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May 21, 2008

NY TimesWatch: People Are Starving!!!!...errr...Not

Courtesy of the always-interesting TimesWatch, the NY Sun has caught the Times on one of its inimitable hand-wringing exercises which, on closer inspection, turn out to be sourced in something less than the literal truth. Who knew?

The latest scoop from the New York Times is of a "food crisis" it says has struck the residents of the Ingersoll Houses, a project in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where the Times uncovered a "lack of easily available fresh food." The "local supermarket," quoth the Times, has been razed. A resident of the housing project is quoted as saying, supermarket-wise, "we have nothing around here now." "The dearth of nearby supermarkets is most severe in minority and poor neighborhoods already beset by obesity," the Times article reports.

At the Times Web site, a "multimedia presentation" accompanying the news article is headlined "Thousands of Shoppers, No Store," and quotes a man it identifies as Darrell Dembo, a resident of the Ingersoll Houses, speaking of an elderly neighbor for whom grocery shopping is a four- or five-hour expedition. So, curious about this apparent failure of capitalism, where supply has not risen to meet demand, an editor of The New York Sun set out yesterday afternoon for the Ingersoll Houses.

And the rest, as they say, is history:

If this were just a classic, New York Times-style, "Planet Destroyed; Poor, Minorities Hardest Hit," story, we wouldn't make much of it. The Times's scoop is that the city's policymakers — led by Mayor Bloomberg and his planning commissioner, Amanda Burden — are fretting about, as Ms. Burden puts it in the Times, a "health crisis in the city" and claiming, "Stimulating the investment of supermarket owners in these communities is essential to the future of the city." Another city political figure is quoted in the story as threatening to bar a private property owner from leasing to anything but a supermarket.

Well, there may in fact be a shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables at some parts of New York City, but reporting finds there is not one in the Ingersoll Houses. What happened in Fort Greene is that the city and state and federal governments lavished subsidies on a nearby Target and Pathmark that put an un-subsidized supermarket nearby out of business, while the above-cited raft of government programs failed to solve the fruit and vegetable crisis. So the city is preparing to abridge the rights of property owners to lease their property to the highest bidder and instead to mandate leasing to supermarkets. Are Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Burden themselves to ride through the city deciding the sites of supermarkets by fiat?

Where is their comprehension that the free market and the natural dynamism of capitalism are the most remarkable methods ever devised for feeding individuals? Without a whole lot of government intervention, in the past few years a Fairway has opened near a vast housing project in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and Whole Foods has opened in Manhattan near housing projects on the Lower East Side and near Columbus Circle. Rather than invent a crisis of obesity caused by a lack of supermarkets, Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Burden could benefit by walking around the city. Somehow people have a way of finding what to eat without a whole lot of meddling by the politicians.

Thank God this story was covered by a professional trained in the latest techniques of investigative journalism, rather than one of those rabble bloggers who shoot from the lip first and ask questions never. Perhaps the Times reporters have become too used to those comfy desk chairs to venture out into the dangerous streets of Ingersoll where (Lord knows) conditions are far too dangerous to risk a professional journalist. Are they relying (as they do in Baghdad) on the unverified second-hand reports of indigenous local stringers?

What are readers of the Times paying for anyway? Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by Cassandra at May 21, 2008 08:10 AM

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Comments

What are readers of the Times paying for anyway?

Ummmm -- the centerfold?

Posted by: BillT at May 21, 2008 05:15 PM

And they *swore* they read it for the articles!!!

Posted by: Jessica Rabbit at May 21, 2008 05:16 PM

How do you have obesity when there is such a hard time finding food.......?

Posted by: tom at May 21, 2008 07:52 PM

Perhaps the bookstores and libraries should start putting the NYT(and other papers) in the fiction section. About the only thing I read in the papers anymore are the comics where I don't have to guess if something is made up.

Posted by: Schnauzer at May 21, 2008 08:46 PM

The ones who paid for today's Maureen Dowd column got their money's worth. Really.

Posted by: Grim at May 21, 2008 09:36 PM

As an NYer, I have never lived in a city (and I have lived in 4 others) where high quality inexpensive food was so easy to obtain.

I once said to somebody that I could not live in an apartment without a refrigerator. She looked at me aghast and said, "why?" Why do you need a refrigerator when the grocer is open 24 hours and just downstairs?

Posted by: levi from queens at May 22, 2008 08:09 AM

Excellent piece, Cass.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 22, 2008 09:15 AM

The cake to feed the starving masses.

It's a metaphor.

Posted by: Cricket at May 22, 2008 11:41 AM

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