Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rarely grants one-on-one interviews to local print or online media outlets, sat for a public conversation on Friday with BuzzFeed, using the forum largely to attack local media.
De Blasio’s interview with BuzzFeed’s editor in chief, Ben Smith, was part of a series of discussions entitled "’You Are Fake News’: Truth, Lies, and Politics in the Age of Trump.”
Media is too busy trying to “sell something,” and is controlled by “wealthy individuals” de Blasio said. He complained that local media doesn’t focus on real news, and he predicted the demise of the tabloids.
“It’s arcane. The tabloid style of journalism of yesterday, does not make sense anymore, and it will not last,” de Blasio said.
The mayor has made no secret of his disdain for the local press — in October last year, he attacked the New York Post as a “right wing rag,” and refused to call upon the paper’s reporters. He routinely rejects the premise of reporters’ questions, and has come under fire for limiting his availability to answer questions from the press corps that covers him.
But on Friday, he delivered one of his longest critiques of the media in general, and virtually none of New York City’s local media institutions were safe.
Rupert Murdoch, the owner of NewsCorp, which publishes the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, is “a right-wing media baron who is consistently trying to undermine progressive governments and progressive movements all over the world," de Blasio said.
Of Newscorp’s media outlets, he had this to say: “Anyone who thinks that’s objective journalism is kidding themselves.”
He also criticized the Daily News’s owner, Mort Zuckerman, calling the paper, although more "balanced" than the Post, “corporate media owned by a major real estate baron.”
He also wasn’t happy with the New York Times.
“I’m greatly disappointed in the New York Times that they have greatly reduced their focus on New York City news," he said.
“Bluntly, a lot of the media in this town spends a disproportionate time on all sorts of other things, that are not the things affecting people’s lives” de Blasio said.
"The thing that fascinates the mainstream media is not the substance," he said. "It’s the spectacular, the scandalous, or the flavor of the moment."
It’s a criticism de Blasio has made of the media frequently, pointing to the monthly town halls he attends where he rarely gets the same kinds of questions he fields from the reporters who cover him.
He brought up his own gym routine, and the recent scandal over the Puerto Rican Day Parade Committee’s decision to bestow an honor on Oscar Lopez Rivera, the former leader of a Puerto Rican Nationalist Group that carried out dozens of bombings, some of them deadly, in the U.S. in the 1970s and 80s. Both subjects have gotten a lot of ink, virtual and otherwise, in recent weeks.
De Blasio deplored that local outlets have recently devoted “so many column inches and so many minutes of airtime” to “who’s marching in the Puerto Rican parade.”
“I think it’s kind of strange to obsess over a gym routine or who’s marching in a parade,” de Blasio said.
Much of the recent criticism over his gym routine, which involves his being driven 11 miles each day from Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side to his old gym in Park Slope, has centered on the dissonance between the mayor’s use of fossil fuels involved in his elaborate commute and his urging New Yorkers to change their habits in order to address climate change.
The parade controversy comes as New York City and other major metropolises around the world face the threat of domestic terror attacks. After nearly all of the parade’s corporate sponsors and several politicians, including the mayor’s own police commissioner, withdrew from participating in the event, set to take place this Sunday, de Blasio bowed to pressure and brokered a deal with Lopez Rivera whereby he won’t receive the special honor the parade committee intended to give him.
“A parade is not a real thing. It’s like, a symbolic event that happens for a few hours,” the mayor said Friday, lamenting the media’s “obsessive focus” on Oscar Lopez Rivera.
De Blasio has felt differently about other parades in the past — he notably refused to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan when the organization did not allow openly gay and lesbian people to march.
When that parade decided in 2016 to end the policy, the mayor celebrated the symbolism of the change, calling the old policy a “blemish on our city,” that had been lifted.
De Blasio has occasionally tried to make an end-run around the print and online media assigned to cover him, and prefers to conduct less-filtered one-on-one interviews with broadcast outlets. Last year, he also hired a 15-person “creative communications” team to create videos and tweets, and to promulgate his message across social media.
“I can’t tell you how many people in this city have abandoned the mainstream media in various ways,” the mayor said.
Corporate media must be undermined and made “more ‘small-d’ democratic,” he said.
“Corporate media often doesn’t challenge corporate power structures,” de Blasio said, arguing that it was necessary to create a counterbalance to corporate media hegemony, which he said was invariably controlled by people who are right-wing or wealthy, and whose goal is to create a “more unequal society.”
Smith pointed out that de Blasio’s critiques of the “mainstream media” and distrust of traditional press outlets form a kind of mirror to similar criticisms made by President Trump. De Blasio said the comparison didn’t bother him, and was reductive, because he means what he says when he bashes the media and Trump doesn’t.
"When [Trump] rails against the media it’s to fake appeal, a cynical ploy to appeal to a right wing base," de Blasio said.