Editor’s Note: In a recent two-part edition, The Audit roundly castigated the press for what we believe has been a dismal job covering the reconstruction of the World Trade Center. We took issue with repetitive and undeservedly positive profiles of the trade center’s leaseholder, Larry Silverstein, and said the Financial Times, Esquire and the New York Post in particular were played “like a circus organ” by Silverstein’s publicist Howard Rubenstein.

Scott Raab, author of a lengthy series on ground zero for Esquire, asked for some space to respond.
In the interest of improved ground zero coverage, and of providing a home for reasoned debate about business-press issues, we set up a debate between Raab and Elinore Longobardi, the author of The Audit pieces. The last word is Raab’s.

Raab:

I‘ve worked since April 2005 on a series of stories for Esquire about
rebuilding the World Trade Center, so I’d like to challenge the
assertion that Howard Rubenstein has “played (me) like a circus organ.”

To repeat and emphasize one point, at no time have I or my editor
dealt
with Howard Rubenstein or anyone from his agency during the two and
a
half years we have been reporting about rebuilding the World Trade
Center. From the beginning, in April 2005, we have dealt directly
with
Larry Silverstein and Dara McQuillan at Silverstein Properties. No
one
else. And neither Silverstein nor McQuillan ever asked for or
received
any control whatsoever over the range of reporting or the work
itself.

Esquire set out to write about the more practical aspects of
building a
superskyscraper, i.e., the Freedom Tower, on contested ground.
Shortly
after we began, the Freedom Tower project was thrown into chaos for
several reasons both familiar already to anybody who cares and not
directly relevant to the point — which is that, in addition to
writing
about the actual work of designing, engineering, and building the
building, we were also writing about politics, real estate, and
governance.

“Deeply misguided” as my reporting and conclusions may appear to Ms.
Longobardi, I’ll stand by it and them. Over the course of my
experience
on this story, I’ve talked with folks, on or off the record, at
every
major public agency and private contractor involved in the
rebuilding
and many of the minor ones, and I’ve followed the relevant work of
my
colleagues at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. It’s a
big,
big story, and there’s plenty to get wrong and plenty to debate.

Still, for anyone to assert, after watching the events of the past
few
years unfold at ground zero, that the Port Authority and Silverstein
Properties were not involved in a long, vicious war; or that George
Pataki did not first search in vain for a way to strip Silverstein
of
his leasehold, and then seek to control almost every aspect of the
Freedom Tower project; or that Mike Bloomberg finally opened his
mouth
about ground zero in order to serve the best interests of New York
City—for anyone to assert any of those things, much less all of
them
— is laughably ignorant.

As for my supposed pro-Silverstein hysteria, there’s no point in
trying
to explain the differences between magazine and newspaper journalism
to
someone who already should understand them, at least in theory. But
here’s a big one: Unlike a newspaper reporter, I don’t have to hide
behind various sources to mask my own earned authority, and I don’t
need to balance sock-puppets to maintain the illusion of
objectivity.


Elinore Longobardi replies:

The purpose of this call-and-response is not to score points, but to clarify issues and improve ground zero coverage going forward.

We are happy to concede that we erred in saying that Raab was played like a circus organ by Silverstein and his external PR consultant Rubenstein.

But this to us is a form of hair-splitting. The press has been played at ground zero, let’s put it that way.

We say it is a serious mistake to accept and repeat what is by now an obviously false myth that Silverstein is, or ever was, qualified to rebuild ground zero and that he is in any
sense a victim of the state, rather than an extraordinary beneficiary.

Silverstein was, and is, inexperienced, underinsured and undercapitalized. To say he is scrappy or whatever is probably true but also irrelevant. The proof is that hole at the corner of Church and Liberty Streets.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.