Friday, September 2, 2011

Mayor Blasts Anti-Railers for ‘Misleading’ Public; Critic Calls Civil Beat’s Fact Check a ‘Hatchet Job’

Rail opponents who’ve become used to being offensive are suddenly forced to play defense, knocked back on their heels over the   FALSE   grades their newspaper commentary has received from Civil Beat, the investigative online news organization.

Anti-railer Cliff Slater accused Civil Beat yesterday of a “hatchet job” for issuing two harsh judgments about the truth of the commentary. Later in the day, Mayor Peter Carlisle as good as called the critics’ op-ed a hack job for being the foundation of an ongoing campaign to mislead and misinform the public about what lies ahead for Honolulu rail (photo by Civil Beat).

“We’re taking about a pattern here," he told Civil Beat, adding that leaders of the anti-rail effort “are trying to mislead people… Their use of terms like ‘fake groundbreaking’ and ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’ and those types of things is absolutely, unequivocally misleading and done deliberately to frighten people about what’s going to be happening.”

Mr. Slater and fellow authors Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth – we’re calling them the Gang of Four – are not accustomed to strenuous criticism, especially from a source like Civil Beat and its staff of independent journalists who have been fact-checking the anti-railers’ public statements.

Judging the Quotes
Using the Gang’s exact words, Civil Beat has concluded that their statements were  FALSE  on two issues so far. One relatively minor issue received a  TRUE  because a state official did in fact make an inaccurate statement about the rail project, as the Gang had written. Five more statements are under review.

Judged not true were assertions that “virtually all environmental groups” oppose Honolulu rail and that “some of the stations would be 10 stories high” and resemble “aircraft carriers in the sky.”

Civil Beat’s fact checks don’t sit well with Mr. Slater. His two-part 1,500-word "hatchet job" response amounts to back peddling, justifying, explaining and defending what he and his co-authors wrote.

Mr. Slater has opposed rail and supported high-occupancy toll roads over the past two decades, but neither he nor his co-authors have professional transportation expertise, and their newspaper essay offered no alternatives to rail. Nevertheless, they’ve used the piece over the past two weeks as the springboard for their new public and media relations campaign.

What Goes Around…
Now they’re finding that if you write misleading or false statements in the high-intensity media age we’re in, somebody will call you on it. Unfortunately for them, the most aggressive investigative media team in town is doing the calling.

Civil Beat’s website was recently judged Hawaii’s Best Overall News Site. As you might expect, its reporters examined the Gang’s statements more vigorously than Pacific Business News’s editors. PBN’s editorial that flip-flopped the weekly’s position on rail seemed more influenced by the Gang’s reputations than the depth and quality of their anti-rail arguments.

Online sites friendly to Mr. Slater and his dogged anti-rail campaign publish anything he writes. posted yet another of his obfuscating pieces this week. As we wrote yesterday, it was “classic Slater” by confusing the issues and reaching false conclusions, hoping some of them will stick. It only strengthened the Mayor’s argument that the anti-rail campaign misleads the public – deliberately as well as through inattention to detail.

Public Opinion: Lost
As we’ve noted several times since the op-ed was published, the Gang is working its campaign feverishly while offering nothing new because they undoubtedly know they've lost the fight for public opinion on rail. Three scientific public opinion polls by two respected professional survey companies here found support for rail averaging 58.6 percent going back to 2008 and as recently as this past May.

Desperate people with reputations on the line are liable to say almost anything to reverse a trend that’s running against them. Anticipate more Gang of Four aggression against a project that most Oahu residents know we need and want built.

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