The Facts vs. the Truth

According to our critics, bloggers like me aren’t really very good journalists. We’re partisan, we’re selective, and we don’t do our own reporting. Get your news from real journalists, like those at the Seattle Times, and you’ll come away much better informed.

Or will you?

Take this morning’s article on a plumbing screwup at Washington State Ferries headquarters, a story that’s making the top of the hour news on radio stations across the region: “Water fountains fed by heating, cooling systems found in ferries headquarters.”

Oh man… figures, doesn’t it? And you can see that instant, angry, government/union-bashing reaction in the comment thread on the Times website:

“This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, were talking Washington State Ferry System they have trouble keeping their ferries running.”

“Probably hooked up by the state Ferry engineers.”

“Wonderful that the State requires union workers paid union wages on contracts and this is what we get. But I’m sure the union will step right in and protect the lazy plumber who did this by saying they need ‘more training’.”

Only problem is, while none of the facts in the article appear to be obviously wrong (because apart from the addition of an administrator’s quote, all of the facts seem to have been pulled from a WSDOT press release), the Times article gave its government-hating readers exactly the wrong impression.

This wasn’t a screwup on the part of lazy/incompetent public employees, but rather the private sector.

For what the Times leaves out is that the building is owned and operated by Seattle uber-landlord Martin Selig, and that the water fountains were installed two-years before the Ferries moved into the building, not by union plumbers, but by a small, mom & pop, Kirkland-based contractor.

The Ferries and their workers were victims here, not the perpetrators. But you wouldn’t guess that from the Times’ factual reporting.


  1. 2

    Mene mene tekel Upharsin (there goes the neighborhood) spews:

    Journalists or any news media outlet that claim to be unbiased in their reporting are only fooling themselves and their readers.

    Any community college history major can tell you that there are schools of thought when reporting the news — whether it be yesterday’s or 100 years ago.

  2. 3

    Alki Postings spews:

    BUT BUT BUT!? The private sector NEVER makes mistakes? Fox News keeps telling me EVERYTHING the government does is bad and everything private sector is good and the cure for government. A private contractor can never screw up. A for-profit company can’t cheat, steal or lie. Can’t happen. ROTFLMAO

    So again the endless wingnut crazy anti-fact anti-reality anti-science rants against unions, government, etc…and it’s ALL wrong and 100% opposite of reality (shock) and the entire problem was a private sector for-profit business screw up. Shocking.

  3. 4

    Poster Child spews:

    perhaps my read of the article was influenced by reading your post first, but the article doesn’t seem to steer me in an anti-union direction and the few commenters who do draw those conclusions would have made those unreasonable snide anti-government digs anyway.

  4. 9

    Steve spews:

    Goldy sez, “the water fountains were installed two-years before the Ferries moved into the building”

    WSDOT left this out of their press release as well. If they had included this and the Times excluded it, that’d be one thing, but they didn’t. I see lazy reporting, not an agenda. I would have hoped that the Times would have dug a little deeper.

  5. 10

    sarge spews:

    @9) I think this is definitive proof that the private sector is much better at public relations than the government.

  6. 12

    Blue John spews:

    @9 “WSDOT left this out of their press release as well.”

    Seems like you are making “a blame the victim statement” because the ferry system didn’t do a CYA press report?
    “If she didn’t want to be attacked, she should have dressed differently.”
    “If the ferry service to be attacked, they should have worded their press release differently!”
    Seems like the same logic.

  7. 13

    Mene mene tekel Upharsin (there goes the neighborhood) spews:

    re 4: In the context of the ‘exposes’ that the print and TV media have done in the recent past on ‘overpaid’ union ferry engineers, the reporting of the faulty water hookups in the ‘ferry system’ without the addition of the fact that it was a private company that screwed it up is, by any reasonable analysis, an intentional and dishonest slam of the union ferry engineers.

    In short: It’s anti – union propaganda — not news.

  8. 14

    John425 spews:

    I’ll concede the private contractor thing as true, pending more info.

    But…it took the WSF TWO YEARS to notice?

  9. 15


    As a resident of Vashon Island I depend on the ferry system. I commend the ferry system and I feel that Washingtonians should be proud that we operate a marine system that is one of the largest, most efficient and safest in the world. The Washington State ferry system truly creates a “marine highway” for many commuters who depend on it when they live or work in the archipelago of islands that are scattered around the periphery of this state.

    I’m sick and tired of these news stories from the Times and other local TV media types basically reporting that there’s something wrong when ferry workers or other workers are paid well or have certain protections written into their contract that grant them a livable wage and good working conditions. Most ferry workers I observe are hard working likable people who are just trying to make a decent living. It seems to me that in this age of union bashing there is a tendency by many people to vilified anyone who belongs to a union simply because their making more then $20 bucks an hour, are given a coffee break or have employer provided health insurance. Maybe these “go it on your own types” who are willing to let their employers exploit them on a daily basis by paying then substandard wages and providing them with poor working conditions and benefits should join a union and demand that they be paid more. But they have been duped into somehow “carrying the employers water” by attacking other working people who presently are lucky and smart enough to belong to a viable labor union. I think it is jealousy or a form of misdirected rage at unions in most cases. The media would better serve the public good by reporting excesses and actual crimes by billionaire business types, runaway corporations and banks rather than running so called “investigative reports” attacking ferry engineers for making too much money working overtime.

