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The NBBL Files: Weinshall and Steisel Manufactured Anti-Bike Coverage
Posted By Noah Kazis On November 16, 2011 @ 3:53 pm In Iris Weinshall,The NBBL Files | 21 Comments
This is the sixth post in a series examining the tactics employed by the opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign known as “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.” Read the first , second , third , fourth , and fifth  installments.
One of the defining elements of the Prospect Park West bike lane saga was the inordinate amount of media attention it received. For months, this one short stretch of pavement in Brooklyn ignited coverage from just about every New York City broadsheet , tabloid , evening news broadcast , and glossy magazine . Everyone kept talking about it — even the British press .
To be fair, it had all the elements of a great story, like a former transportation commissioner attacking her successor , and a United States senator meddling in a hyper-local issue in his backyard . But most of the time, that’s not what the coverage was about. The outlets that covered the bike lane the most — especially the tabloid opinion pages and CBS 2 News — had a knack for amplifying the arguments of bike lane opponents while glossing over the political maneuvering and ignoring facts that ran counter to the story NBBL wanted to tell.
Documents obtained by Streetsblog via freedom of information request reveal that leading bike lane opponents Iris Weinshall and Norman Steisel used their connections in the local press to shape coverage (months before NBBL hired a PR firm  to work the media in a more conventional manner). What’s remarkable isn’t so much that they tried to spin the press, but how successful they were. Time after time, papers printed material that made NBBL happy, even when it warped what really happened  or was easily disproved .
NBBL Had Friends at NYC’s Three Major Dailies
Weinshall, the former DOT commissioner and wife of Senator Chuck Schumer, and Steisel, the former deputy mayor under David Dinkins, repeatedly used their media connections to shape coverage of the bike lane dispute.
After bike lane supporters and NBBL held dueling rallies on October 21, 2010 , for example, Weinshall reached out to New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue . He informed her that the paper’s Brooklyn bureau had covered the rally. “Ok…. but they are pro bike….. not objective!” complained Weinshall.
After predicting that both sides would be represented in the paper’s coverage, Donohue offered to help Weinshall. “I’ll email my editor to make sure there’s a few kicks at the freewheelers in there!” he wrote. Despite the fact that the pro-bike lane rally outnumbered the opponents 5 to 1 , the only participant quoted the next day  opposed the bike lane. Donohue has not returned Streetsblog’s inquiry about whether he really intervened on Weinshall’s behalf or was simply humoring her.
(Update: Donohue denies doing a favor for Weinshall and says he deleted Streetsblog’s email seeking comment  without opening it because the subject line (“Prospect Park West Bike Lane Coverage”) was vague and didn’t pertain to his beat. “Of course I didn’t suggest slanting an article favorable to Iris,” he said. “To suggest that I was part of some grand conspiracy against bike lanes is silly and I would have told you so.”)
Weinshall also helped bike lane opponents get a letter to the editor  questioning the safety benefits of the PPW redesign published in the New York Times . On December 17, 2010, Steisel emailed NBBL leaders, worried that he hadn’t heard any response from the Times about their letter. Weinshall offered to call someone at the newspaper to promote it.
“Called my contact at New York Times… she said she would see what she could do,” Weinshall reported the following day. Two days later, the Times told Steisel that his letter had been accepted.
Steisel also marshaled connections to the city’s press corps in support of his cause. Based on the documents Streetsblog obtained, his most valuable contact was on the Daily News editorial board.
“Just spoke with mike aronson guy who wrote editorial,” wrote Steisel in an e-mail last December , right after James Vacca’s transportation committee held a bike policy hearing, instigated in part by NBBL , that put him front and center. “His asst bev calling me, probably mon, to go over materials i sent, docs that he said upon his quick perusal looked intriguingly promising for their further opining.”
The following day, the Daily News published an editorial  twisting an exchange from the hearing between Vacca and transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. The DOT chief had told Vacca that the agency measured a 63 percent increase in cycling in recent years, but didn’t have a measurement of the total number of daily NYC bike riders. This is wholly unremarkable given that NYC bike traffic  is measured much the same way as motor vehicle traffic  — by tallying vehicles at specific locations, which provides a basis for year-over-year comparison but not a single citywide traffic count. However, with an assist from Vacca’s showboating performance at the hearing (“I would think that question is one you could answer now”), the paper’s opinion writers managed to turn Sadik-Khan’s reply into an indictment of DOT data collection.
