I’ve always suspected that Mayor Bloomberg’s handlers keep him in a giant plastic bubble cut off from world events, but last night confirmed my suspicions when the mayor delivered one of the strangest, tone-deaf performances of his political career. While Occupy chapters in nearly two dozen cities participated in direct actions to reclaim foreclosed homes on behalf of needy families, Bloomberg invited an exclusive media pool to dine at Gracie Mansion for his annual holiday press party, and in order to make light of his recent bad publicity.
Bloomberg has been widely criticized for his handling of Occupy Wall Street’s eviction from Zuccotti Park last month in which reporters were denied access to the park, roughly treated by police, and in some cases, threatened by officers. Rosie Gray, a writer for the Village Voice tried to beg her way into gaining access to the plaza. “I’m press!” Gray reportedly exclaimed, to which a female officer replied, “not tonight.”
Josh Harkinson from Mother Jones had a more intimidating encounter with police. When an officer physically dragged him away from the park, Harkinson demanded to know why he couldn’t observe NYPD actions. “Because this is a frozen zone. It’s a police action going on. You could be injured,” the officer replied.
“What’s your name?” asked Harkinson, to which the officer replied:
“Watch your back.”
In a statement released from Bloomberg’s office on November 17, spokesperson Stu Loesner casually admitted that accredited journalists have been arrested by the city’s police force. Loesner clumsily tried to silence criticism of the mayor by pointing out “only five of the 26 arrested reporters actually have valid NYPD-issued press credentials.” In this statement, Loesner incorrectly assumed the twenty-six arrests all occurred in New York City, thereby accidentally admitting the city had knowingly arrested credentialed press.
The harassment of press opened up new discussion about the city’s procedures to accredit reporters. New York City is famously stingy with handing out press passes, especially to nontraditional outlets such as blogs. I personally had to fight tooth and nail to get mine, and the application process borders on insane. A reporter must present articles, commentaries, books, photographs, videos, films or audio published or broadcast within the twenty-four months preceding the press card application, sufficient to show that applicant covered in person six or more events occurring on separate days. Additionally, applicants must prove they cover events where police lines have been established by the City of New York.
Basically, a reporter must prove he/she crossed a police line before he/she had the means to do so. It’s no easy feat and I was fairly shocked when I secured my pass. As soon as my credentials cleared the laminating machine, I practically ran from the office, convinced there had been some dire error and my press revocation was imminent.
In a sane world, the ongoing harassment and intimidation of press by police and city officials should have inspired Bloomberg to perhaps remain mute when it comes to matters such as the First Amendment and OWS. Yet, he took the opportunity of having a select group of media at Gracie Mansion to mock his authoritarian behavior. Nida Kahn, an independent journalist who attended the event, tweeted that the mayor at one point remarked, “I know only 5 of you in here actually have valid press creds,” an obvious reference to the media storm that erupted after Loesner’s embarrassing statement.
A pack of gross sycophants NY Daily News photographer Todd Maisel generously describes as “reporters” then bestowed the mayor with a rain poncho as a gag gift, perhaps a reference to the familiar uniform of occupiers who oftentimes persevered through harsh weather. Another party attendee bestowed the mayor with a book titled Class Warfare. Bloomberg is frequently called “Mayor One Percent” by occupiers who use the language of class warfare when describing the widening wealth divide in America, and a government system they perceive as being ruled by the financial elite, such as the billionaire Bloomberg.
It’s not surprising that Bloomberg privately expresses open contempt and mockery when talking about OWS. After all, the movement is comprised of his ideological opponents, but it’s sickening that press—any press—would so willingly play the role of obedient lapdogs, and even laugh along while the mayor makes light of his own authoritarian behavior that landed some of their colleagues in jail.
The party in Gracie Mansion serves as a microcosm of the larger problem of co-opted media, in which so-called journalists become the servants of the one percent. Rather than adopting adversarial roles in which reporters constantly approach every government claim with the highest degree of skepticism, reporters allow themselves to be sucked into the world of the ruling elite, including being wined and dined at exclusive clubs. Eventually, it’s hard to play the role of fact-checker on one’s golfing buddies.
Clearly, not all journalists who attended the event thought Bloomberg’s humor was appropriate, but those who stayed, applauded, and went as far as giving the mayor gag gifts should be ashamed of themselves. Laughing in the presence of a creeping city police state should be grounds for immediately revoking a reporter’s press card.