Investigative Journalism Doesn't Warrant Printing When it Unearths Nothing

City Council members' requirement to disclose their financial information doesn't mean we need to write about it when nothing is awry. Today, the Daily News published an article insinuating that by having outstanding credit card balances, Council members are somehow in the wrong, while providing no evidence to support that implication. And if a member's finances are screwy enough to uphold a claim that they are unfit for their city position, then the Daily News missed that story entirely.

First of all, City Council members are fairly well-off. They make "$112,500 base salary for their part-time jobs, plus 'lulus' of $4,000 to $10,000 for leadership posts," according to the same article in the Daily News, and they have separate full-time jobs on top of that -- not bad at all. So, to owe thousands on a credit card is, conceivably, not a big deal, and maybe not even a small deal.

I cautiously trust that the Daily News reporters did their homework and that data used in their article is accurate; my gripe is that the paper blew it out of proportion, implying something is wrong without any evidence. Case in point:

Headline: City Council members sure know how to rack up their own debt as some are thousands of dollars in red.

Lead: And these are the people who vote on the city budget!

The Daily News goes on, "Seventeen of 51 City Council members are carrying balances of $5,000 or more on their credit cards -- and could be as much as $2 million in debt." $5,000 to $2 million is an insanely wide range to spout off without support, but it seems to be the only data set the News could attain (reason enough to ditch the story). It goes on, "The 17 members have 45 credit cards between them, with a total outstanding balance between $465,000 and $2,145,000." Though $2,000,000 is unsettling enough to warrant explanation, the only two concrete examples the piece provides are financial non-events:

Councilman Domenic Recchia (D-Brooklyn), who chairs the budget-writing Finance Committee, said the $40,000 to $60,000 he owes on one card covers upfront costs in the cases he takes as a personal injury and medical malpractice lawyer.

"We get it back at the end of the case," Recchia said. "It's not personal debt."

....a very definite possibility. His 'financial alibi' seems to check out. Onto the next:

Councilwoman Inez Dickens (D-Manhattan) had eight cards, including American Express gold and platinums, with balances between $5,000 and $40,000 each.

"It doesn't worry her. She has no problems paying her bills," said her spokeswoman Lynette Velasco. "She doesn't pay late and isn't near bankruptcy.... I'm quite sure Donald Trump has credit card debt, too."

We're still not learning of a Council member bankruptcy or home foreclosure. Are they questionably qualified to approve budgets because they are rich enough to pay back steep credit card balances?

I'm all about journalism as a democracy-preserving watchdog, but this shit drives me crazy. If you're going to write about something completely inane, at least make it funny or engaging or something.

[LM]


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