May 28, 2017

De Blasio, Frustrated, Chooses to Take His Private Feuds Public, Again

It had the flavor of a City Hall confessional: For 15 minutes, Mayor Bill de Blasio took pains in a nighttime phone interview to explain why the leader of the nation’s largest city would embark on a seemingly hopeless war with The New York Post, one of the most recognizable tabloid newspapers in the world.

He pleaded his case. He beseeched New Yorkers to come to his side. He spoke from the heart.

And in doing so, he went against the grain of typical political combat in New York, where the conflicts are usually of the hand-to-hand sort, and not broad frontal attacks on powerful antagonists they cannot control.

For the second time in his tenure, Mr. de Blasio has chosen to go public with his feud against the most virulent of his enemies. The first instance came last year, when Mr. de Blasio spoke openly of his divisive relationship with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, accusing the fellow Democrat of undercutting his administration at the expense of New Yorkers.

The strategy seemed to backfire then; the conflict with the governor only deepened, and endures to this day.

On Thursday, the mayor tried again, this time taking aim at The Post at a news conference during which he described the publication as a “right-wing rag,” and pointedly refused to take a question on teacher pensions from one of its reporters.

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Hours later, the paper released an image of its Friday front page: the mayor as a baby in the midst of a tantrum, bottle of milk tossed in the air.

In his public battles with The Post and Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio appears to feel that he could not do any more damage to himself than was already being done, even if his advisers privately have cautioned him against such behavior.

But in the 15-minute interview with The Times, the mayor said The Post’s actions “had to be called out” as a matter of principle, whether or not it was good strategy to do so. He said the newspaper had deviated from the norms of the city’s other media in its “consistent, organized, systematic attempt to promote a certain ideological line.” He said the city needed to have a “conversation” about the paper.

“There are times in life when something is done for strategic reasons,” he said. “But there are also times when it is just a matter of telling the truth as I know it, and speaking very bluntly and speaking from the heart and I’m going to keep doing that.”

The gambit marked for Mr. de Blasio the culmination of years of simmering resentment toward The Post — from a 2012 editorial cartoon depicting him and his wife, Chirlane McCray, in bed, to its reporting on his father’s suicide.

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The front page of The Post on Friday after Mr. de Blasio pointedly refused to take a question from one of its reporters.

Mayors have long complained about the newspapers that cover them, and a partisan press is nothing new. The Post, once liberal, became notably more conservative after its purchase in the 1970s by Rupert Murdoch.

“I’ve counted headlines and it was not difficult to demonstrate a political bias toward Republicans generally and conservatives generally in Murdoch’s Post going back decades,” Mitchell Stevens, a New York University professor who has written about the history of journalism, said.

In the interview, Mr. de Blasio’s remarks went further by saying the tabloid was unlike other mainstream news outlets and engaged in “racial dog whistling.” In that way, they echoed a speech about the extreme right-wing press by Hillary Clinton, whose 2000 Senate campaign Mr. de Blasio ran. But where Mrs. Clinton sought to connect Mr. Trump to headlines on Breitbart, Mr. de Blasio leveled his attacks directly on the media organization.

Mr. de Blasio, in the news conference, drew a direct line between his administration and Mrs. Clinton, saying that he, like her, would ultimately be found to have engaged in no wrongdoing despite myriad investigations.

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In the interview, Mr. De Blasio stuck to his critique of The Post.

“We cannot confuse an honest effort at objective reporting, which is what the vast majority of the press corps is doing, with a propaganda apparatus,” he said. “This is a corporation with a profound, distinct, global ideological mission.”

He spoke at length about the newspaper’s “consistent bias” and its longstanding and top-to-bottom mission “to attack progressive values and progressive leaders all over the country.” He described the paper as “a negative force in this city” that engaged in “coded imagery” on race.

That included the cartoon of Ms. McCray, who is black, which ran during Mr. de Blasio’s nascent mayoral campaign and appeared to have soured him to the paper. He held a news conference at the time with the Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem to condemn the imagery and demand that the paper “leave my wife alone.”

Peter Ragone, a former top adviser who has shaped much of the mayor’s thinking on the media, said the important thing for voters was that the mayor spoke “authentically.”

Mr. Ragone, who still informally counsels the mayor, said in an interview on Friday, “Voters value mayors calling it as they see it.”

He suggested that the mayor has been speaking his mind about more than just Mr. Cuomo and The Post. “I don’t think it’s fair to just pick those two episodes,” Mr. Ragone said. “I think it’s the way he’s been from the beginning. I think it’s one of the reasons he won in the first place.”

A spokeswoman for The Post declined to comment. But if the paper’s front-page image did not speak volumes, it also offered an editorial on Friday that elaborated on the caricature: “We’re not about to tone things down to soothe his hurt feelings.”

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-new-york-post.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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