Monday, August 29, 2011

Fact Check Begins on Gang of 4’s Anti-Rail Piece

A feature within online Civil Beat is the Fact Check it conducts on what newsmakers say and write, something no other local news organization does routinely or ever. (CB is a subscription service but allows free occasional access, so try it and see how far you can get into the site.)

CB has begun its fact checking of the August 21st Star-Advertiser commentary (subscription, but you may be able to see it) by four plaintiffs in a lawsuit intended to block construction of the Honolulu rail project. Our own checking began that day and continued all last week.

CB is checking seven statements or allegations contained in the piece authored by Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth – collectively called the Gang of Four here at Ye2Rail. Long-time anti-railer Slater presumably authored the entire piece; it has his look about it.

Civil Beat asked him to support the statements with documentation and has posted interim “In Progress” reports on six of the seven (more on the completed one below).

Blaming a Typo
The commentary prominently positioned its claim that “some of the rail stations would be 10 stories high” in the second paragraph, only 30 words into the 1800-word piece. Civil Beat asked for documentation of that statement.

Slater’s response is empty of substance, relying as it does on off-hand remarks quoted second- or third-hand by others in the chain of custody: “The ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’ bit is from (a newspaper reporter) and (a local blogger)…” In other words, there’s nothing fact-based in that description, just grousing by rail opponents.

Slater then drops the bombshell:

“The ‘ten’ stories high is a typo that crept in somehow and I missed it.”

“Crept in somehow”? Unseen in the second paragraph of the anti-railers' biggest salvo of the year!? And he wants Oahu residents to believe what he says about Honolulu rail? It's simply incredible. With a record based on hearsay reporting and inaccuracies, we doubt Mr. Slater could be hired at Civil Beat or even the Star-Advertiser. We trust CB will bestow a  FALSE  on this item.

BRT and Rail
Mr. Slater’s tactic over the years in fighting rail has been to lift quotes from this or that document and use them as cudgels devoid of any context. (This post describes one of his most egregious.) Civil Beat asked him for backup to this statement in the newspaper commentary:

“When Jeremy Harris was mayor, Parsons Brinckerhoff said Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) could accomplish virtually all of the objectives of rail at substantially less cost.”

Slater’s response said in part, “Given that the Final EIS for the BRT program forecast more transit riders than they are currently forecasting for the current rail project, that would seem to be a good judgment.”

Only in Cliff Slater’s world is that good judgment. For starters, BRT and Honolulu rail are entirely different projects with different objectives in different time frames and circumstances. Rail will commence full operations in 2019; BRT was conceived two decades earlier. Rail’s four goals boil down to providing fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel and doing it equitably. It’s impossible to apply those same attributes to the once-planned BRT system, with vehicles operating at ground level in the mix of other vehicles, stop-and-go traffic, stoplights and cross traffic.

Mr. Slater’s selective quoting tactic is further revealed by what he did not quote in the BRT document. The very next sentence after the one he lifted notes the rejection of his favorite alternative to rail – toll roads and reversible lanes: “In addition, highway alternatives to the Regional and In-Town BRT and LRT systems were identified and subsequently eliminated from further consideration as alternatives.” (Section 2.6, Primary Corridor Transportation Project)

Mr. Slater’s claim that BRT would accomplish the same goals as rail was and is bogus. We give him another  FALSE .

More Checking

Civil Beat has brief descriptions of its progress to date on all seven issues, including the only one accorded a grade so far. CB gave a  TRUE  in checking that a "DLNR Statement on Burials ‘Patently False.’"

CB had previously determined that Department of Land and Natural Resources Director William Aila misspoke when he said the Federal Transit Administration requires phasing of the rail project. It doesn’t, but it does allow phasing.

So what’s true is that Mr. Aila erred when he said phasing is required, and it’s also true that Honolulu rail’s phased approach is authorized but not mandated by the FTA. The project itself suffers no sting.

So one fact check is down, and we await Civil Beat’s judgment on the other six. We anticipate seeing         from here on.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under Cliff Slater.)

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