Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sports Columnist Offers Insight on Why Honolulu Reporters Don’t Ask Mayoral Candidate for Details On His Plan to Help Commuters after He Kills Rail

NOTE: While not a political blog, Yes2Rail necessarily covers the politician who vows to kill Honolulu rail if elected.
We keep returning to this point because somebody has to. It’s been six weeks and two days since Ben Cayetano’s official entry into the mayoral race with a vow to kill Honolulu rail, and he still hasn’t offered any details on the major transportation effort he’d initiate after scrapping the project.

What’s more, few if any reporters have asked him for those details. All we’ve heard since January 19th are vague references to alternatives the candidate says are better than rail. His softball interviews in Honolulu Weekly and with on Wednesday outside an anti-rail forum where rail supporters were loudly chanting GO RAIL GO were typical.
After calling the supporters “trained seals,” Mr. Cayetano said he intends to go to places like Kapolei to tell residents rail “won’t reduce traffic congestion and it is not the best alternative. The best alternative is bus rapid transit….”
And that’s where it always stops, without telling the public any details about his alternative to rail. We’re left wondering how his BRT system would work, which communities would and wouldn’t be served, how much BRT would cost to build and operate, what its operating characteristics would be and all the other necessary details.
Sports Page Wisdom
Retired journalists who once worked in newsrooms commanded by George Chaplin (Advertiser), Hobe Duncan (Star-Bulletin) and Bob Sevey (KGMB-TV) must be wondering what’s happened to their craft.

The first question on the first day of Mr. Cayetano’s campaign from those reporters likely would have been about his plan to address Oahu’s growing congestion issue instead of building rail, and they wouldn’t have stopped asking until they got an answer.

Not so with today’s crop of reporters. Far as we can tell from the media coverage over the past six weeks, Mr. Cayetano has not been pressed to expand on his “anything-but-rail” plan. All we have are a few phrases dropped here and there about BRT, express lanes and even the San Diego trolley.

How can this be? Where is the reporting that Oahu residents -- especially those on the west side -- require to understand exactly what this candidate proposes to serve them? The explanation just might be found in the Sports section of today’s Star-Advertiser in a column by T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times (linked here at the Times' website).

His column explained in a round-about way why he refused to attend a press conference that had been called to hype a boxing match and pump up closed-circuit TV sales. What follows is an extended quote from Mr. Simers’ column in which we’ve replaced his references to sports and athletes with words in parentheses that are applicable to the coverage of Honolulu’s mayoral race.

“It’s a funny thing when you ask questions for a living. You can be the bad guy because (politicians) are held in awe, and it’s not good to upset them.” If you do upset them, a politician might ban you; Mr. Cayetano did that recently and refused to talk with Civil Beat’s rail reporter.
“And so a lot of reporters do their best to remain harmless.
“It’s not a fair exchange. The guy with the microphone has the reputation, the floor and the admirers.
“So how far do you go? Should the media make like shills, and just go with the sales pitch? (Politicians are) good, and oh, please follow the dos and don’ts list before asking (them) questions.
“And how about not upsetting (the candidate) as he goes about the business of convincing people to (kill rail).”
Maybe that’s the problem with Honolulu journalism. Reporters might be awed by tough-talking politicians and avoid being snubbed or ridiculed. Maybe a good 10-second sound bite is enough to satisfy the bosses back at the station, since everybody knows the audience won't't tolerate stories bogged down by details.

Whatever the explanation, Honolulu media outlets continue their cursory coverage of the transportation “planning” by the one mayoral candidate who wants to do what someone else did to a similar rail project 20 years ago – kill it.

We’re left to imagine what Bob, Hobe and George would say about 21st century journalism if they were still with us.

No comments: