Rupert's Welfare

The New York Post's editorial and opinion page is a place where the sanctity of the free market is practically a religion.

But behind the scenes, the Post is quite content to take government handouts.

Take, for example, the $13 million economic development grant the Pataki administration approved this week for the tabloid.

Why, taxpayers want to know, should part of our hard-earned paychecks pamper the pockets of the paper that's always complaining about everyone else's welfare check? Especially since that paper is owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch?

To hear the state tell it, the Pataki crew is scared to death that Rupert will take his paper and run to New Jersey. A state spokeswoman claimed there was "a good possibility" that the Post was going to move its printing jobs to Jersey.

So just because Murdoch starts playing job footsie with Christine Todd Whitman, you and I have to fork over millions to help him build a color printing plant in the Bronx?

Please.

Last year, Murdoch's News Corporation had revenues of $11.26 billion. He needs my money about as much Papua New Guinea needs a rainstorm.

The Empire State Development Corporation--the Pataki-picked panel that doles out these pork rinds--is supposed to help companies create jobs.

If Murdoch lives up to his word, this $13 million welfare check will go to create a whopping 100 jobs between now and 2002. That's it: 25 jobs a year. That comes out to $129,000 for every new job--making this the largest handout of its kind in New York State's history.

And if Murdoch doesn't create 100 jobs, how hard do you think George Pataki is going to work to get our dough back?

So much for Republican fiscal responsibility.

Maybe you think it's a coincidence that state money is being handed over to a newspaper in an election year.

Think again. Thanks to the Albany Times-Union, we know how this backroom deal is structured: as part of the Post deal, the state will purchase the Walnut Avenue Depot in the South Bronx from the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The MTA has agreed to ignore critics who say that closing the bus depot there will hinder bus service.

Buying that land will cost taxpayers $11.5 million. The state will then turn around and sell the land for $3.5 million.

Any real estate genius who tried to pull off a deal like that would find himself out on his keister.

The key here is to understand who's buying the land at this discount: a firm called Harlem River Yard Ventures, part of something called the Galesi Group.

You've probably never heard of the Galesi Group, since it's based in Rotterdam. But rest assured that Pataki and his fundraising staff know exactly who Francesco Galesi is.

Back in 1994, Pataki's campaign finance chief, Charles Gargano, was very familiar indeed with Galesi, who gave $15,000 to Pataki's campaign and helped him raise even more. Galesi was so overjoyed at Pataki's victory that he kicked in another $5000 for the governor's inaugural (how many jobs did that create?).

Then in '96, Galesi was one of the big ($25,000) donors to Pataki's pet cause: getting the message to voters that Pataki is an environmentalist--whoops, I mean, getting voters to see the virtues of the environmental bond act.

How does the Pataki administration reward this benefactor? Well, Gargano now heads up economic development for the state, and can express his gratitude by helping Galesi get some very cheap land. Galesi then gets to lease the land to Rupert Murdoch well into the 21st century.

See how nicely this works?

For a moment, it looked like Democrats in the state assembly might put the brakes on the deal. But on Monday, a spokesman for majority leader Sheldon Silver told the Voice that the final approval vote would sail through unanimously.

So everybody's happy, except those of us who want to know why poor little Rupert Murdoch can't pay for his own plant.

And how will the Post ever repay all the state's generosity?

For starters, you can bet your X-Files T-shirt that the Post will endorse Pataki's reelection this fall. And it's also a safe wager that the normally tax-conscious Post won't be spotlighting too many instances of Pataki using our money to pay off his friends.

Only in New York, kids, only in New York.

(With stylistic apologies to Cindy Adams, Andrea Peyser, Ray Kerrison, and, well, pretty much all the Post's columnists.)

Blumenthal Goes Ballistic

The conventional view--especially on the right--is that the online magazine Salon is probably the nation's most Clinton-friendly publication.

