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Beware a Media Mea Culpa

August 15, 2016

Readers, take any apology from the media with a grain of salt.

Consider last week’s mea culpa from the Daily News for having supported former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policy as essential to public safety.

By 2011, the number of stops — virtually all of them of black and Hispanic young men, virtually none of whom had committed a crime — reached 650,000 before federal judge Shira Scheindlin declared the policy unconstitutional.

“We are delighted to say we were wrong,” the News editorialized. “Not only did crime fail to rise, New York hit record lows.”

It’s rare that the media acknowledges a mistake. So let’s congratulate the News. On the other hand, the News goes with the flow. Its editorials reflect what the body politic thinks at the moment — and what will help its owner, Mortimer Zuckerman.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialThe News apparently concluded there’s no one around to defeat Mayor de Blasio in 2017. So after 12 years of blind support for Kellyand Mayor Michael Bloomberg, it now writes, “Mayor de Blasio knew better. Advised by (outgoing NYPD Commissioner Bill) Bratton before his election (in 2013), de Blasio foresaw the possibility that the NYPD could fight crime while relaxing interactions with the public.”

O.K., so far so good. But if the News — which once called itself “the honest voice of New York,” — is serious about apologizing for its bad calls, maybe it should consider apologizing to John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence.

When he was appointed in 2014, the News published a Page-One headline, a two-column editorial and a separate news story — each bashing him.

The front page headline read: “TV GUY IS NEW TERROR CHIEF,” with a box at the bottom, reading: “In a surprising move, Bratton has named former TV news star John Miller as the city’s anti-terror honcho — a massive role for which he has minimal experience.”

The editorial stated: “Miller’s government service pales in comparison with that of those who served on Kelly’s team,” and described Miller as a “cub” when compared to Kelly’s head of intelligence David Cohen.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittThe news story, with the bylines of five reporters, read, “The gap in experience between Miller and Cohen is staggering, leading some to question whether Bratton made the right choice.” 

Included in the story was this unattributed statement from a “high-ranking counter-terrorism official” — (probably Cohen): “The pick will be ridiculed around the globe by terrorists.”

Make no mistake, the News, then in pro-Kelly / pro-Bloomberg mode, was attacking not just Miller but Bratton and de Blasio.

Despite its excesses — over-the-top spying on Muslim communities that was exposed by this column and The Associated Press, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting — Kelly and Cohen deserve credit for creating an intelligence division. But in so doing, they antagonized every law enforcement agency it came in contract with. Remember the 2006 urban version of a Mexican standoff between the NYPD and Port Authority Police? NYPD patrol cars sat outside the gates of Ground Zero. Port Authority Police cars sat inside. The stare-down was a turf war. That’s how you fight terrorism?

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialThen there was the 2007 diplomatic imbroglio at Kennedy Airport when, on Cohen’s orders, then-intelligence chief Thomas Galati held up the Iranian delegation en route to the United Nations for 40 minutes, violating diplomatic protocol to the chagrin of the Port Authority, Secret Service and State Department. A chortling News editorial said of the incident, “The NYPD stood tall. Led by a chief named Thomas Galati, the cops put the Iranians in their place until the feds insisted New York had to abide by diplomatic niceties.”

Well, Miller’s been around for two and a half years now and has proved his mettle. Let’s hope that, when he leaves, probably by year’s end, the News gives him a proper send-off, if not an apology.

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Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt