THE BLOG
06/03/2013 10:43 am ET | Updated Aug 03, 2013

New York's Yellow Press

In Washington, the media reared up and the White House backed down.

In New York City, however, the media has taken a dive.

The issue in Washington was the Justice Department's overly aggressive tactics against the media -- subpoenaing the phone records of reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News [as well as the phone records of the Fox News reporter's parents].

The issue in New York is the lack of accountability and transparency of the NYPD: its failure to respond to freedom of information requests; its setting arbitrary standards to prevent reporters from obtaining press credentials; and most important, its refusal to provide information about its most controversial policies.

On these issues, the media in New York has remained virtually silent.

After the media outcry in Washington, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new direction in policies that they claim respects the First Amendment and protects journalists.

Amidst the silence in New York, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was recently asked what he would do differently in light of the revelations by the AP and NYPD Confidential about one of the NYPD's most controversial policies - its pervasive spying on Muslims.
Kelly's response: "Nothing."

With the city's mainstream media unable or unwilling to take on the police department, the point man for those seeking information about the NYPD is Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"You don't get anywhere with the NYPD unless you are prepared to go to the mat," says Dunn. "They know we will sue. We are after them all the time."

Dunn calls the NYPD's refusal to respond to Freedom of Information requests "a disaster."
He says the NYCLU has sued the police department at least six times to obtain information about issues from Stop and Frisk to the race of shooting victims.

The Civil Liberties Union is currently representing NYPD Confidential in obtaining Kelly's schedule after the NYPD turned down this reporter's Freedom of Information request, saying that "disclosure could endanger the life or safety of the Police Commissioner and/or the people with whom he had scheduled appointments."

NYPD Confidential sued for the records in 2011, while learning that Kelly had met secretly in his office at Police Plaza with the billionaire financier George Soros, a meeting that was not on Kelly's public schedule. [See NYPD Confidential, Oct 24, 2011.]

Dunn has also sued the department over the mass arrests dating from the Republican National Convention in 2004. This led to further litigation over the department's pervasive spying on political groups.

He has also aided reporters in obtaining press credentials. About a dozen reporters have come to him for help in the past ten years, he says. In 2007 and in 2012 after the NYPD rejected this reporter's credentials for a press card, the NYCLU threatened a lawsuit. On both occasions, the NYPD reversed itself and granted a press card.

But the department's lack of transparency goes beyond individual reporters to policy issues.
Despite early promises by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make the NYPD more transparent than under it was his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, the department under Kelly is more closed to the public than at any time in at least 30 years.

For example, until the disclosures in 2011 by the AP and this column, the city was in the dark about the NYPD's spying on the city's Muslim communities.

Although the Queens District Attorney found no criminal conduct, the police department has refused to explain its rationale in forcing police whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft into the psychiatric ward of Jamaica Hospital in 2010.

After an internal investigation substantiated Schoolcraft's charges that commanders from his precinct had intentionally downgraded crimes to make the precinct appear safer than it actually was, Kelly announced a precinct-wide department investigation led by three prominent former prosecutors.

"The integrity of or crime reporting system is of the utmost importance to the Department," Kelly announced in a press release on Jan. 5, 2011.

Kelly's spokesman Paul Browne, announced that the investigation was expected to last from three to six months. It is now two and a half years. Neither he nor Kelly has explained why no report has been produced.

The media has also been silent over such issues as Kelly's secret perks from the non-profit Police Foundation and the department's NYPD Counter-Terrorism Foundation, which raised hundreds of thousands dollars from secret donors and whose president and secretary were high-ranking, civilian police officials.

Then, there is the NYPD's spying on Muslims, which has all but been ignored by the city's mainstream media.

No one has questioned Kelly's claims that the department "only follows leads," a claim contradicted by internal Intelligence Division documents.

What lead, for example, did the Intelligence Division follow when it sent detectives to Buffalo in 2007 to spy on that city's Somali community despite its own liaison, Erie County Undersheriff Richard Donovan, saying he was unaware of any crime trends attributed to Somalis in the Buffalo area? [See NYPD Confidential, Feb. 27, 2012.]

So why doesn't the New York City media pursue these unanswered questions?
While the Times is not as aggressive as it was, and no one expects anything from the Post, the most egregious offender in this reporter's opinion has been the Daily News, the one-time "honest voice of New York," as it called itself.

Back in 1999, the News, spurred on by its counsel Eve Burton and its then managing editor Art Browne, persuaded a coalition of media executives at the Times, Newsday and the AP to prepare a federal lawsuit against Mayor Rudy Giuliani's violation of his own internal regulations that allowed reporters and photographers to cover public events without police interference.
Since then the News has undergone a sea change.

In 2009, when a sergeant in the department's Public Information Office cursed and threatened a Daily News police reporter, the News said and did nothing.

In 2011, after eight cops were indicted for gun-running, the News pooh-poohed their crimes. "Not to minimize their alleged offenses," it editorialized, "but it must be noted that the stated crimes did not involve abuse of the badge or misuse of power. "

When one of its own reporters was arrested while covering an Occupy Wall Street demonstration, a News editorial backed the police and maintained the reporter would have a good story to tell his grandchildren.

Guess who now runs the News' editorial page? The same man who in 1999 was its managing editor.

MORE LIPSTICK ON THE PIG. Here's a summary of the second part of CBS' six-part "48 Hours'' series, called "BROOKLYN DA," which is about the office of Joe Hynes, now running for re-election for a seventh term.

The series has been criticized for prettifying Hynes and his top assistant Michael Vecchione, while obscuring their failings -- in particular, Hynes' continued support of Vecchione despite his having been accused of numerous prosecutorial failings.

According to a press release, sent by CBS' Executive Director of Communications Richard Huff: "The series focuses on an eclectic group of men and women in the Kings County District Attorney's Office and their lives inside and outside of the courtroom.

"The second broadcast takes viewers inside as Deputy District Attorney Ken Taub, chief of the Homicide Division, creates a case against the alleged killer of NYPD officer, Pete Figoski. ... Elsewhere, Mike Vecchione, Chief of the Rackets Division, pursues a doctor whose patient - a former model - died after undergoing liposuction."

No mention of whether the program focuses on Vecchione's life outside the courtroom - in particular his relationship with a former female staffer with whom he traveled to Puerto Rico to question a key witness in the case of Jabbar Collins.

Collins was convicted of murdering Rabbi Abraham Pollack and spent 16 years in prison before a federal judge threw out the conviction, citing Vecchione's prosecutorial misconduct.