Later that month, Steisel told NBBL leaders  that the Daily News would “continue beating the drum” for them. And in fact the Daily News editorial page proceeded to publish much more “further opining,” writing at least four other pieces that echoed NBBL talking points about bike lanes and berated the city over the Prospect Park West redesign.
In the past year, the Daily News editorial page ran several other pieces attacking Sadik-Khan and signature NYC DOT projects for buses, bikes, and pedestrians, including multiple  opinions  undermining 34th Street transit improvements and an  epic  four-part  series  blaming Sadik-Khan for bike-ped conflicts  arising from construction work on the Manhattan Bridge.
Steisel’s other tabloid press contact was none other than New York Post real estate columnist Steve Cuozzo. Cuozzo has authored several diatribes against new pedestrian plazas and bike lanes, and Steisel apparently had his ear.
In the same December 30, 2010 email  in which Steisel said the Daily News would “continue beating the drum” for NBBL, he described an exchange with Cuozzo. The message implied that Steisel fed information to Cuozzo for a column antagonizing the city  for plowing bike lanes after the Christmas blizzard. In the email, Steisel says NBBL “may have unintentionally overstated the amt of snow clearing” and that Cuozzo “modified his initial submission” in response.
Marcia Kramer, “Honorary Member of NBBL”
Marcia Kramer can keep a straight face while arguing that the Second Avenue bike lane exposes the Israeli consulate to the risk of terrorist attacks . It’s no secret that she’s long since stopped striving for objectivity.
Even so, it’s striking to see just how political CBS 2′s “chief political correspondent” really is. According to communications obtained by Streetsblog, she really wants to see the city’s bike lanes, plazas and pedestrian refuge islands gone and is teeing up politicians to achieve her goals.
In January, Kramer was preparing a story on the Prospect Park West bike lane, her third in one year. She reached out to NBBL president Louise Hainline for an interview and after they worked out some logistics, Hainline thanked Kramer for her continued support.
In response, Kramer revealed the motivation behind her sloppy, error-riddled reporting . “Press attention will force a public hearing especially after the snow debacle,” she wrote . Advocacy journalism at its finest.
Kramer’s efforts earned her some lofty accolades. “Thanks from all in NBBL for helping us fight the evil empire,” wrote Hainline after Kramer’s Prospect Park West piece aired . “We’re making you an honorary member of NBBL (in secret — I know you have to preserve your status as an objective reporter).”
Article printed from Streetsblog New York City: http://www.streetsblog.org
URL to article: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/11/16/the-nbbl-files-weinshall-and-steisel-manufactured-anti-bike-coverage/
URLs in this post:
 first: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/11/16/2011/11/10/2011/10/11/2011/10/05/2011/10/03/the-nbbl-files-weinshall-got-randy-mastro-before-the-paint-on-ppw-was-dry/
 second: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/11/16/2011/11/10/2011/10/11/2011/10/04/the-nbbl-files-bike-lane-opponents-knew-their-lawsuit-lacked-merit/
 third: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/11/16/2011/11/10/2011/10/05/the-nbbl-files-chuck-schumer-doesnt-like-the-bike-lane/
 fourth: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/11/16/2011/10/11/the-nbbl-files-norman-steisels-ideas-became-jimmy-vaccas-bills/
 fifth: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/11/10/the-nbbl-files-ppw-foes-pursued-connections-to-reverse-public-process/
 Image: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/steisel_weinshall.jpg
 broadsheet: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/nyregion/08bike.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion
 tabloid: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/bike_lane_truce_plan_rwIxhBsmy6tvWENv0mz0aL
 evening news broadcast: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/02/17/wpix-long-island-reporter-rob-hoell-eats-marcia-kramers-lunch/
 glossy magazine: http://nymag.com/news/features/bike-wars-2011-3/
 even the British press: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2011/mar/09/new-york-bike-lane-cycling
 Image: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/cuozzo_kramer.jpg
 attacking her successor: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/06/21/for-nearly-two-years-ex-nyc-dot-chief-has-undercut-the-signature-street-safety-and-sustainable-transportation-agenda-of-her-successor/
 meddling in a hyper-local issue in his backyard: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/klyn_bike_lane_bile_j70CsVaBrqgliQxJIhrWyH
 NBBL hired a PR firm: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/04/01/ppw-bike-lane-opponents-have-pr-firm-spinning-for-them/
