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News turns tail on colleagues

May 24, 1999

Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman's name didn't appear on the un-bylined piece of puffery in Friday's News headlined "Press, city seek peace pact" - although he produced and directed it.

The article purported to explain how Zuckerman wrestled Mayor Rudolph Giuliani into agreeing "in principle" to solve one of the vexing problems of the New York press corps - that under Giuliani, cops at crime scenes, parades and other public events force reporters and photographers into "pens" often remote from the news they want to cover.

What the article didn't explain was why Zuckerman blind-sided his fellow execs at the Times, Newsday, The Associated Press and the New York Press Club, who with the News were preparing to sue Giuliani in federal court over his policies that violate the NYPD's own regulations, not to mention the U.S. Constitution.

Nor did the article explain that the News ran Zuckerman's apologia only after One Police Plaza had asked him the day before to explain why he sold out his newspaper allies.

For two years, the News counsel, Eve Burton, and managing editor Art Browne and the New York Press Club's Gabe Pressman had documented how the Police Department systemically prevented reporters and photographers access to public events. Last summer, they and News editorial director Harold Evans persuaded the Times, Newsday and the Associated Press to join in preparing a federal lawsuit.

Burton and Browne declined to comment. Evans didn't return a phone call. Pressman said his only concern was maintaining the coalition, adding he'd have plenty to say this week when he returns from Israel.

Said Floyd Abrams, the First Amendment lawyer the News hired: "I decided we had a very powerful legal case." Zuckerman, said Abrams, "signed off on a litigation option."

But last month, Zuckerman snuck down to City Hall and cut a deal with the mayor without informing anyone.

"He sold them out," said a participant who asked for anonymity. The News, he said, "recruits the other papers to sue the city over some very serious violations. Then Zuckerman purported to be representing everyone in the press without telling us he was going to make his own deal."

Newsday's counsel, Carolyn Schurr, put it more delicately: "Newsday is disappointed he didn't consult with us."

Zuckerman would not say what the Giuliani administration agreed to do, but crowed, "They agreed in principle to every item we requested."

Zuckerman's cozying with Giuliani appears endemic to their peculiar love-hate relationship. In 1994, after the News endorsed him for mayor over David N. Dinkins, Giuliani reduced the debt Zuckerman owed the city on the New York Coliseum from $33.8 million to $17 million for having failed to develop it for nine years.

In 1996, after Police Commissioner Howard Safir barred News police bureau chief John Marzulli from a news conference, Zuckerman puffed himself up as a defender of the First Amendment, announcing at a Columbia Graduate School of Journalism forum that Giuliani and Safir had told him they'd made a "mistake" they assured him wouldn't be repeated.

The mayor denied any such assurances, saying the two hadn't spoken since the incident. As recently as last year, Giuliani boycotted the Police Foundation's annual dinner because Zuckerman was its "dinner chairman."

Zuckerman's current lawsuit cave-in comes at the same time that Giuliani granted the News exclusive and unprecedented access to the NYPD's Street Crime Unit, even if the News allowed Giuliani to select the reporter he wanted. The story ran the same day Zuckerman announced his capitulation.

One more thing. Two months before, says WNBC / 4 s station manager Phil O'Brien, its reporter Scott Weinberger was denied similar access.

Coneheads or Klansmen?
Current NYPD medical board physician Dr. John Andino says he witnessed Patarolmen's Benevolent Association presidential candidate Jim Higgins and friends wandering around the Concord Hotel as Coneheads at the PBA's 1986 convention. "I don't know if it evolved into something derogatory," said Andino of the allegation that the boys ended up parading as white-sheeted Klansmen, which Higgins denies.

"But at 1:30 a.m they were horsing around as Coneheads," Andino said. "They all had a few drinks. A guy had a flowerpot on his head. We got a big laugh."

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© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.