Tuesday, October 4, 2011

10 Questions: Rail Critics’ TV Gig Could Be Their ‘Waterloo’ if Host, Public Ask the Right Questions

Today’s post is written primarily for the presumed benefit of only two people -- the host and the producer of Hawaii Public Television’s “INSIGHTS on Hawaii PBS” show. But don’t go away; the post’s secondary audience is everybody else, and you could make a contribution, as described at the end of today’s post.

Rail critics Cliff Slater and Ben Cayetano will be the INSIGHTS show’s guests 10 days from now (counting today) on October 13th. Starting today, we’re going to post 10 questions here at Yes2Rail that we believe quite reasonably should be directed at Messrs. Slater and Cayetano.

The two are among the plaintiffs of a federal lawsuit that intends to kill Honolulu rail, a project supported by the majority of Oahu citizens as revealed in public opinion surveys and in election results. They, too, deserve to have their feet held to the fire – the proposed fate for city officials that was suggested by a resident in a rail town hall meeting last week.

That’s especially true for Mr. Slater, who has been a public figure continuously over the past two decades for his opposition to public transit projects – elevated rail in the early ‘90s, bus rapid transit early last decade and elevated rail again now.

Mr. Slater also is the presumed “brain trust” among the four rail opponents who launched a new anti-rail campaign in August with a newspaper commentary and who are making the media rounds with their new/old arguments that all were heard, analyzed and dismissed years ago during the federally overseen rail process.

The Set-Up
The questions require a bit of background, and regular visitors to Yes2Rail know where we’re going with this. Mr. Slater has used one issue as his primary “attack line” in his campaign against rail. If you haven’t watched the interview with Mr. Slater conducted and posted by Civil Beat in early July 2010, you really should to get the full effect of his rhetoric.

Our July 13, 2010 post summarized that rhetoric under the headline “A Closer Look at Cliff Slater’s ‘Whole Argument’”. If you don’t have time to view Civil Beat’s video of the interview, here’s the essential quote:

Slater: “In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

Question #1
“Mr. Slater, your anti-rail campaign clearly implies that rail is not worth building it if does not end highway congestion in our time. That’s the implication when you pointedly tell your audiences that highway congestion will be worse many years from now than today’s congestion level even after Honolulu’s train project is operating. Given the obvious – that more people will be living on Oahu 10 and 20 years from now and those people will own more vehicles than are present today – why do you insist that rail accomplish the impossible? Aren’t you misleading the public, and haven’t you done so in a deliberate attempt to confuse the public on the obvious fact that congestion inevitably will increase through no fault of the rail system?”

That’s obviously more than one question, but taken as a whole, they amount to an interrogation of Mr. Slater about the bedrock of his anti-rail campaign.

Background for INSIGHTS
Mr. Slater likely will attempt to shift the focus of your interrogation away from his obviously distorted message and attach blame to the city. He will assert that he had to nearly water-board (his word) city officials to wring a confession out of them that traffic congestion will be worse after rail than it is today.

That, of course, is another misleading statement. The city has never explicitly stated or implied that rail will reduce congestion below current levels, and that certainly is not among rail’s goals. Rail will be an alternative form of transportation that will completely bypass streets and highways and the congestion that clogs them during the morning and afternoon rush hours and often throughout the day.

Mr. Slater either unconsciously has assimilated this "congestion-ending" fiction into his persona over the years or has deliberately concocted it. If it’s proof you want, you can listen to the recording of a “live” discussion about rail on radio station KHVH before the 2008 vote on the “steel on steel” City Charter amendment.

The discussion included Mr. Slater and Wayne Yoshioka, director of the Department of Transportation Services. They discussed congestion before and after rail is built. Mr. Slater clearly says on the show:

We in the room here all understand that traffic congestion is gonna get worse with rail in the future, OK. That’s not what the public understands. The public thinks that traffic today, today’s unendurable traffic congestion going from here out to Kapolei, OK, will be reduced from today’s levels once rail goes in. That’s what they believe. OK, and we don’t believe it. You and I don’t believe that, but on the other hand, that is what the general public believes.”

Nobody water-boarded Mr. Yoshioka into openly discussing future congestion issues on that radio program. This exchange alone makes a mockery of fellow lawsuit plaintiff Randall Roth's "shame on the city" scolding he delivered on a public radio talk show last month.

Mr. Slater may want to bring up a Honolulu Advertiser opinion poll conducted in 2008 to justify his comments on what the public believes about future congestion. One answer in that poll appears to be the basis of his understanding of what the public understands. The poll is an excellent example of the old maxim, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

You can read the flawed question yourselves, Host and  Producer of INSIGHTS, and when you do, we’re pretty sure you’ll conclude – as we did last month – that “the question was not only misleading but confusing – a query based on a flawed premise.”

That should be enough grist for Question #1’s mill for now, but it suggests follow-up questions that we’ll get to during the lead-up to the October 13th INSIGHTS show. Our "aggregation site" has links to numerous Yes2Rail posts that address Mr. Slater’s statements over the years. You’ll find them under the heading Mr. Cliff Slater (and friends).

Yes2Rail readers are encouraged to propose your own questions for the INSIGHTS show by clicking the Comments link below. We’ll include the best ones in our October 13th post, which will be visible a few hours before the “INSIGHTS on Hawaii PBS” show airs “live” between 7:30 and 8:30 pm on KHET.

This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the heading Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends).

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