  10. 16

    Steve spews:

    @12 I did not blame WSDOT. I called it lazy reporting by the Times. The Times reporter apparently did nothing but rehash a press release without bothering to look any deeper. I read Goldy’s comment as incorrectly inferring that this little tidbit had been left out. It’s obvious that Goldy, by including the move-in date, had likely looked into it deeper than the Times reporter had done. In my comment I only took exception to what I saw as Goldy’s incorrect inference. And I did not say that this was by intent. I think you might be reading too much into my comment. And I think finding equivalence in what I wrote to blaming rape victims is a bit of a stretch.

  11. 17

    Steve spews:

    @15 I’ve lived for a number of years on both Orcas and Vashon Island and will still often ride the Southworth, Kitsap and Bremerton ferries as I presently live on the other side of the water. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. It makes me burn when the likes of Piper and his ilk goes off on the ferry system employees.

  12. 18

    Steve spews:

    “But…it took the WSF TWO YEARS to notice?”

    I’m impressed that they found out at all. Do you expect every building tenant in the nation to climb ladders to look into their ceiling cavities to verify plumbing connections just to make sure their drinking fountains are connected to the right line?

    Until this is looked into, there should be no blame. For all I know, the plumbing contractor was directed in the field to connect to the wrong line. For all I know, Selig knew nothing of this matter. For all I know, there was no permit taken out and the city never had opportunity to inspect and reject the installation. All I know at this point in time is that something went wrong.

  13. 19


    Mene @13,

    I’m not implying that the Times intentionally misled readers, but yes, considering that this story appears within the context of the recent negative reports on the Ferry system, the Times’ editors should have been aware that their readers might infer that the Ferry managers were to blame. And reading their comment thread, it is clear that readers did infer this.

    And that gets to the heart of my post. When it comes to reporting the news, inference is more important than implication, and reporting the news factually most definitely does not assure that readers will learn the truth.

  14. 20

    Brenda Helverson spews:

    When you hire a Union Plumber, you get a Plumber who is properly trained and who is accountable for his (or her) work. No properly-trained Plumber would make this sort of mistake, so we can pretty much guess that Mom & Pop Plumbing wasn’t using Union Plumbers.

    And where were the City of Seattle plumbing inspectors during all of this? Could it be that Mister Selig doesn’t allow them to inspect his buildings? I would find the City inspector who signed off on this and fire his (or her) ass.

  15. 22

    rhp6033 spews:

    One thing just struck me about this whole thing. It’s entirely possible that nobody drank the water from the fountains during the entire two-year period.

    I mean, really, I see people carrying around water bottles constantly to avoid drinking tap water, even though we have some of the best tap water in the nation!

    Like pay phones, water fountains are becoming a quaint artifact.

  16. 23

    Mene mene tekel Upharsin (there goes the neighborhood) spews:

    re 19: Nor am I saying that the times reporter is mendacity incarnate.

    What I am saying is that, like a box with 30 or so ball-bearings in it that is slightly tilted to the right, all the ball-bearings will drift to the right of the box, so, a report that seems to indicate union worker incompetence in an anti-union newspaper, the reporter (ball-bearing) who finds a story that seemingly implicates the union in incompetence will seek no further.

    Hence, the intentions of the reporter are not my reference point, but the tilt of the reporter’s ‘box’ that influences the resutant ‘news’.

  17. 24

    Steve spews:

    @20 “And where were the City of Seattle plumbing inspectors during all of this? Could it be that Mister Selig doesn’t allow them to inspect his buildings? I would find the City inspector who signed off on this and fire his (or her) ass.”

    Selig has his faults but I seriously doubt that directing contractors to work on his buildings without a permit is one of them. For all we know, any tenant improvement project associated with this was administered entirely by WSDOT, with no involvement by Selig other than signing a lease. For all we know, this was a small project adding drinking fountains only, and that it was done subsequent to any tenant improvements project. For all we know, there was no permit and the city had no idea that there was an installation to inspect. And so you know, a union contractor is as likely as a non-union contractor to try to slip some small thing in without a permit. In fact, one thing inspectors will do is, if they spot a contractors truck parked at a building where there is no no known permit, they’ll check into it and bust whoever is doing the work. As often as not, it’s a union shop doing the work without permit. In short, we don’t know the facts yet, Brenda, only that something went wrong.

  18. 26

    Mene mene tekel Upharsin (there goes the neighborhood) spews:

    The Times needs to be explicit in revealing their philosophical bent (in the parlance of the day) when it comes to the news they report.

    Even gardening tips can be influenced by advertisers.

  19. 27

    proud leftist spews:

    As someone who rides the ferries everyday, I give nothing but positive marks to the system. The state does the ferries right.

  20. 29

    Steve spews:

    @27 It’s been decades since I did a daily commute on the boats, and that was the smaller boats on the Vashon-Fauntleroy run. Seating used to be so territorial! A few times my wife and I wanted to say to some interloper, “That booth is ours dammit!!” Is it still that way?

    My only issue ever with any ferry employees was with one guy who seemed to have a crush on my young and very beautiful wife. But I soon realized that we never once missed a boat when he was the one directing the loading. He got us on one way or another, so I got over it.

  21. 31

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    “the water fountains were installed two-years before the Ferries moved into the building, not by union plumbers, but by a small, mom & pop, Kirkland-based contractor”

    Of course Selig used a non-union gypo plumber — this is the same guy who owed Seattle City Light over $1 million in past due electric bills — and I hope WSF learned their lesson and never rents space again from landlords hire non-union contractors! You want something done right, hire union labor.