Bill de Blasio has had a rough year. He’s seen his progressive stock fall in the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton, his one-time patron, has kept him at arm’s length during her presidential campaign as silent payback for taking too long to endorse her in the primaries. The local crusading U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, has been investigating de Blasio’s associates and poking around in several shady fundraising schemes arranged or overseen by the first-term Democratic mayor. Should Bharara decide to indict, de Blasio’s bad year could yet get worse.
So what’s a good former Sandinista to do when his back is against the wall? Why, find a scapegoat of course. De Blasio has been toying with this strategy for a while. His first choice for a foil was centrist Democratic New York governor Andrew Cuomo. That ended poorly. Cuomo outflanked and embarrassed the rookie mayor at nearly every turn.
Earlier this year, de Blasio turned his sights on a different target: the New York Post, the city’s right-leaning tabloid newspaper. With his nose out of joint over unfavorable coverage, Hizzoner took to making sarcastic comments about the Post reporters who cover his administration. He referred in public to the work they do as “propagandistic” and suggesting that they weren’t “real” journalists.
This week, de Blasio officially declared the Post an enemy of the people. During a news conference Thursday, the mayor ignored a Post reporter’s repeated attempts to get his attention.
“Mr. Mayor? Mr. Mayor? Mr. Mayor? Over here,” said Yoav Gonen, the Post’s city hall bureau chief.
“You can keep calling all you want,” de Blasio replied, an unmistakable smirk spreading across his face.
“Are you going to call on me today?” Gonen asked.
“I’m calling on real media outlets, go ahead,” the mayor said, pointing to a reporter from another paper. In follow-up questions, de Blasio continued to bash the 215-year-old paper founded by Alexander Hamilton. “I got no use for a right-wing rag,” he told Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Dawsey. “And by the way, I think the people share a lot of my view.”
This last statement is the one that gives the game away. It’s a vivid exercise of the 12th rule for radicals, courtesy of Saul Alinsky: “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” The politically beleaguered mayor is heading into a reelection year. He needs an enemy, a punching bag, anything to distract attention from his failing—and possibly crooked—administration. To their credit, most of the city hall reporters defended Gonen and blasted de Blasio for his unstatesmanlike conduct.
The New York Post has been a potent voice in Gotham politics since well before Bill de Blasio came into the world as Warren Wilhelm, Jr. What many people don’t realize is that the paper’s editorial voice hasn’t always been right-leaning. Throughout much of the twentieth century, it was in fact the city’s lefty paper, publishing staunch liberal columnists like Drew Pearson, Pete Hamill, and Murray Kempton. As recently as the mid-1970s, it was the Post’s blood rival, the now mostly liberal New York Daily News, that was the tabloid of choice for outer-borough, blue-collar types.
It was these working-class voters who elected Rudy Giuliani mayor in 1993. Giuliani, too, had a testy relationship with an adversarial press corps, but I don’t recall him ever petulantly ignoring a question from a reporter the way de Blasio did Thursday. Such behavior is beneath the dignity of the office. The City Hall press corps should hold de Blasio accountable for it. An attack on one of them should be interpreted as an attack on all of them.
Of course, no politician is required to answer questions; even mayors have the right to remain silent. But politicians don’t get to decide which members of the media are legitimate. De Blasio should pay a stiff price for making a mockery of our press freedoms. Today it’s the New York Post. Who will it be tomorrow?
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