now sleeping on the subway found about the cafeteria "last winter." Well, if the man is still sleeping in the subway after all these months of getting "help" from the Neediest Cases Fund, it's not exactly clear that the Neediest Cases Fund-funded project is achieving its aim to "help them get off the streets." Maybe the subway counts as off the streets?
The article further notes that the "Man Who Has No Home" spends some of his money on "cigarettes and periodic visits to off-track betting parlors." Now, far be it from Smartertimes.com to second-guess how the "Man Who Has No Home" spends his money. He has what the newspaper describes as truly serious health problems and a sad family story. Although Project FIND has not yet succeeded in finding him a permanent home, it sounds like the organization has provided him some valuable assistance. Still, of all the heart-tugging hard-luck cases the Times could pick to kick off its "neediest" cases campaign, it seems strange that the paper would choose this one, essentially appealing to the paper's readers to subsidize a man's cigarette and gambling habit. At least the Times gets some credit for not hiding the facts about where the money is going.
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