They Never Learn Dept.: Last August, our dailies spent two weeks hyperventilating about lane closures resulting in huge I-5 backups that never materialized. No matter. Top headline in the P-I‘s web site (and on tee-vee) today: lane closures coming for two weeks resulting in huge I-405 backups! Even worse: the traffic mess will interfere with your Christmas shopping!! (Seriously. This was the focus of the P-I’s article.) Smelling salts, please: the article made no mention of August’s I-5 experience, in which people changed their travel habits accordingly. But we can’t have a daily paper stuffed full of ads from the malls suggest that you avoid I-405 and patronize your local neighborhood stores instead, now, can we?
Same Theme, Take Two: Three days ago, we were breathlessly told that the Port Townsend-Whidbey Island car ferry run was going to be out of service “for a year or more.” Today, we learn that it’ll be back next month. Moral: Don’t believe the hype.
In another Much Ado About Nothing story, everyone is milking another day of coverage out of the SLUT by reporting — gasp! — that someone left five ball bearings in the tracks Wednesday. (Great. Now every teen delinquent in the region knows a simple way to get yourself on tee-vee and the front page.) The P-I’s story in particular was notable for a closing quote by King County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson John Urquhart:
“We have no idea what their motive was, no idea who put that there and we’re not going to speculate.”
This just after P-I reporter Scott Gutierrez had run a paragraph of exactly that sort of speculation-by-innuendo:
Despite civic leaders hailing the $52 million streetcar line, it has been controversial among area residents. During the opening run, a bicyclist group organized a protest to call attention to the dangers of streetcars for bicyclists.
What, exactly, does that have to do with the ball bearing incident? Shall we spell it out?
And, to round out our local bad media day, a tale of two headlines.
The Seattle Times: “McDermott votes against Christmas resolution to protest Bush veto.”
The P-I: “McDermott: Christmas vote was jab at bill’s GOP sponsor.” Which in turn conflicted with the story’s lede, a third, particularly treacly non-explanation from Mickey D: “Christmas is really about children…A children’s holiday, if you will.”
Barf. On so many levels.
Hard to tell whether it’s sloppy reporting, or Sunny Jim saying stupid things while trying to make a non-story go away. Or both.
Nationally: War on Terror Watch #1: The House yesterday passed a controversial and sadly redundant bill to ban waterboarding and “other harsh interrogation tactics.” Controversial: nearly 200 reps, most Republicans, voted for torture, something unthinkable even ten years ago. Redundant: didn’t we already pass a bill banning torture two years ago? Aren’t we already signatories, quaint or not, to the Geneva Conventions? Naturally, George Bush issued an immediate veto threat against a measure he already basically signed into law in early 2006 (with a signing statement saying, correctly, that he’d ignore the law).
War on Terror Watch #2: Remember the uproar last year when a bunch of jihadist wannabes were arrested in Miami, with the Bush administration, as usual, using the busts to play Fear Factor with the American public? Never mind.
Officials had acknowledged that the defendants, known as the Liberty City Seven for the depressed section of Miami where they frequently gathered in a rundown warehouse, had never acquired weapons or equipment and had posed no immediate threat. But, the officials said, the case underscored a need for pre-emptive terrorism prosecutions.
The prosecution’s case against the seven, accused of, well, let’s call it hazy plotting to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower and other landmarks, fell apart Thursday. A Miami jury acquitted one defendant and a mistrial was declared in the cases of the other six when the jury deadlocked. Naturally, the feds immediately announced that the remaining six would be retried. And naturally, the outcome of the trial is getting a lot less attention than the original arrests.
Instead, the most talked about news story of the day is a sports non-story, given that we knew the general outline of it two years ago. Former Sen. George Mitchell released his long-awaited report on steroids in baseball yesterday, and it was sweeping, but far from complete, offering 91 names of current or former players alleged (at times on very thin evidence) to have taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs. The Mitchell investigation was essentially a preemptive move by baseball owners to (lightly) investigate themselves, sacrificing the reputations of a relative handful of players so as to hopefully forestall any federal or criminal investigation, which would turn up far more names in what was by most accounts a drug culture pervasive in the sport for over a decade. Roger Clemens (based on one person’s uncorroborated account) was the biggest of yesterday’s sacrificed reputations. Barry Bonds has been a lightning rod for steroids criticism and headlines because he has been black, surly, and very, very good for a long time, and now you can add Clemens, who has been white, surly, and also very, very good for a long time.
Twelve former Seattle Mariners were among the 91 named in the Mitchell report (but, after Jose Guillen was dumped this fall, no current ones). Note that Bret Boone, frequently suspected of steroid use in his Mariner heyday, was not named. (Neither, thank God, was Edgar Martinez or Jay Buhner.) But that itself means nothing. Mitchell had no subpoena power, and only two current players would talk with him. Most of those accused has ties with at least one of two people who did talk, former trainers for the Mets and Yankees. Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker, in his Mariners blog, had the most succinct take of the day on the report:
Tip of the iceberg stuff. We’ve got all these names pouring out based mainly on the sworn declarations of two people — Radomski and Brian McNamee. Just imagine how many we’d uncover if Mitchell had the power to force everyone to talk to him under oath.
Or imagine if we had a news media that didn’t often spend its time covering trivia and even screwing that up.