When New York City Council Member Dan Halloran announced that the city’s poor response to last month’s blizzard was the result of an intentional slow down by sanitation workers, we had a chance to see how right-wing media works. Based only on his unverified claims, the story appeared in The Post, then on its sibling Fox News. Other news agencies then followed Fox’s lead, and all the attention prompted three separate probes by the US Attorney, District Attorney and the City Department of Investigations.
Halloran had his 15 minutes of fame serving the anti-worker interests of the right-wing message machine, and the workers were dubbed “Abominable Snowmen" by the ever-classy Post.
Now the story of these “Abominable Snowmen” is proving as questionable as the yeti itself.
The New York Times recently called the “evidence elusive” and the whole tale “mystifying” as investigators dig through the snow job to find the truth. The Daily News, which takes glee at poking at The Post, reports that Halloran’s story has changed with each re-telling as he now faces the investigators he urged into action. Their editorial board called for him to come clean.
As the more reasonable news organizations point out, evidence may still emerge or whistleblowers may step forward. Friday morning’s Post reports that Halloran has offered the name of one of the supposed sources, though given the Post’s track record with the truth and agenda against labor, one should wait for the complete story before jumping to conclusions. Let's hold off until we have some facts before we judge the story completely. Whether there was a slow down is an issue investigators are examining. And if Halloran truly feels his hands were tied because he didn’t want to endanger his source, maybe he will convince fellow conservatives to back stronger whistleblower protections on all levels.
But as the Post, Fox and Halloran’s brief dance with Tea Party stardom demonstrated, finding the truth wasn’t the top of their agenda. Their real goal was making a point, regardless of the facts.
GritTV’s Laura Flanders nailed it in a commentary on Thursday: “The New York Post and Fox News have already used the union workers as another excuse to blame all organized government workers for everything that's wrong with the country. The damage has been done, and it's probably too much to hope that the Post will enjoy splashing the truth around as much as all the misinformation.” None of these accusations were about improving snow clean-up — which did get considerably better as the mayor and his administration felt the scrutiny and heard the outcry of citizens’ groups, conscientious City Council members and tenacious journalists. Instead, the Halloran story was a political act that’s causing as much chaos for public employees as the snow caused for our public roads.
The weeks ahead will reveal whether Halloran breached any ethics violations, what sort of source the sanitation supervisor is, and whether investigators need to keep shoveling through this mess. But the weeks that have already passed proved something: no blizzard of truth will stop the Murdoch empire from plowing ahead with their anti-worker crusade. All we can hope is that other journalists take pause before following their lead, and other elected officials will use their platform to as aggressively solve our city’s problems rather than contributing to the slush.
Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."