To my friends in the traditional media: notice has been served:
- The Washington Farm Bureau is shamelessly lying to you in support of their dangerous, land use initiative, and
- Us bloggers are going to make you look awfully damn foolish if you repeat these lies unchallenged.
Noemie Maxwell has posted an absolute, must-read piece over on WashBlog, dissecting just some of the lies with which Washington Farm Bureau President Steve Appel peppered his initiative campaign kickoff speech. Noemie presents a solid bit of sleuthing that pulls the veil from the Farm Bureau’s efforts to mislead the public on this very important issue; it’s a tad wonkish, but a fascinating read.
And I especially encourage reporters and columnists who plan to cover this initiative to pay close attention, because I promise you that this is the type of relentless fact checking local bloggers will pursue throughout this initiative campaign… and if you fail to do same, we will do everything in our power to mercilessly expose your lack of professionalism.
In this particular instance, Noemie focuses on the claims of Bruce Ritter, a small landowner whose plight Appel highlights as typical of thousands of others across the state. That the head of the Farm Bureau could not find an actual farmer to serve as his property rights poster boy was the first thing to touch off Noemie’s suspicions. But …
Odder than this choice of a representative landowner, and more troubling, is the inaccuracy in Mr. Appels’ statement about the Ritter property. Half of the assertions made by Mr. Appel are easily debunked. The other half are not substantiated and are, in fact, shown by the public record to almost certainly be untrue.
Noemie then proceeds to debunk Appel’s assertion that under the proposed Thurston County Critical Areas Ordinance, Appel would lose the use of 90% of two adjoining, 5-acre parcels, his “mobile home, horse barn, well, and septic system all regulated out of existence… his land would be virtually worthless.”
In fact, as Noemie points out, the proposed regulations are public record, and they clearly state that not only are existing structures grandfathered, a “reasonable accommodation” of up to 5000 square feet is allowed per parcel.
Noemie then delves into testimony before the Thurston County Planning Commission, and other public records, and easily discovers further holes in the Ritter anecdote. In fact, a good portion of Ritter’s property is covered by wetlands, and thus development was already restricted under current regulations at the time Ritter purchased the properties in 1995. Thus the poster boy for the Farm Bureau’s initiative is a non-agricultural landowner who wants to obtain via initiative development rights on critical wetlands that he did not have at the time he purchased the property.
And how have these claims been reported in the press? Well, looking at an article in the Seattle P-I, exactly as the Farm Bureau cynically intended:
He points to people such as Bruce Ritter, who owns two adjacent 5-acre lots in Thurston County crisscrossed with wetlands and streams. Under proposed ordinances, he wouldn’t be able to build on 9 acres, Boyer said.
“When you draw all these buffers around these waterways, suddenly he’s left with no usable land, and the home and horse barn and well and septic system that he’s been sitting on for years are literally regulated out of existence,” he said.
This was a statement of fact, not of opinion, and thus the P-I had a professional obligation to fact check it before substantiating it in print. The fact that reporter Jennifer Langston cloaked the statement in attribution is no excuse, for it is demonstrably false, and thus should have been exposed as such, if repeated at all.
When Langston repeats such untruths, unchallenged, she becomes — willing or not — a collaborator with those who are trying to mislead the public for political gain. Indeed, our daily newspapers and other traditional media outlets are the essential cogs in the propaganda machine that transforms calculated lies into common knowledge: Ritter’s misleading testimony is cited by Appel who is cited by the P-I which is cited by others as an authoritative, objective source. This is the news equivalent of money-laundering, and it requires the passive assistance of professional journalists, if not their actual complicit cooperation.
Don’t get me wrong… I admire the profession. I am an avid news consumer, and I personally like and respect nearly every journalist I have met. I even consider some of them my friends. Hell… I’d kill for a shot as a paid columnist at a regional daily.
But this initiative is simply too important to hold my tongue when my friends and (gasp) colleagues screw up!
So notice has been served. Noemie and I and others will be scrutinizing every word you write on this subject between now and November, and I encourage all my fellow bloggers to link to Noemie’s post, and announce to your readers that you will be joining us in our campaign to keep this an honest debate.