The stronger the media narrative, the lazier a journalist can be to tap into it. Arguments may be sloppy and evidence nonexistent. No matter. Once a story is “fixed,” the truth becomes an irrelevancy.
In New York City, the media have settled on a narrative that paints the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, as radical, petulant and incompetent. Thus does former tabloid gossip columnist Lloyd Grove, writing in the Daily Beast, feel free to break almost every rule of responsible journalism by inviting an anonymous source to string together a series of nasty weasel words designed to convey an alleged consensus. See for yourself: “‘After the corporate efficiency of the Bloomberg administration, there’s a sense that [de Blasio] is not ready for prime time,’ said a Democratic political consultant who asked not to be named so as not to foreclose the possibility of one day helping the mayor. ‘Everything has been kind of awkward and off-kilter…. Bloomberg conveyed a sense of professionalism and of someone very much in control. It’s not that way anymore. It seems a little amateurish.’” True, de Blasio trounced Bloomberg’s preferred candidate in a crowded Democratic primary and then ran away with the general election, winning by a nearly fifty-point margin, but he is not up to the job because—well, just because.
Casting a gimlet eye from Los Angeles, The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd is similarly dismayed. “While de Blasio came to power belittling Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, [LA Mayor Eric] Garcetti went to Manhattan before he was sworn in eight months ago to seek out Bloomberg’s advice,” she complains. Of course, de Blasio also repeatedly received advice from Bloomberg during his transition from public advocate to mayor. Like Grove, Dowd indulges in the contentless, contextless, weasel-worded anonymous quote: “While de Blasio is seen as a captive of unions and foe of business, Garcetti has pushed back against the powerful public works employees’ union and reached out to business. ‘He’s much more of a Bloomberg mayor than a de Blasio mayor,’ said one prominent C.E.O. here.” (Boy, those anonymous quotes fly fast and furious at the Times. What does David Geffen—um, I mean “one prominent C.E.O.” in LA—have to fear from New York City’s mayor that he needs to hide behind the shield of anonymity?)
It’s no secret that the punditocracy wished Bloomberg’s mayoralty would go on forever. The billionaire mayor threw really nice parties for journalists and overpays them and their friends with the money he makes servicing the financial industry. And if you’ve got an expense account, New York really is a fun city these days. But de Blasio ran quite explicitly on a platform designed to repudiate just that aspect of Bloomberg’s legacy. No longer would the greatest city in the world have a mayor who lusted after Russian billionaires buying $50 million condos. And so, while all three daily New York newspapers endorsed Bloomberg’s favored successor, Christine Quinn, de Blasio won his landslide among all those voters who wanted a mayor that cares more about pre-K students in Gowanus and Greenpoint than bonus babies at Goldman Sachs.