Newsday printed a story recently blasting a firm competing with the newspaper’s owners over the opposing business’ political spending without disclosing campaign donations made by the paper’s parent company—a new low.
Long Island’s lone daily wrote of nonprofit Cause of Action’s report on Forest City Enterprises gifts to politicians but did not mention the millions given to lawmakers by the Dolan family that owns Cablevision Systems Corp., which owns Newsday. The Dolans also own The Madison Square Garden Co., which is a finalist versus Forest City in a bid to renovate Nassau Coliseum—a deal potentially worth millions.
“It is an error, and highly suspect,” Jaci Clement, executive director of Bethpage-based Fair Media Council, a local media watchdog group, said of the omission in the Aug. 7 article titled “Forest City’s political spending.”
Newsday noted in the piece that Forest City hasn’t donated to the re-election campaign of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who will decide Thursday which company he wants to renovate the aging Uniondale arena. But, it didn’t mention in that same story that Cablevision’s political action committee has donated thousands to Mangano, a Republican.
Cablevision has also donated tens of thousands to Tom Suozzi, the Democratic former county executive seeking a rematch against Mangano, who unseated Suozzi four years ago, and would have a say in the coliseum redevelopment if he wins. Newsday did note Cablevision’s donations to both candidates in another story earlier last month—although the paper’s link to their parent company’s owners was only mentioned in an editor’s note at the end of the story.
Paul Fleishman, spokesman for Newsday, said: “We stand behind our coverage.”
Forest City declined to comment on the omission. A company spokesman told Newsday in the story that the findings in the report were “baseless and absurd.”
The report found that Forrest City spent $23 million on political contributions and lobbying over the past decade helped the company garner $2.6 billion in government subsidies and financial benefits, which made up 23 percent of their revenue for the same time period. The report released last week was the first of a three-part series.
Cablevision’s PAC has donated $3.2 million to dozens of New York State, Nassau and Suffolk county as well as town-level lawmakers over the past decade, according to the New York State elections board. That’s not including donations made by individual Cablevision executives.
Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, suggested such omissions are par for the course when corporations wield their media assets as weapons in high-stakes battles to sway public opinion.
“Some people may find it shocking that that amount of money is being spent, but taking into consideration what’s done on a statewide and a national basis, it’s basically a cost of doing business,” he said. “In this age of transparency…all parties involved in the process are responsible for disclosing their campaign contributions and depending on what media outlet, [it] can get extremely subjective.”
Kevin Schultz, a blogger for Islanders Point Blank—an online outlet posting regular updates on the coliseum decision and its impact on the hockey team they cover ahead of their move to Brooklyn in 2015—first reported the omission, but shrugged it off.
“To provide balanced coverage, here is a side-by-side of the two companies’ campaign contributions,” he wrote before citing a line in the Newsday story reporting Forest City donated in districts where it was developing real estate projects.
He then compared that figure with Cablevision’s campaign donations pulled from New York and New Jersey state election board websites as well as Open Secrets, a political transparency website.
“I think they should have mentioned the other side, but I can see how it got skipped,” Schultz told the Press, conceding that he has become jaded to corporate political spending.
“Either way, Nassau will choose a company that gets subsidies and contributes money to political campaigns,” he wrote in the post. “But there will at least be a much-needed renovation of the coliseum and the promise of a revitalized hub. You can’t have one without the other in today’s world.”
Clement, the local media watchdog, was less forgiving.
“The whole product clearly screams who the owner is, and that it’s meant to be little more than a marketing vehicle for what it has to sell,” she said of Newsday‘s coverage since Cablevision took over. “And that may include seats at Nassau Coliseum.”