This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
The strike also deprived two city agencies of a valuable weapon in enforcing laws to protect consumers and tenants. Markets Commissioner Albert S. Pacetta said that fear of publicity normally helped keep shady merchants in line. The cheats, he said, hold back because they know how customers react to a newspaper story about a conviction. But in the blackout the highest sentence ever imposed in the city against a butcher with a heavy thumb—$750 or 30 days in jail—got scant attention. Such a story. Commissioner Pacetta said, “normally would have brought a flood of letters, giving us new leads.”
Buildings Commissioner Harold Birns told a similar story about the fight against slumlords. “Landlords don’t want to be known as slumlords,” he said, “There’s a distinct difference between a $500 fine and a $500 fine plus a story in the Times.”
The City Rent and Rehabilitation Administration had a similar problem in rent control. Rent-control officials announced on the first day of the strike that they had won $1,400 in refunds for twenty-two Bronx tenants who had been overcharged on deposits. Nobody reported the story, and other tenants who could have been helped were not alerted.
On January 7, the Rent and Rehabilitation Administration announced a schedule of rent increases that would be permitted for the installation of new kitchen cabinets. Before the strike, gouging in kitchens had created a scandal, but now only the interim Metropolitan Daily and the New York Law Journal reported the story in print.
The Health Department had found that the venereal disease rate was up, but the campaign against it was “seriously impaired” without the help of the newspapers, especially the Daily News and the Mirror.
The Real Estate Department found itself unable to advertise in the usual way its monthly sales of city owned property. In place of newspaper ads, the department tried notices in subway-car windows. The January 10 sales got the best public response in memory—more than 1,000 telephone inquiries. The department planned to use subway ads in the future.
There were examples of problems in communication among government agencies during the strike, Roland Sintron, director of the “tension control” unit of the City Commission on Human Rights, said he normally would have found out through the newspapers, rather than belatedly from the police, that two members of the Black Muslim movement had been arrested in Times Square December 25 on disorderly conduct charges. As it was, Mr. Sintron did not find out at all until January 14, when 400 Black Muslims marched in protest to City Hall. He said the protest march might have been prevented if he had learned about the arrests earlier.
Earl Fisher, chief of the commission’s complaints division, noted that the lack of real-estate advertising led to a decline in the number of complaints about discrimination in apartment rentals. Usually the volume runs to twelve or fifteen complaints a month. In December, eight complaints were received; in the first half of January, only two.
Deputy Police Commissioner Walter Arm said the police campaign to recruit 3,000 new patrolmen suffered because of the strike. He reported that applicants taking police tests dropped from more than 900 a week to 359 the first week of the strike, and later leveled off at about 500 a week. The volume is important because usually only one of ten men tested is finally accepted.
Important court news went unprinted, Bernard Botein, the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, First Department, said reorganization of the court structure in the city on September 1, 1962, had “immensely” reduced the number of persons held in detention awaiting trial.
He also disclosed that Justice William C. Heckt Jr. of State Supreme Court had completed final liquidation of guaranteed and certified mortgages, valued at more than $700,000,000, which had been taken over by the courts during the depression of the 1930’s. That ended a valuable source of political patronage—the appointment of trustees.
Yet neither story was reported, because the courts maintain an austere public-relations policy, and as a rule they wait for the reporters to ask the right questions. Reporters were not there on their beats to ask.
II. Public debate