American Madness

Intelligent Criticism in the Service of a Better Nation

Media Succumbs to the Wealth Effect

Posted by Josh Friedlander | No Comments

New York City is lousy with rich people. OK, we get it. But New York City is also lousy with blind journalists.

I realize that rich people make interesting copy, as evidenced by this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine section, which does an extremely lightweight job of analyzing their impact on the city. But what rich people also do is to drive up the cost of living for everyone by paying more than anyone else can for housing, restaurants, goods and services.

So when are we going to start seeing a supposedly social-minded newspaper like the Times put together a compelling magazine article not on the rich, but on their victims? How about, instead of showcasing rich lawyers and party planners, we talk to some people who live in Stuy Town and will lose their cheap housing when a private equity firm completes turning what was a type of social cooperative into high end housing?

Why not profile the late 20’s professionals who are delaying marriage and children because they can’t figure out how they can afford either without selling out to work in law, business or consulting?

How about a 6-part series about people of vision, creativity, or social conscience who can’t afford to live here and are leaving New York…leaving the city a mere playground for those with expensive appetites.

Yes…I know. We’ve seen all those articles in various places at various times. But when a major news organization such as the Times spends so much time discussing the lives and habits of the rich out of context from their affect on everyone else, it has an impact. It has the wrong impact.

The people they profile will eagerly say they support capitalism, they support the rights of anyone to rise up from humble beginnings to achieve success in this country, in this city. But by everyone, they mean people like themselves. While they sit on numerous charity boards and find cute little solutions, they do not acknowledge (or fail to understand) that their wealth, having been concentrated and not fairly distributed, is a large cause of the problems they feel so good attempting to bandage with their vaunted charity events.

It is insulting to us all that high finance is key to the success of an entire city, and that one of the worlds most creative concentrations of people should find its leading journalists taking such a one-angle view of wealth and its impact.

AND YES, the Times section this Sunday does include a token poll asking New Yorkers how they feel…HOW THEY FEEL!…about the concentration of wealth in their city. This sort of tactic just burns me up. Polls are feedback mechanisms with limited usefulness. Journalists are supposed to educate and inform, not merely to take a pulse.

Polls are a sign of laziness. They are the books that callow students quote in sophomore seminar papers, not the empirical research that graduate students endure to build facts. Who cares if people think they enjoy having the rich around if those people don’t actually understand the real price they are paying? It’s the job of journalists to tell us what that price is, not to ask how we feel. And can I add more pure disgust at James Traub’s conclusion to this piece:

My family would be able to afford [in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine] what we could never afford here. But we’re not going anywhere. We stand with the 51 percent who think New York is worth what it costs; I’m just not sure why.

The WHY is precisely what an investigation should determine. I’m so glad Traub is sticking by the city, but is he writing a personal reflection piece or analyzing data?


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