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Article critical of 76er arena plan disappears from Inquirer website

By Jessica Xiao

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published a story that covered human rights concerns raised about the Philadelphia 76ers proposal to build an arena in downtown Philadelphia next to Chinatown. 

Just a few hours later, the story was nowhere to be found on the Inquirer’s website.

The article, “Group Calls Sixers Plans for New Arena ‘Inconsistent’ with International Human-Rights Law” which can still be found here, details a 13-page letter of concern that was sent to the Sixers’s team owners in July 2023 by Make the Shift, an organization that focuses on human rights and housing. 

Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance (API PA) shared the article on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter when it was published, and then hours later, posted a screenshot noting that the article could no longer be found.

The story’s removal has caused alarm amongst community advocates against the arena and journalists alike.

Community organizers wonder if the removal of the article was part of the same “predatory business model” named by The Shift in the vanished story– and an example of developer influence on media.

In an Instagram post co-published by API Pennsylvania and Students for the Preservation Of Chinatown the caption speculates “If an outlet won’t stand by reporting by one of their most tenured and award-winning journalists, then who holds wealthy and powerful business to account?” while commenters referenced The Philadelphia Inquirer’s past developer-friendly decisions, including the tone-deaf “Buildings Matter, Too” headline in 2020.

As Victor Fiorillo wrote for Philly Mag

“In the olden days, when stories only appeared in print, a publication couldn’t just make a story go away. If there was a problem with a story that appeared in print, an editor would issue a retraction notice, correction or clarification in a subsequent print issue. But in this digital era of news, a publication can just hit delete, which is what the Inquirer did. The story never appeared in the print issue. And the Inquirer didn’t bother to issue a retraction note even though it did, in fact, retract the article.”

When AsAmNews reached out to The Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday, September 8, about the vanished story, we received a statement attributable to Gabriel Escobar, Inquirer editor and senior vice president the following day: “The article that briefly appeared Thursday on Inquirer.com, in hindsight, required more context and more reporting. For those reasons, we decided to take it down while continuing to pursue the story.” 

The statement was sent to multiple journalists and outlets when asked, but journalists are concerned because no official retraction was published.

When AsAmNews asked The Philadelphia Inquirer further questions about whether an explanation will be issued to the broader public, whether there is precedent at the Inquirer to take down pieces without public explanation, whether leadership was influenced by any developers related to the 76 Place arena, or when the story would be re-published, The Inquirer did not answer these questions.

Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Jeff Gammage wrote the story, but did not respond to requests for comment from AsAmNews. His article details the letter from The Shift, an organization led by Leilani Farha, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing.

The letter was addressed to developers Josh Harris, David Blitzer, and David Adelman. It expressed concern that the arena “may be inconsistent with international human rights law,” noting multiple examples of displacement of communities of color by the construction of sports stadiums across the United States.

It also named “potential negative environmental impacts” of the 76ers arena and use. The article names and includes sources from The Shift, a PR rep for the arena developers (Nicole Gainer), as well as from Asian Americans United.

This is not Farha’s first encounter with these developers; David Blitzer, one of the Sixers arena developers, is also a senior executive in “tactical opportunities” at the private equity firm Blackstone Group. That’s the same company named by Farha in her role as UN special rapporteur for “wreaking havoc” and “helping to fuel a global housing practice,” as reported by The Guardian in 2019.

The Sixers have previously criticized the Inquirer’s coverage of the arena.

That story also written by Gammage focused on the reaction of Comcast Spectacor’s CEO Daniel Hilferty to the Sixer’s desire to leave its home stadium (Wells Fargo Stadium), which Comcast Spectator owns and operates. 

In the message obtained by AsAmNews she wrote “We are unsurprised that our statement was not included in its entirety. We have dealt for many months with the paper’s decision to assign this project to the publication’s beat writer on immigration instead of the publication’s established transit, sports, business, and real estate beat writers.”

Community advocates say the focus on Gammage’s immigration beat assignment instead of the quality of his journalism “reeks of racism,” and find both the disappearance of the story and lack of transparent public retraction demoralizing.

“There is a rather long list of things these developers have done that are shady and it isn’t only us – they have been fined by the Board of Ethics ( for incomplete disclosure reports). This action sends a chilling message to us as Philadelphians about how far wealthy individuals can go in trying to ram a project through the strong opposition of the community and large numbers of overall Philadelphians,” said Debby Wei, a community organizer and longtime Philly resident.

“My heart goes out to the real journalists in this city who believe in their work, in the integrity and ethics of their profession. This has to be demoralizing. The bullying and silencing of a community of color by the developers, and the willingness of people to go along with this is a sad reflection on the city, and a sad reflection on the marginalization of Asian Americans in this city,” says Wei.

Happy Lunar New Year! Time is running out to support our Lunar New Year Fundraising Drive through this link. The campaign ends Sunday. AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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