If you want to stay relevant to readers, “go challenge Wall Street.” Such was Mayor Bill de Blasio’s advice for reporters and publishers on Friday afternoon. Gently ribbing his interviewer Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeedNews, for a particular brand of journalism more interested in clicks than coverage, de Blasio made his pitch to the media elite gathered at The William Vale for the Northside Report event: “theres’ no reason why [journalism] can’t be substantive and emotionally compelling,” and indeed it must be if we have a prayer in combating fake news.
The mayor’s definition of fake news, to be fair, was far more expansive than buckracking teenage trolls in Macedonia. Part of the reason why Donald Trump won in November, according to de Blasio, was a failure of the mainstream media to connect to people’s lives. By way of example, he gestured to a recent New York Times piece on his gym routine—hardly a priority for New York families concerned about skyrocketing rents and cratering school quality.
Sidelined during the 2016 presidential campaign, de Blasio has kept out of the national spotlight. Though he was elected as a left-of-left-of-center mayor in 2013 and thus seemed a natural ally for the progressive economic message of Bernie Sanders, de Blasio was muzzled by his loyalty to Hillary Clinton (he served as campaign manager for Clinton’s successful Senate bid in 2000). This Northside discussion, then, was an opportunity for de Blasio to remind New Yorkers why we voted for him in the first place. With unbridled leftism that would make Jeremy Corbyn proud, he called out Rupert Murdoch and corporate billionaires who undermine democracy by dictating the country’s news agenda. “Media is based on inequalities of the capitalist system,” he thundered, daring to use the c-word, “the wealthy own the media.” This, from the mayor of Wall Street.
Smith took the mayor’s criticism graciously, though not without a few choice words himself. After the F-train-from-hell debacle last week, Smith intoned, de Blasio ought to have “beaten the shit out of Cuomo on the front page of the tabloids.” This moment of levity, in which we all dreamed of massive investment in public investment, served as Smith’s in for the most shocking question of the day—asking if the mayor would support a progressive challenger to Cuomo next year.
“It’s this year,” de Blasio demurred, an answer that said it all.
Photos by Zane Roessell