How a falsehood becomes a fact (New York Islanders groundbreaking division)

The New York Islanders owners held a groundbreaking for their new arena yesterday as promised, and because this mostly meant a bunch of politicians (and Ralph Macchio) scooping ceremonial dirt with shovels with hockey-stick handles, many publications sensibly enough chose to skip the event and instead run wire service copy from the Associated Press.

Unfortunately, the unnamed AP reporter wrote this:

As part of the work, developers have agreed to pay to build a new Long Island Rail Road station nearby.

No. No, they have not. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have claimed this in a press release, but state officials later revealed that the developers are putting in $30 million up front and the state $75 million, with the developers additionally making $67 million in payments, without interest, to the state over the next 30 years. How much of a subsidy that is depends on how you calculate the discount rate on future payments — I previously got a figure of about $41 million in state costs — but clearly this train station will be costing state taxpayers something, even if the developers will eventually pay for most of its price tag. (Assuming there are no significant cost overruns, anyway.)

Now, this may seem trivial: Does it really matter if newspapers report that developers “have agreed to pay to build” a new train station or “have agreed to help pay to build”? But yeah, it really does. Because the way that fact-checking works in journalism today — to the degree that journalism conducts fact-checking at all — you’re just checking to see that some other news outlet has reported the claim in question, and then you can mark it as confirmed. And so a falsehood can become an officially confirmed fact, for all time.

I’ve contacted the AP asking for a correction; I’ll update this post if I get a response. Meanwhile, at least a few outlets didn’t use the AP story, such as CBS New York, which had this to report on the governor’s statements:

“A new transportation terminal, a great economic development vehicle and a great new sports stadium. Three things all together in one project. The technical term for that is that is a hat trick, my friends. Congratulations,” Cuomo said.

No, a hat trick is when you get three of the same thing. Getting three different things is a trifecta. Jeez, people, do I have to do everything around here?

5 comments on “How a falsehood becomes a fact (New York Islanders groundbreaking division)

  1. The Belmont Park arena project promises all sorts of service options which are already available. Do we really need another “retail village” with various stores and boutiques? They also propose to offer new dining options, sports bars and restaurants. Next, there will be conference centers and meeting rooms along with movie theaters, concert facilities and a hotel. All of these so-called benefits would just compete against existing shopping malls, upscale stores, restaurants, sports bars, hotels and end up stealing some of their customers. There are already plenty of hotels and colleges which offer conference centers. The same is true for movie theaters and smaller more intimate concert facilities.

    Since there are less than 60 Islanders home games, the facility will have to be leased out for another 100 events to turn a profit. Why would any rock band appear there, when they can go to Jones Beach Theater, Westbury Music Fair, Nassau Coliseum, Shea Stadium, Arthur Ash Stadium, Forest Hills Stadium. Madison Square Garden, Barclay Arena or Radio City Music Hall? The same is true for World Wrestling Federation, circuses, college sports or other events requiring space for several thousand participants.

    (Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road MTA Bus, Nassau County NICE Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)..

  2. I am not journalist, but I am pretty sure the first rule of journalism is to use the facts that best support your story.
    This new arena is a clear example of private development that will drive economic whatnot and boost local something in a time of growing national whatevers.
    No one wants to muddy that important story with minor details like tens of millions of dollars.

  3. Belmont is a historical racetrack it doesn’t need bells and whistles it just needs fresh new customers give the customers a good and drug free product and they will come

  4. “A new transportation terminal, a great economic development vehicle and a great new sports stadium. Three things all together in one project. The technical term for that is that is a hat trick, my friends. Congratulations,” Cuomo said.

    That doesn’t just fail at being a hat trick, it fails at being true. The “new transportation terminal” is money that only needs to be spent because of the arena. New stadiums are proven to be poor economic development vehicles. And “great” new sports stadiums aren’t all that great in a lot of ways besides failing to deliver on economic promises; just ask the poor people in Cincinnati who lost their public hospital and their neighborhood due to various stadium projects, or the people of Cobb County who lost libraries, or the Giants and Jets fans who have substantially worse views from substantially more expensive seats at MetLife.

    If I were a New Yorker, I’d be tying everything I own down for fear Cuomo would take it and give it to some corporate behemoth.