On Tuesday, one lucky group of New York City journalists were treated to an evening of drinks, pizza squares, and funny gift exchanges at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's annual Holiday Party for local press.
In attendance this year were reporters from the New York Times, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, CBS, Fox, and other outlets. The journalists, no doubt straining to retain their “objectivity” throughout, were able to schmooze with dignitaries such as Bloomberg’s longtime partner Diana Taylor (who sits on the Board of Directors for Brookfield Properties, the retail firm that partially owns Zuccotti Park) and Paul Browne, spokesperson for the New York City Police Department.
Bloomberg made sure to crack a few jokes at the expense of Occupy Wall Street, whose encampment he ordered forcibly cleared on November 15, by way of a surprise paramilitary style raid. Reporters attempting to cover the police action were harassed, assaulted, and barred from viewing the area -- for their own protection, Bloomberg later claimed. (Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents the Financial District, has since called on Attorney General Eric Holder to launch an investigation.) All told, police arrested at least ten journalists.
In response, the New York Times, along with The Associated Press, the New York Post, the Daily News, Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones & Company, WABC, WCBS, and WNBC sent a strongly worded letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denouncing the NYPD’s conduct during the raid.
None of this stopped New York City’s press corps from laughing it up with the mayor last night.
“I know only five of you in here have actual press credentials,” Bloomberg reportedly quipped, a reference to his office’s assertion that a mere five of the twenty-six journalists arrested overall displayed city-issued press passes.
“There were so many little jokes” about OWS over the course of the night, Nida Khan, a reporter/producer who attended told me. “You could see the awkward reaction from people in the room. Some laughed at these jokes, others were just uncomfortable.”
Bloomberg bestowed "gag gifts” upon a number of journalists, quipping that they “are reserved only for ‘the one percent,’” according to Fernanda Santos, an education reporter for the New York Times. Santos herself received a fake Department of Education “VIP Security Pass."
“I had no reservations going to the party,” Santos told me. “It’s a good time and a fun tradition the mayor’s press office started some years back.”
In return, Dave Seifman, a longtime columnist for the New York Post, presented Bloomberg with gag gifts on behalf of “Room 9” -- the group of journalists who regularly cover City Hall. Rich Lamb, of CBS Radio, served as his “Vanna White,” according to an attendee.
One of the gifts was a tarp that Seifman said “they picked up from the Sanitation Department on the West Side,” Khan recalled. This, of course, was a mocking reference to the NYPD’s forced seizure of tarps, tents, laptops, and many other items in Zuccotti Park, which were thrown into sanitation trucks and dumped in a massive pile at a warehouse-type facility on West 57th Street.
Bloomberg draped himself in the tarp and posed briefly with it, attendees said. Todd Maisel of the New York Daily news tweeted a photo of Bloomberg smiling from ear-to-ear.
The meeting is presumed to be off-the-record, though no formal guidelines are unstated, according to several journalists who were there. Maisel, the photographer, described the mood as “light-hearted.”
“The mayor sometimes deals with tough issues with humor,” he said. After taking the photo, Maisel told me, one of Bloomberg’s aides came over and expressed concern to him about the optics. “They try to deflect bad press from the mayor. But the mayor -- he doesn't care that much.”
And on the menu, according to an attendee?
"Pulled pork on tortilla chips, shrimp dumplings, pizza squares with sausage, pizza squares with mushrooms, and some kind of spicy (buffalo?) chicken stew, served in small white cups with a slice of jalapeno pepper on top.”
UPDATE: This article originally stated that 26 journalists were arrested during the Nov. 15 raid on Zuccotti Park. In fact, 26 journalists have been arrested since the beginning of the movement, while at least 10 were arrested on that particular day. The article has been changed to reflect this.