Media Follies 2012: Local!
Here, for the 17th year, is our ETS! list of over-hyped and underreported stories of the year. There’s so many entries that this year we’ve split our list three sections. Our national and international lists are here and here.
Add your own in the comments! And as always, here’s to better local news coverage in 2013.
2012′s Most Over-Hyped Local Stories
The Sonics are not about to come back: Another new arena got approved this year, largely on the offer of the owner to pay a lot of the costs if Seattle can attract new NBA and NHL teams. Thing is, very few pro sports teams move, several other cities are also competing for teams, and no city in the history of North American pro sports has attracted teams from two leagues in the same generation, never mind in the same year or two. On the delusion that Seattle is somehow different, widely repeated in local media, a pricy new arena will now be built in SoDo.
Mayor McGinn’s vaunted “20/20″ plan to “reform” SPD is a fraud: Last spring’s “plan” to address the Department of Justice’s complaints about SPD use of force and abuse of minorities – supposedly 20 reforms to be implemented over the next 20 months – was nothing more than a press release designed to impress the public and forestall DoJ action. It did neither: laughably devoid of specifics (hire better officers and uphold the city’s values? Really?), months later, nothing has been done to even define, let alone implement, most of these vague, meaningless platitudes. And the DoJ went after the city anyway.
Microsoft, home of lousy software: Time after time, a Microsoft acquisition or product launch is treated to the sort of fawning local coverage that is probably produced directly by Redmond’s PR people. This year it’s Windows 8, which entirely abandons the PC market for tablets and mobile devices, and has been universally panned in the trade press – not that you’d know it from the local stenography. Objective coverage of Microsoft’s loss of its innovative edge would be genuinely interesting. But that’s not what we get in Seattle media. Ever.
The banning of plastic bags in Seattle last July has not, oddly enough, been the end of the world heralded by American Chemical Association stooges. People took it right in stride.
Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent (and potentially violent) crimes, big (or not) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic, plucky kids overcoming adversity or reuniting with pets, and every other staple of vacuous Chuckle-Buddy News. Every time you watch local TV news it lowers your IQ by two points.
2012′s Most Underreported Local Stories:
McGinn and the City of Seattle are still in denial about SPD: From dragging his feet on settling a pending Department of Justice lawsuit, to trying to sneak in a toothless civilian overseer, Mayor Mike McGinn and his cronies have consistently refused to acknowledge that the Department of Justice and tens of thousands of non-white Seattle residents might have a point. The cops take cues from their leaders, and the routine and not-so-routine abuses continue.
And SPD’s addition of drones also flew under local media’s radar: the department SPD introduced them to local reporters as a “pilot program” (hyuk, hyuk) and said they might be used for search and rescue. But in the vast wilderness that is the middle of Seattle? Who are they kidding? When asked what else these drones might be used for, the SPD quietly admitted that the drones just possibly could also be deployed for scouting marijuana grow operations or taking pictures of the crowd during demonstrations, among other violations of your privacy. And, of course, there’s no real limit to what else they might be used for. Feel safer?
Not that KCSO is much better: A lawsuit by former King County Sheriff’s Office deputies and employees alleges rampant sexual harassment, the county auditor issues a hugely critical report, and the county’s jails continue to be a mess. Local media yawns.
Legislature fails, again: The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in January that the state legislature failed its constitutional duty to adequately fund K-12 education. Olympia’s response? More budget cuts for K-12.
Tunnel tolls keep dropping: When the controversy of what to do to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct was raging, surface transit advocates were criticizing the $4.2 billion tunnel plan (at minimum) as having unrealistic financing. They were right. The commission charged with setting tolls originally wanted $5 tolls for the new tunnel. Now, they’re saying even the lowest option, 75 cents and $2.50 in rush hour, would cause so many people to divert to downtown streets that it will cause gridlock – and raise only $110 million of the $400 million originally expected from that funding source. Avoiding downtown gridlock was the prime rationale for building the tunnel. That and, oh, yeah, high-end real estate development.
And Mercer is still a mess: After the city and state spent millions beautifying Paul Allen’s South Lake Union properties while making Mercer Ave. two way, daily gridlock is worse than ever. Luckily, all that carbon monoxide won’t rise to the upper stories of Allen’s newly permitted developments, so it’s all good.
Yesler Terrace: The Fix Was In: The city approved Seattle Housing Authority plans to redevelop Yesler Terrace – a housing project intended to serve the poorest of the poor – so that only 10 percent of its housing will actually serve them. Instead, half of the land will be sold to private developers. The rest will be new, high-end market rate housing and office space. That deal was cut long before its interminable public hearings focused on the irritating reality that SHA’s mission is only to provide housing for the very poor. Welcome to the Seattle Way.
