Ground Zero Hour: The WTC Mess and New (Nonexistent!) Timeline


There’s a well-known journalistic theory that the press serves as a “watchdog” over the government. After all, what other non-governmental occupation is mentioned in the Bill of Rights? In the case of the development debacle at Ground Zero, both papers have plucked that low-hanging fruit gleefully, and yesterday’s announcement that (big surprise!) the plan to rebuild was over budget and behind schedule allowed for the banner headlines to scream and for the editorial pages to scold.

The Post declares the announcement a BIG FAT ZERO on its front page, calling the announcement by the Port Authority to scrap every schedule regarding Ground Zero’s development “a staggering and embarrassing move.” The paper also notes how outrageous it is that PA officials say they need two more months just to come up with a schedule. Inside, columnist Steve Cuozzo recounts the blunders of the last six-plus years in sarcastic bullet points. It’s a screed that’s been coming for a long time (and, in many ways, one that he’s written before), and you can almost imagine Cuozzo’s head bashing against the keyboard as he once again has to explain why bureaucracy is holding up the various projects. He also gets in a swipe at the Times for its assistance in the “endless effort…to appease architect Santiago Calatrava” whose design for the PATH terminal “continues to wreak havoc on other Ground Zero components.”

The truck headline on pages 4 and 5 declares, “IT’S PA-THETIC!: NEW WTC CHAOS.” Personally, I much prefer the subhead on page 4: “Don’t send in the clowns — they’re already here.” There’s a charticle of the various components of the site, their original completion dates and then when they’re actually going to be finished. Can you believe that the Freedom Tower originally was supposed to open this year? (According to the Daily News, its original completion date was two years ago, but then bumped back to 2011.) Also included is a list of the “six stooges who bungled Ground Zero,” which includes former Govs. Pataki and Spitzer and developer Larry Silverstein.

The Daily News front page says of the whole debacle, “IT’S A TOTAL MESS!” and includes a quote from its editorial on said mess:

“Officials knew that the WTC was wildly over budget and behind schedule. The PA said everything was fine. If that’s not a lie, it’s damn close.”

The page-20 editorial mainly takes to task the design for the PATH station, which the editorial board describes as “ridiculously out of scale” and “vastly overly magnificient.” (And yes, when you look at the rendering of the design, it does have a “WTF?” quality to it. To me, it looks like the mouth of a giant whale.)

What I really liked about the coverage of this – for lack of a better term -bureaucratic clusterfuck (c’mon, because that is what it really, truly is) is that it really didn’t stoop to emotional manipulation to get the idea across of how awful this project has been bungled. The News did lead with the fact that only part the 9/11 memorial will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, but it’s objectively stated and then the story moves on. A few years ago, I imagine that those facts would be followed by upsetting quotes from victims’ families about how heartwrenching this whole process is. Ground Zero is hallowed ground for those who lost loved ones on that horrible day, and they do need a place to grieve and reflect. Right now the outrage needs to be directed at the Port Authority, developers and government officials who have bungled this process beyond belief.

Kudos to both papers for showing emotional restraint in that department on day one and for directing the outrage to the proper channels, as a snarling watchdog should. Let’s see if they keep it up in the second-day stories.