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Post Hype

April 1, 2010

NT2 periodically reviews news articles to see if they measure up to generally-accepted journalistic standards. We do this because we believe good reporting is critical to good government. We’ve taken the NY Times to task recently because we believe the newspaper has failed to give Andrew Cuomo an adequate level of scrutiny. A while back, we teased New York Post Columnist Fred Dicker about the degree to which he runs hot and cold on New York pols. This morning, we review an article by another Post staffer, Brendan Scott.

Scott appears with some regularity on cable TV as part of a reporters’ roundtable. He stands out as thoughtful, articulate and professional. Scott’s article today, however, does not measure up. His front page “special report” headlined: “NY Education Dept Wasting Money on Office Furniture” was thinly-sourced, opinionated and remarkably devoid of supporting facts.

It is, of course, a very good thing when a newspaper commits itself to a review of how government bureaucrats use our tax dollars.  But it is embarrassing when the paper hypes stories that lack substance.

In this article, Scott asserts that spending by the Education Department has been “lavish … extravagant …over-the-top.”  He makes a point of noting that the State Education Department in Albany, built a century ago, has “36 imposing Corinthian pillars that line its façade … and make up the longest colonnade in the United States.”

But when you look for details regarding the supposed overspending, you get none. The only thing you’ll find is some quotes from unidentified state workers:

“My chair broke, so they gave me a purple chair… I had it for maybe a month. Then they came and took it away. There was nothing wrong with it…”

Another unidentified state ed worker complained that executives in the agency get “ergonomically correct” chairs that cost $500.

“The money should have gone to the kids — not so some guy can sit on his fat ass…”

Ok, so what we have here are a couple of unidentified employees disparaging their own department. Why is this absurd? Because on any given day, you can find two disgruntled employees at every organization in America, including the Post.

What Mr. Scott should have done in this story was check with some official government source for data on Education Department spending. Has the department spent more than other state agencies on furniture? Are such expenditures out of line with private sector spending?  This information could have been obtained without too much trouble, and such details would have made the story legitimate.

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