Soundings

William J. Stern
Do What I Say, Not What I Do
The Times hates tax breaks—except when it wants one itself.
Winter 2000

The New York Times recently announced that it would seek a tax abatement from the city and the state to build a new corporate headquarters on the east side of Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets. There's nothing unusual about a big corporation seeking a targeted tax break in New York—many of the city's major companies have asked for, and received, such relief. But the Times should feel at least a twinge of embarrassment in asking for a sweetheart deal.

After all, the Times scorns tax abatements as a form of "corporate welfare." Except, it seems, when the paper's own interests are in question. The abatement the Times is seeking would be granted as part of the 42nd Street Redevelopment Project that has cleaned up the paper's back yard (see "The Unexpected Lessons of Times Square's Comeback," Autumn 1999). Over the last 15 years, the Times has published hundreds of stories favoring the project, which exempts certain businesses in the Times's own neighborhood from the high taxes it supports everywhere else.

Perhaps, in the spirit of journalistic inquiry, the Times's editorial board should scoot upstairs to the publisher's office and ask why the company is seeking an abatement for the paper's new home. If unsatisfied with the publisher's response, they should editorialize against the abatement. If satisfied, maybe they should ask themselves: if the rich and powerful New York Times needs an abatement, why doesn't the small computer start-up or the coffee shop? If wealthy, big corporations find New York taxes burdensome, then new, smaller companies must find them even more oppressive.

But the Times, of course, is simply being cynical. Knowing that all New York politicians are eager to genuflect before it, it recognizes that it can get special exemption from the high taxes the editors support for other companies. Other businesses, lacking the Times's clout, will simply pay their taxes for them.

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