Time digs up news on Miami — totally true, totally misleading
By Michael Lewis
Miami took a bashing last week in a Time article, "There's trouble — lots of it — in paradise," a report both perfectly true and perfectly misleading.
We might have expected it on the 25th anniversary of Time's infamous Miami cover article, "Paradise Lost." In fact, Time plastered that title on its Web site. Time gathered anything negative — seven sources told readers what's wrong. Not a single balancing quibble.
The report's crux: Residents are fleeing, 20,000 a year more than other US residents moving in, and only the flow of foreigners keeps population rising.
True, but hardly catastrophic. In fact, the foreign influx reveals Miami as a cosmopolitan magnet for good living.
The article ignored thousands of US citizens who buy Miami condos while they keep homes elsewhere. Who looks for a winter retreat in hell?
Time quotes three residents, including retirees, who plan to leave because of rising costs. Its Web site says, "Long viewed as a retirement dreamland, Miami is now experiencing a rude urban awakening."
Yes, costs are soaring. And, yes, retirees can seek opportunities like the eight-room, restored, century-old South Carolina home we advertised recently for $205,000 and stretch their money in rural areas. It's appealing.
But Miami is far more appealing if you seek a vibrant multinational business community with higher-paying jobs, urban amenities, cultural opportunities, sporting events, fine dining galore, metropolitan lifestyles, South Beach, a multicultural mix and everything else that comes with a cosmopolis, coupled with Miami's climate and geographical positioning.
When did Time finally notice that Miami isn't a sleepy retirement town and hasn't been for decades? It's tough to be castigated for not being something that nobody thought we were — and certainly nothing we sought to be. London and Paris aren't retirement meccas, either. (And they also have problems and foreigners moving in, don't they?)
Yes, Time's article is accurate as far as it goes. But by wording and detail selection, a reader can be led 180 degrees the wrong way.
Read this: "Regular Miamians are taking stock of their new city: traffic jams, half-built high rises, struggling schools. And more than ever, they're voting with their flip-flops. They're leaving town."
First, define "regular Miamian." Does "regular" to a New York publication mean they take cream in their coffee? Or that they've no need of laxatives? Or does it mean the three quoted persons who say they want to leave because of high costs and traffic? Or that regular people don't like the increasingly multinational populace the article seems to resent?
How about those half-built high-rises? The implication is that work froze midstream. But a look out the window at ubiquitous construction cranes tells you the opposite. I've seen hundreds of half-built multifamily residences in southern Turkey that were abandoned after a devastating earthquake. That's not what's happening here.
Look at "struggling schools." Our educational problems are no secret. But experts would cite significant recent improvements — if they were asked. What if the article had said "improving schools" instead of "struggling schools"? Of course, to do so, the writer would have needed sources who weren't discontented — or, as happened here, to make the statement without citing a source.
The article said the Imagine Miami visioning project "recently asked some 1,600 randomly selected residents to list what they thought were the top "Miami values.' What was the No. 1 value? Corruption."
That's damning — we value corruption most. Damning, but not what residents said.
The survey question was, "What is the biggest challenge in achieving community and economic prosperity?" Since when did a challenge become a value?
Other than the survey, the article cites six sources — three who say they'll leave, an unemployed resident, a Liberty City group formed by two former union organizers that says it does "aggressive community organizing campaigns," and Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who is pushing to accumulate far more powers for the mayor by revamping county government.
Is this the group you'd choose to say what makes Miami tick? Is it at all likely that these sources are going to say much positive?
Time wrote what it was told — or the slice of it that painted a Miami in peril. It cites problems without suggesting solutions — woe are you.
Well, Miami has problems aplenty — or opportunities aplenty if you look at what solutions can achieve, which Time didn't. But some of those problems bespeak a community on the rise, not trouble in paradise.
For example, Time cites rush-hour drivers on causeways having to "idle their engines a bit longer as the drawbridges raise for yachters on their breakfast cruises from nearby celebrity islets." How bad can that be?
But that's the kind of detail you need if you want to paint a picture of a troubled Miami. All those condo buildings rising and breakfast cruises and foreigners rushing in to get a piece of paradise. Must be hell.
Must be even worse trying to make one of the hottest communities on the globe look like everyone's trying to escape.
Wonder how many people Time had to sift before it found seven voices so disaffected? That, folks, is what we journalists call digging up the news.