Last week, the Seattle Times featured an Op-Ed by our own Sherwin Lee, which strongly supported moving forward with East Link and attacked Bellevue’s city council for wasting money. In response, another one of Bill Hirt’s letters appeared in the newspaper. Two things are remarkable about this:1) Hirt’s letter contains a major factual inaccuracy in every paragraph, 2) Hirt has a history of somehow getting letters published that contain major factual inaccuracies in every paragraph.

In the first paragraph of his letter, Hirt implies Sherwin works for Sound Transit by calling us the “Sound Transit (ST) blog.” Hirt has commented on this blog before and should know we aren’t a government agency. In the second paragraph, Hirt claims that members of Sound Transit board are unelected. All members, save for one, are elected officials. Hirt’s point may be that these officials are not directly elected to the ST board, which is true (and good), but his use of imprecise language seems like no accident.

Photo by Oran.

Hirt asks indignantly, What gave the ST Board “the authority to ignore the council in selecting the light-rail route through Bellevue?” The answer is in the Op-Ed he’s responding to: a “1999 ruling in a state growth-management case” which cited RCW 36.70A and decided that light rail is an “essential public facility.”

In Hirt’s third paragraph, he claims that while the Eastside provides “40 percent of ST  funding,” “only a small part” “will ever be spent there.” Every dollar raised in the Eastside will be spent there under a rule called subarea equity and the Eastside is projected to provide 26% of Sound Transit revenue in the coming decades — much less than Hirt’s claim.

In the final paragraph of his letter, Hirt says that Sound Transit has not spent “one dime evaluating two-way bus only lanes” across I-90 instead of light rail. That has been studied, and a busway would provide a slower ride to the 10,000 fewer people who would ride it daily.

Many rely on the Seattle Times and other newspapers to give them the facts and encourage debate where appropriate. Publishing letters that get basic facts wrong doesn’t encourage debate but rather stifles it under the weight of ignorance, cynicism, and even malice. Though the average citizen is expected to make some mistakes regarding public policy, we should expect the media to provide some barrier between us and outright falsehoods.

It’s easy to think that Mr. Hirt lacks real intellectual rigor and has no sense of responsibility for what he inks, but what does that say about the Times’ staffers who choose to give him space in their paper?

45 Replies to “Seattle Times Publishes Misinformation”

  1. Zealots have a myopic worldview. This site supports Sound Transit’s efforts, so in his mind, that means that it MUST be operated by Sound Transit: Why else would there be such a site? And lying is fine, as long as it helps the Great Cause.

    seriously, there seems to be more people likie this – or the Internet has made them more visible. And while there are some on the left, they seem to be mostly on the right. They tend to identify as conservative, but in reality, they’re just reactionarys. No progress if it hurts the corporations and industries they seem to worship.

    Trouble is, they’re so convinced they’re right, they’re able to sway people.

  2. Looking at the link provided as proof that BRT was given equal consideration to rail across I-90 is similar to comparing a Big Mac, convertible to a Phily Steak Sandwich at a later date. “Where’s the Beef?”
    There’s an abundance of ‘fudging the truth’ happening in most everything we read about mass transit these days from all sides. It’s one of those 3rd rail subjects.

    1. The third rail of politics refers to topics that aren’t touched. I’m not sure what the truthiness of transit discussions has to do with that.

    2. Mike, Hirt’s claim was that “not a single cent” was spent studying bus lanes. His claim is factually wrong and he did not claim that BRT and LRT were given equal weight. If Hirt had made a different claim then I would have responded differently, but can you fault me for responding to what he wrote and not what you think he meant?

      I linked to one fact sheet for brevity. Here are additional studies:

      http://www.soundtransit.org/documents/pdf/projects/seis/I-90_EastKing_summary.pdf

      http://www.soundtransit.org/documents/pdf/projects/seis/1_I-90_East%20King%20County%20High%20Capacity%20transit%20Analysis%20-%20.pdf

      http://www.soundtransit.org/documents/pdf/projects/seis/BRTIssuePaperSummary_13.pdf

      http://www.soundtransit.org/documents/pdf/projects/seis/E1S2_Rail%20ConvertibleBRT.pdf

      I doubt that BRT and LRT were given the same weight because politics matters in these types of debates. Of course, there is argument that politics should play a part because we elect representatives to reflect our values and not just do number crunching.

  3. There are so many egregious errors in that letter that even a paper like the Seattle Times had to know that they were publishing factual “cr*p”.

    So the question is: Why would the Seattle Times intentionally publish something that they know to be erroneous? Are they trying to shape public opinion towards B7 and generally against ST? Or do they have some other agenda?

    And if the Seattle Times is intentionally participating in some sort of disinformation campaign, one has to ask why they are doing such a thing and at who’s beckoning?

