Friday, February 17, 2012

Civil Beat Challenges Mayoral Candidates To Talk Seriously about the Merits or Problems with Rail, So What does Ben Cayetano Do? He Refuses To Talk with Civil Beat’s Rail Reporter, Banishes Him

We couldn’t agree more with Civil Beat editor John Temple’s column yesterday that was headlined Time to Get Serous About Rail Conversation. Of course that’s what needs to happen, but focusing on rail alone would be leaving out an equally important part of the conversation.

We even had written a headline and most of today’s post urging the media to include what rail opponents like mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano want instead of rail, since that’s virtually unknown at this time. Surely whatever Mr. Cayetano is proposing must be scrutinized, too.
But here comes the bizarre and incomprehensible part: According to a new post today at CB’s website, Mr. Cayetano has cut Civil Beat from his campaign’s media list and is refusing to talk with Civil Beat’s reporter who covers rail! Writes editor Temple:
“And Cayetano told me in an email that he will not answer questions, phone calls or emails from Michael Levine, our reporter on the Honolulu beat.”
Mr. Cayetano’s email:

“…There is no point in talking to a reporter who accuses me of lacking in ‘believability’. (Temple notes that the CB item in question was actually written by him, not Levine.) “So tell Levine not to bother. I will not answer his questions, his phone calls or emails. Moreover, it is clear that Civil Beat’s pro-rail stance is embedded in Levine’s reporting. I believe strongly in holding people accountable for their actions. Therefore, I will tell my campaign chairpersons to remove Civil Beat from our media list.”
Incredibly, It Continues
So do me this favor: Tell Levine not to call me on my cell phone or try to contact me by email anymore. Notwithstanding my previous complaints about his journalism I always took his call and answered his email – and answered his questions. No more. Nor will I answer any question from him at my press conferences. If Civil Beat wants my opinion on issues – send another of its reporters.”
And to think long-time political observers have been praising Mr. Cayetano for his political smarts. The Cayetano decree is almost unbelievable. Credible mayoral candidates don’t run away from tough questions about his transportation “plan” and ban the reporter. Didn’t Mr. Cayetano learn anything from Frank Fasi?

Honolulu’s feisty former mayor tried banning reporters in 1974 when he disliked the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca so much he kicked him out of his city hall press conferences. That move prompted a federal lawsuit by the Advertiser, whose city hall reporter (Yes2Rail’s blogger) also was barred entry under the shaky assumption that keeping out all print reporters would be permissible. A judge disagreed.

As Temple writes today, “people in public life do not get to choose who covers them,” and in an emailed response to Mr. Cayetano, the editor wrote:

“I do believe it’s news when a mayoral candidate says he’s going to cut off a news organization from its media list. I don’t see how that serves a purpose I believe you and Civil Beat share, and that’s to make sure the people of Honolulu are informed and able to make the best decisions on important public policy issues.”
Cayetano’s Non-Plan
We can draw at least three conclusions about what may have prompted this bizarre decree: First, the former governor hasn’t had to deal with the “new media” and its aggressive, independent investigative style in the past decade, and tough questions come as something of a shock.

Second, he truly has no firm ideas about how to address Oahu’s intolerable and worsening congestion problems, so he’s cutting off a “serious conversation” before it can begin. All we’ve heard are vague references to spending “a billion” here and there, such as his remarks in Honolulu Weekly’s February 8th edition.

And third, Mr. Cayetano may have been goaded into banning Civil Beat by anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, who presumably isn’t nearly as media-savvy as politicians must be. Mr. Slater seems to be filling the “Svengali” role for Mr. Cayetano and has his fingerprints on virtually everything the candidate says or lends his name to. Both men and two other federal lawsuit plaintiffs have been waging an anti-rail PR campaign for months.

John Temple’s Civil Beat report on the Cayetano Contretemps is fascinating reading and includes links to previous CB reporting on the anti-rail campaign by the Gang of Four, of which Messrs. Cayetano and Slater are members.

We’ve resisted until now the temptation to create a new heading at our “aggregate” site where we could group Yes2Rail posts on rail-related developments in the mayoral race. That resistance was blown away by these latest developments, and this post has been included in the aggregation.

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