Massively rising rents coupled with disappearing older buildings is making Seattle one of the more expensive places in the US to rent. During the past decade’s housing boom, many older apartment buildings were converted to condos. Now that those condos are being foreclosed on by the banks, demand for apartments is skyrocketing, and apartment vacancies is at an all-time low of two percent or less in Seattle neighborhoods. New apartments are being built, but they’re renting out at “market rates,” which are so high that the average monthly rent in Seattle is now $1,679–more than the monthly mortgage payment on most houses bought before the boom years. Where will the poor live? Certainly not Yesler Terrace. Well, there’s always the streets.
The Metro bus system’s new Rapid Ride Routes are actually crowded ride routes. The disastrous closure of the ride-free zone downtown–in a misguided effort to save money–has fouled up most bus schedules in the city, especially routes that run through the bus tunnel. But the introduction of the new Rapid Ride Routes, each one of which replaced several old bus routes, proved that King County is not interested in expanding bus service. Instead, they’re rapidly cutting it while demand is increasing and the city of Seattle works actively to discourage private vehicle use.
The Washington State Supreme Court halted foreclosures in our state by MERS, the Mortgage Electronic Registry System widely used by most national banks. Because MERS didn’t keep an accurate registry of title and ownership of properties and didn’t register sales with the various county offices, the court will no longer allow MERS to pursue foreclosures in this state. But this key decision was never covered in the local media, so the nine hundred foreclosures pursued by MERS in King County from 1999 through 2011 will go mostly unchallenged. And that’s a crime.
The real reason Chris Hansen wants our money to build a new arena in SoDo? So he can get a cheaper loan with a lower interest rate. After months of back-and-forth, the Seattle Times finally got hold of the super-secret financial documents hammered out between Hansen and the City of Seattle and King County. The details prove that it’s a deal that shields Hansen and his partners from any liability while the taxpayers are on the hook if the arena goes bankrupt. And Hansen and the other billionaires, who could fund the arena out-of-pocket, don’t really need our money; they just want it so they don’t have to put up one red cent of their own dough. Instead, they’ll take our $200 million and use it as collateral to get a cheap bank loan, thereby saddling the arena with a ton of debt to pay off. That’s what we call a bad deal.
Eyman initiatives unconstitutional: In June, a King County Superior Court Judge ruled that I-1053, a 2010 Tim Eyman initiative requiring two-thirds legislative approval for any new government revenues, was unconstitutional. That didn’t prevent the identical I-1185 from passing in November with hardly any mention of the I-1053 ruling. As a result, the chronically underfunded state budget will continue to lead to slashing of essential programs, at least until courts throw Eyman’s laws out for good.
The criminalization of protests: Using the public pretext of some misdemeanor vandalism during a May 1 demonstration in Seattle, a secret fedreal grand jury convened in March (two months earlier) led to raids on activists in Seattle, Olympia, and Portland. Four activists are currently in jail for refusing to testify to the grand jury about their entirely legal activities. If only the SPD had surveillance drones, I’m sure the whole misunderstanding would be cleared up instantly.
Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain became a national leader this year in the Catholic hierarchy’s war on women and gays, campaigning against R-74 and spearheading a national push to silence dissident nuns. Pity nobody’s remembering that Sartain came here in 2010 on the heels of his involvement in a pedophilia scandal in Illinois. Presumably, diddling males is thus okay, so long as they’re pre-pubescent.
Seattle Times drops all pretense of objectivity: Our local bird cage liner got national media industry attention this year, but not for those silly awards the industry likes to give itself. No, the Dog-Shooter’s Daily set a national newspaper precedent by donating directly to Rob McKenna’s gubernatorial campaign and the campaign to pass R-74, the statewide referendum to legalize same-sex marriage. Regardless of what you think of either McKenna or marriage equality, having a regional daily newspaper not just editorialize but financially support election campaigns (through, in this case, in-kind donations of ad space) was a jaw-dropping and unprecedented obliteration of the much-vaunted (and, at the Times, mostly mythical) “firewall” between the business and editorial sides of the newspaper. Publisher Frank Blethen tried to explain the act as a “test” of how “effective” his paper’s advertising is. Since there’s no way to measure the impact of the paper’s ads on the election outcomes, this was, to put it mildly, insulting and preposterous to readers still under the illusion that the paper is anything but an inherited-from-daddy plaything that Blethen uses to promote – and now finance – his political hobby horses.