    Or is the Seattle Times just that shoddy? It boggles the mind.

    1. “Why would the Seattle Times intentionally publish something that they know to be erroneous?”

      Is this a trick question?

    2. Newspapers publish articles with major factual errors all the time. Its just normal operating procedure.

    3. The newspapers, and most media are interested in selling ad space. The more traffic a given story gets, the better. That’s why anything ‘Seattle Biker’ related is so popular. Apparently, so is the Ron Judd ‘Left lane camper’ opinion piece.

      Content is irrelevent.

    4. Everybody on the Eastside knows that Frank Blethen and Kemper Freeman are buddies, they even do charity work together, so it’s no big surprise that this kind of crap ends up getting published.

    5. The Times has hollowed itself out so much in the last few years it’s reached the level of the Bellevue Recycler . . . you know, that plastic bag full of mush you throw in the garbage every Saturday morning.

    6. I don’t think there’s anything sinister. They feel they are doing a duty by publishing debate. My point is that when people distorts the truth then debate is ruined, not encouraged.

  4. The Seattle Times is just that shoddy, unfortunately. I regularly find inaccuracies in their reporting of local news, not to mention the rampant grammatical errors found throughout. Their reporters and editors have become sloppier and sloppier both in checking their facts and in crafting their work.

  5. But I thought the Blethen family was always looking out for us, the people, in a quest for the truth.

  6. If newspapers didn’t publish letters that were misleading or factually incorrect, and if TV stations didn’t run ad by politically candidates that were factually incorrect or misleading, and if blogs deleted comments that were factually incorrect or misleading, it seems to me that would be erring on the side of censorship.

    1. Sam, I can agree with you. There are many matters that are subjective. A letter with many “facial” errors shouldn’t be published, in my opinion, but there is a difference between “ST didn’t study this!” and “ST didn’t study this fairly!” One is wrong and one is subjective.

  7. “Before the Internet, a certain breed of deconstructionists had a lot of fun telling everybody that “privileging of dominant paradigms” was wrecking the world. The Internet has taught us that privileging certain views is absolutely crucial to avoid drowning in the ravings of idiots.” — Keunwoo Lee

  8. A letter-to-the-editor isn’t an editorial, let alone an opinion column. It’s not the editor’s job to fact-check it. Penalty for a lying letter is being publicly shown for a liar or a fool in the same pages. It’s a different matter, however, if the paper refuses space to a response. Is this happening?

    BTW, as somebody old enough to remember when this country had anything like a political “left” (the Democratic Party is careful to distinguish “moderates” from us dangerous “liberals” now), I miss the days when the left could bother the establishment at all.

    At their worst, the left never had the money, the power, or the military capacity to threaten the Republic. Wish the same were true of this year’s liars.

    Mark Dublin

    1. A letter to the editor can be many things: complaint, opinion, argument, correction. And it is the editor’s responsibility to fact check it. I used to write letters to the editor regularly and on a few occasions I was contacted by someone from the paper to confirm something I had written or check a source.

      Maybe they’ve become more lax, maybe the letter fact checker position has been eliminated, or maybe misinformation in line with their position is overlooked?

      1. Editors? What Editors? The Times laid them off years ago. The writers can’t even with spell check get the spelling right. Just look at the comments about articles and note the number of grammatical and spelling and word misuse corrections.

        Fact checkers went out the door before editors. Page hits are the new coin of the realm. And nothing brings out the crazies whining about creeping socialism like articles on mass transit and bicycles, global climate change and left lane hogging. You’d think the problem was on par with the empire going bankrupt.

      2. No, they DON’T fact check it… and the Times has printed plenty of opinions over the last several years that contained easily proven factual errors.

        That’s the real sad thing because it does real damage to public discourse. Their excuse is that they don’t want to censor people’s opinions. I prefer the smaller papers and blogs which still seem to both contacting letter writers about explaining why or why not they are cutting or refusing to run something.

        Of course, this blog is a funny place to complain about this with its heavy-handed moderation of commenters.

  9. “Sub-equity rule”

    Now there is a hot button issue. Because in the early days of Sound Transit, there was excess taxing ability on the Eastside that didn’t have capital equipment expenditures associated with it. So Sound Transit issued bonds against the revenue anyway, and took the interest on those bonds and deposited in the general fund, but used the Eastside revenue to pay them off. It was a legal sidestep of the sub-equity rules.

    Now with the East LINK line, those excess revenue can be used to fund general operations of LINK because “it’s all one system.” And in general I agree with that distribution even though there hasn’t been any rail yet laid to the Eastside.

