Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Posted by DP's Knees at Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I really hate to bitch about media coverage of the arena issue. I really do. It's generally not very constructive and not good for the heart. But yes, I am going to bitch about media coverage of the arena issue. But I will do so as a call to action for Islander fans and arena supporters.
A bit of background: over the past several weeks, I've been burying myself in economic reports, leases and news articles in an attempt to summarize and explain the key terms of the arena deal and to debunk some of the common misconceptions held by skeptics of the deal (see here, here, here and here). What I was hoping for was some independent group to analyze the arena deal that could push the media to transcend to he said/she said pattern of the coverage. Finally, on Monday it happened. The Nassau County Legislature's Office of Legislative Budget Review (OBLR), a non-partisan agency whose estimates of the tax impact have been cited by the press and arena opponents, released a report that concluded that revenues associated with the arena deal would "at a minimum" offset enough debt service to result in a net cost of only $13.80/year (or $.26/week) per homeowner -- only a quarter of the $58/year number issued by the OBLR previously. The report's analysis was straightforward: it added the minimum payments called for under the lease ($14M) to the tax revenues associated with estimated economic activity at a new arena. While the report recognized Mangano's more aggressive projections (that the deal would actually result in a small county profit) as plausible, it conservatively estimated that the revenues estimated by Mangano may not materialize.
Islander Country was elated. The team splashed "26 CENTS A WEEK" on its website. Fans on Twitter (okay, I, mainly) tried to come up with clever ways to express the idea that 26 cents is very, very little money.
Yet Newsday -- while continuing to cite OBLR's $58/year number -- ignored the report completely. And News 12 covered the report as anti-arena. It ran an article headlined "New Questions Surface About Coliseum Plan" (which seems to be their stock headline on all matters relating to the arena plan) ominously noting that according to the OBLR report revenues would cover "only" 74% bond costs. Not only is this not true -- the report stated that 74% was what the County could expect to receive "at a minimum" -- News 12's earlier reporting assumed that taxpayers would be paying all of the bond costs. News12 and Newsday have also both reported as "news" the fact that total borrowing costs associated with the bond would equal around $800 million, as if Nassau residents had assumed that the county would be borrowing that money for free. This wasn't "news" at all as the fact sheet issued by Mangano when the deal was first announced acknowledged the obvious fact that the County would have to pay principal and interest on the bond.
For whatever reason (and I'm still not buying the conspiracy theories), the local media has framed the arena deal as something suspect, generally framing developments in a negative light and dutifully parroting criticisms voiced by anyone with little or no scrutiny of the criticism or the interests of the critics.
But, again, nothing is gained by wallowing in pity or feeling indignant. The lesson here is that the local media cannot be counted on to report the facts straight. Instead, supporters just need to understand that they all need to put their collective nose to the grindstone and do everything possible to achieve a Yes vote on August 1. Nothing can be taken for granted.
One final note -- thanks to Nick, whose years of work on this beat has been second to none, for inviting me to pitch in during these final days before August 1. I will be "cross-posting" the same material at LHH.