 warped what really happened: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/03/10/politically-connected-ppw-bike-lane-foes-are-fighting-their-own-neighbors/
 easily disproved: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/03/17/ppw-plaintiffs-cherrypicked-data-to-attack-dots-bike-lane-evaluation/
 dueling rallies on October 21, 2010: http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/10/21/hundreds-rally-in-support-of-prospect-park-west-bike-lane/
 reached out to New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DonahueRallies.pdf
 outnumbered the opponents 5 to 1: http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/33/44/ps_bikelaneprotests_2010_10_29_bk.html
 quoted the next day: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-10-22/local/29441650_1_bike-lane-prospect-park-west-dot-commissioner-janette-sadik-khan
 email seeking comment: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/DonohueEmail.pdf
 helped bike lane opponents get a letter to the editor: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/PromoteLTE.pdf
 published in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/23/opinion/l23bike.html?_r=1&hpw#p[YeaYea]
 wrote Steisel in an e-mail last December: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/SteiselNYDNEditBoard.pdf
 published an editorial: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-12-11/news/27083983_1_bike-lanes-bike-lane-facts-and-figures
 NYC bike traffic: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/nycbicyclescrct.shtml
 motor vehicle traffic: http://www.nymtc.org/data_services/HBT.html
 Steisel told NBBL leaders: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/SteiselNewsPostRedacted.pdf
 ran a piece: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/transportation-commish-sadik-khan-owes-yorkers-full-disclosure-plans-bike-lanes-article-1.133469
 The piece also contained several factual errors: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/02/07/in-attack-on-sadik-khan-the-daily-news-cant-get-its-facts-straight/
 sent a letter to Vacca: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/10/11/the-nbbl-files-norman-steisels-ideas-became-jimmy-vaccas-bills/
 ran an opinion piece: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/transportation-commissioner-janette-sadik-khan-shaky-math-sell-a-brooklyn-bike-lane-article-1.120677
 that NBBL themselves cherrypicked and manipulated: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/06/16/citys-response-to-ppw-lawsuit-matter-of-factly-dismantles-nbbl-claims/
 unanimously approved: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/04/14/brooklyn-cb-6-unanimously-approves-dot-modifications-to-ppw-bike-lane/
 made it out to be: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/proposed-improvements-prospect-park-west-bike-lane-completely-hand-article-1.114897
 the survey released earlier the same month: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/04/01/jim-brennan-poll-finds-3-2-margin-of-support-for-ppw-redesign/
 spun the decision: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/transportation-commish-janette-sadik-khan-highhanded-ways-displayed-brooklyn-bike-lane-suit-article-1.949034
 multiple: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/transportation-commissioner-janette-sadik-khan-back-34th-st-traffic-plan-facts-article-1.123284
 opinions: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/select-bus-service-34th-st-speed-traffic-thoroughfare-doesn-t-revamped-janette-sadik-khan-prepared-abandon-extreme-makeover-article-1.976489
 an: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/commissioner-sadik-khan-unruly-cyclists-turning-manhattan-bridge-pedestrian-perdition-article-1.950502
 epic: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/cyclists-high-horse-criticism-misuse-manhattan-bridge-pedestrian-path-article-1.945185
 four-part: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/battle-manhattan-bridge-shows-bikes-yield-pedestrians-article-1.950009
 series: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/visit-manhattan-bridge-walkway-found-bicyclists-riding-wild-pedestrian-turf-article-1.949313
 bike-ped conflicts: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/08/16/shocking-video-of-the-manhattan-bridge-battleground/
 a column antagonizing the city: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/psycho_cycle_policy_8Uz3OaDCdgodQ7PWqqLRMO
 CityFile: http://cityfile.com/profiles/marcia-kramer/gallery
 exposes the Israeli consulate to the risk of terrorist attacks: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/07/08/bin-laden-is-dead-but-the-second-avenue-bike-lane-lives-on/
 sloppy, error-riddled reporting: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/02/14/have-you-seen-the-latest-marcia-kramer-segment-on-prospect-park-west/
 she wrote: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/KramerPublicHearingRedacted.pdf
 wrote Hainline after Kramer’s Prospect Park West piece aired: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/HonoraryNBBL.pdf
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