Obscuring the Truth

“Battle for Brooklyn,” a documentary about the unending mess that is the Atlantic Yards project, is unabashedly slanted and as a result will probably be dismissed by those it portrays unflatteringly. That’s unfortunate, because this film should be discouraging and dismaying for people on all sides of the project, for what it says about oversize expectations and missed opportunities. Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley certainly know how to edit film to make public officials sound like manipulative weasels or clueless buffoons, and that’s what they do here as they tell the story of Bruce Ratner’s billion-dollar plans for a huge Brooklyn development centered on a basketball arena, and the residents and businesses displaced by it. — Neil Genzlinger

This capsule review was part of a longer piece in the NY Times, which was listed as a “critics pick”. When we first read it we were a bit hurt by the assertion that we had edited to make the public officials sound like “clueless buffoons”. Could it be that we edited that way because it was closest to the truth?

This wasn’t the only review that found it implausible that the process was as corrupt as we portrayed it, or that billionaires and elected officials could manipulate public opinion so effortlessly. It was hard for people to grasp the idea that the NY Times coverage of the project had gotten it so wrong.

When the film was done, and the arena opening, the NY Times erroneously printed the “fact” that Daniel Goldstein had “sold” his apartment to the developer. In fact it had been seized by the state. When Daniel challenged the Times, they responded that the PR representative from FCR had told them that and they refused to correct it to reflect that his home had been seized. Even after he faxed them the eminent domain documents they refused to correct it. I just checked the article and at some point they finally made the switch (without notice of the correction), but it was almost impossible for them to believe this fact.

Tomorrow there will be another pretend public hearing. Before the arena was completed, residents sued, arguing that the environmental impact statement was irrevocably flawed. After the arena was completed, the plantiffs won. They couldn’t unbuild the arena, but the state and the developer were forced to do another study.

Tomorrow will be another ridiculous display of “we are listening to you” pantomime. The press will barely cover it, and the project will continue along it’s long winding path of doling out benefits to foreign governments. Last month the Russian Oligarch, Prokhorov, rattled a saber in support of Putin’s incursion in to Crimea; threatening to move ownership of the Nets to Russia in support of his motherland. Ratner is in the process of closing on a deal to sell a majority of the development rights to the Greenland group, which is a development arm of the Chinese Government. Meanwhile, there is still no housing built, the pre-fab scheme is a bust, and most of the supposed benefits don’t exist.

We were howling into the wind. However, at this point, it should be clear to everyone that those who raised questions about the project and about power, were pretty much right about everything that they feared. Unfortunately in the world of he said/ she said journalism, the words of those with money and power tend to carry A LOT more weight than those without.

Near the end of the film, at the groundbreaking for the arena, Michael Bloomberg states, “No one will remember how long it took, they’ll only look and see that it was done.” For now, he’s right. At some point though we hope that people will remember, if only to help make sure it doesn’t happen so easily again. Unfortunately, power and history have a way of obscuring the truth.

Here’s a video we made when the arena opened nearly 2 years ago.

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