Earlier this year, for example, a Washington Times op-ed writer called Salon "a favorite Web site of the Clinton White House." A New York Post editorial this year referred to "the pro-Clinton press machine, writing under the name 'Murray Waas' in the on-line 'zine Salon."

On all matters Whitewater and Lewinsky, the criticism has some basis. But when it comes to ballistic missiles, the White House wants to have Salon bombed.

Recently, top White House aide Sidney Blumenthal--angry at what he thought was a critical Salon article--threatened to cut Salon reporter Murray Waas off from all administration sources. Such strong-arm calls to reporters are not unheard of. But this one was made before Waas's article had even been published.

"I heard [Blumenthal] was furious," says Salon editor David Talbot, "although I didn't talk to him directly."

The story that popped Blumenthal's cork ran in Salon on May 29. Based on Waas's access to classified documents and anonymous government sources, it maintained that between 1993 and 1996, the administration "allowed numerous exports of potential ballistic-missile technology to the Chinese government," and that, in some instances, the exports had been approved despite the Chinese government's refusal to "allow inspections to assure that the technology was only being used for civilian purposes."

Moreover, Waas reported, the Clinton White House ignored warnings from its own Defense Department that the technology China was getting could be diverted to military use.

Waas's reporting was potentially explosive for at least two reasons. First, the Republican Congress had already announced its plans to investigate the export waiver given to Loral Space and Technology, which is headed by Bernard Schwartz, the Democratic Party's largest contributor. Second, Clinton was about to embark on a major trip to China, and did not want to be tarred as an apologist for weapons-crazed Chinese leaders.

In that context, Blumenthal apparently went ballistic. He called Salon Washington bureau chief Jonathan Broder and reportedly said: "In terms of foreign policy, nobody is going to talk to Murray Waas again." In a follow-up call to Waas, Blumenthal repeated his threat.

Waas told the Voice he was "maddened" by the call, especially because he's working on a book about nuclear proliferation. "I've never known someone from the White House to behave that way," Waas said last week. He added that he'd heard Blumenthal had been boasting around Washington that he'd gotten a separate Waas Salon story killed.

"This guy is a fundamentalist on the issue of Clinton," Waas said of Blumenthal, "in much the same way as Jerry Falwell is."

Editor Talbot said he "could care less" about Blumenthal's threat because he considered it "idle." He added: "Salon has a genuine American journalistic legend in Murray Waas. He follows his nose wherever it leads, and Salon fully backs him."

Is it, however, a wise idea for the White House to be trashing one of its best media friends? And does Blumenthal really have the official capacity to eliminate reporters' access?

Reached on Monday, White House press officer Julia Payne, traveling with Clinton in New Orleans, said she would investigate, but did not call back before the Voice's deadline.

Clipboard

  • Feminism may not be dead, but it has trouble getting a big outdoor turnout on a very hot day. The National Organization for Women theoretically organized a demonstration in front of Time Warner's offices Monday, to protest the anemic Time June 22 cover story "Is Feminism Dead?" (the one that used a cover image of Ally McBeal to illustrate the point). The demo was coordinated with a meeting indoors between several feminist activists and Time managing editor Walter Isaacson and others to discuss increasing the mag's coverage of feminist topics. Arguably, the protest ended up making Time's point; a Time source said only 20 people showed up outside. One difficulty may have been logistic; the Voice received two flyers putting the start of the demo at different times. Inside, however, one participant reports that the atmosphere was "cordial," but "nothing concrete" was decided on. . . .

  • In a peculiar--but satisfying--allusion, this was how Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times referred to the three criminal convictions of media tycoon and onetime Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi last Monday: "He has . . . turned his multiple legal troubles into a political campaign, accusing left-leaning prosecutors of singling him out for political persecution. A little like a player in the card game Hearts, who decides to amass bad cards to shoot the moon, Mr. Berlusconi is hoarding his convictions."

    Research: Leila Abboud

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