    1. I dispute this. Those excess revenues were bonded against because revenues are always one pot of money and accounting is always on paper, but the excess revenue is being used to build East Link and not pay for Central Link operations, as far as I know. Do you have a source for your comments?

    2. Sub-equity rule is fundamentally flawed. Money raise in the east can only be used in the East and North in the North. To think that if one built a light house, it is just to benefit the immediate district is shallow thinking. We have to think the regional and we are not. To think that a good efficient transportation system is just to benefit the central puget sound region and has no impication to Eastern Washington is so typical how people like Eyman bunking the needs of “public good”. This equity rule is a crutch and I do not envy Sound Transit Staff spending countless hours planning, budgeting and managing to the rule; hence, giving proEyman folks more food to fight governmenatal wastefulness. Blurp!

  10. The implication in the post and most comments is that the Times overlooked these falsehoods intentionally in order to push an autocentric agenda. I’d agree with that sentiment 100%. But it’s funny to see how different things used to be. In 1930, when the City Council approved the routing of Aurora through Woodland Park,

    The Seattle Times and other park supporters bitterly denounced the engineers’ plans to “sacrifice” the park in the name of automotive efficiency. They argued that the speedway through the park would save drivers only 25-30 seconds and that existing roads (West Greenlake Way east of the park and Fremont Avenue to the west) were adequate for all the traffic crossing the bridge. [historylink]

    The Times published headlines comparing the mayor and council to Nero, and they heavily backed a referendum (which failed) to block construction. My, how the tables have turned.

    1. The real problem I have with routing a major arterial through a park is that development along the arterial is basically impossible. We have a 6-lane avenue, with a bus that will run every 10 minutes once RapidRide starts, and yet 20 blocks of it are basically empty. Who thought that was a good idea?

      1. It was a great idea. If you live north of the boat canal, or on Queen Anne Hill and want to go downtown, or to W. Seattle, or to the airport, Aurora Ave. N. is a great route. No stop lights from just about the north end of Green Lake until you get south of the W. Seattle bridge. And exits at Denny, just south of the Battery Street Tunnel, and then by Qwest Field. This is a great highway. The people who ride the Rapid Ride on Aurora Ave. N. will appreciate it, I’m sure.

      2. Norman, Aleks didn’t dis 99 per se—and neither did the Times in its criticism. He criticized its routing through the park. If the six-lane arterial jagged around Woodland Park instead of going through it, it would presumably be just as good of a highway for doing all the things you praise. But development would also have been possible along that stretch of the highway. By routing it through the park, it’s just a wasteland. Of course, a routing around the park would probably have been much more expensive on account of having to take & condemn hundreds of private properties instead of just taking one parcel from a cooperative governmental agency. But it’s interesting to wonder if the initial costs would have been outweighed by the sales & property revenue that would have been created by the development that might have been.

        (BTW, before the highway was put in, the zoo had been talking about expanding to the east. Natch, the highway killed that plan. And after the highway was put in, there was talk of lidding it to reconnect the parks. I believe there were even public referendums on the issue. But, again, costs killed those plans.)

  11. This post by John Jensen has to be one of the whiniest, most pathetic, and amusing posts I have read on this site. Seriously, you are complaining about a letter to the editor??

    Letters to the Editor are not supposed to be fact-checked. The Times did not author that letter. Letters to the Editor are for people to write whatever they feel like writing, as long as they give their true name. You could write that the earth is square and submit it as a Letter to the Editor, and there would be no problem whatsoever if a paper printed that letter. Everyone would see who wrote it, and know it was not the opinion of the paper that printed it.

    [Ot]

    1. Norman, I didn’t argue that this letter reflects the opinions of the Seattle Times. But there is a problem when a letter that is full of errors is published: it clouds the debate. There are smarter people who could have their letters published if those full of errors were excluded.

  12. Holy crap, all this time I actually thought STB was Sound Transit Blog! Much like its critics, I could not be bothered with actually reading what was here–I just skim and assume the facts are identical to my personal opinions.

  13. I have to reiterate what Mark Dublin had to say above. I think you guys on the Seattle Transit Blog need to get yourselves educated in how a newspaper works instead of crying in your puddle of ignorance. I have to agree with another poster above. This is certainly one whiny, pathetic post.

    The ONLY thing that the paper checks with letters to the editor is the identity of the writer. It’s called freedom of speech folks.

    I can just imagine the post John Jensen would write if the Seattle Times edited one of HIS letters to the editor. The blog post would probably be:

    “Seattle Times Censors Letters to the Editor”

    If Mr. Jensen had been on the ball, he would have organized a bunch of people to write letters to the editor SUPPORTING Sherwin Lee’s Op-Ed. That’s what Mark Dublin and others in People for Modern Transit used to do when activism consisted of more than writing garbage like this on a blog site.

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