Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tell It Like It Is: Cliff Slater Campaign To Mislead Oahu Residents on Rail Deserves Rebuke; His ‘Big Lie’ Doesn’t Become 'The Truth’ with Repetition

What would you think if you knew someone was waging a propaganda campaign in your community built on “the big lie”?

This isn’t a hypothetical question about what the Nazis did a long lifetime ago. It’s happening now in Honolulu.

After posting our Prediction on Sunday, we went to the Internet to get a sense of how viral Cliff Slater’s basic talking point has gone. Mr. Slater’s “big lie” is that the Honolulu rail project is being built to reduce congestion on our streets and highways.

He wants the public to believe traffic reduction is the project’s goal because such a goal is unattainable. Oahu’s population total is expected to be 200,000 higher in 2030 than it was in 2005. The number of vehicles to service that population also will be much higher than today.

If natural population growth will increase congestion after rail is built, Mr. Slater’s reasoning is that rail should not be built if it can’t produce absolute reductions in traffic congestion from current levels. It’s a bizarre proposition, but that’s what he wants you to think. (The project’s actual goals were listened in a January post.)

Say It Again
We first came across Mr. Slater’s dubious assertion about rail's purpose in his video interview with Civil Beat in July 2010:

“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.”
It was remarkable to hear him use the exact same approach in his presentation to the Rotary Club of Honolulu last month. Mr. Slater wouldn’t repeatedly use this stand-up routine if he thought it weren't effective, and it made us wonder just how far this “big lie” about rail’s purpose has spread.

Here’s a short and incomplete review of Mr. Slater’s “big lie” presence on the Internet in no particular order:

• City Council meeting, July 2010: Mr. Slater used the occasion of a Council hearing on rail to assert his familiar refrain about traffic being worse in the future after rail is built than it is today. The city’s Wayne Yoshioka responded, “No kidding…,” etc. It was probably the best ever put-down of Mr. Slater’s specious talking point. As Mr. Yoshioka noted, the city has never misled the public on traffic issues – something Mr. Slater does routinely.

• “STOP THEIR TRAIN!” newspaper ad, July 2011: The ad solicited funds to support Mr. Slater’s lawsuit that was filed with the intent of killing rail. Using the “big lie,” the ad says the city “admits” that traffic will be worse in the future, which is no admission at all – just a fact.

• “How the city misled the public” Star-Advertiser commentary, August 2011: This 1500-word piece dredged up the past and offered nothing new (our assessment at the time). Civil Beat went to town fact-checking seven statements in the op-ed and found two  FALSE , three  HALF FALSE  (CB called them half truths), and two  TRUE . As we noted, one of those allegedly TRUEs deserved a flat-out   FALSE . The op-ed piece popped up elsewhere, such as at this Hawaii Political Info site.

• Civil Beat commentary, September 2011: The lawsuit plaintiffs responded to Civil Beat’s fact-checking by complaining the independent online investigative news organization “went to extraordinary lengths trying to convince it readers we were wrong” in their newspaper op-ed piece. The “big lie” is the centerpiece of the Gang of Four’s complaint against Civil Beat. Mr. Slater takes advantage of CB’s comments sections to bang away with his “worse” point, as he did in October and December 2010.

• Pacific Business News editorial, August 2011: With little evidence of independent analysis, PBN’s new editorial leadership bought into Mr. Slater’s same old arguments that had failed to persuade the business weekly’s earlier management team. It ran the “worse-in-the-future” comment first in a list of "highlights."

• Letter to Pacific Business News, October 2008: More of the same re “the city has to admit (but only when pressed)…” that traffic will be worse with rail than it is today. The more we look into it, the more evidence we find that the “big lie” is the centerpiece of Mr. Slater’s campaign against rail.

• Hawaii Reporter, numerous times: This online aggregator of anti-rail opinions is ever ready to publish Mr. Slater’s “worse-in-the-future” talking point, whether signed or unsigned. For examples, go here and here.

• Hawaii Free Press, numerous times: This conservative “aggregator” site is as eager as Hawaii Reporter to publish anti-rail opinions, including the “worse-in-the-future” observation. See here and here, and go to the Grassroots Institute for its own iteration of the “worse-in-the-future” “big lie.”
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You get the picture. By dumbing down his argument before uncritical audiences and using cooperative websites to repeat it, Mr. Slater is waging an anti-rail campaign that abuses the public by confusing the issues. We publicize his tactics with confidence that the more sunlight they receive, the more they’ll wilt.

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

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