Emory Bundy Letter Re: "He Said She Said" Reporting:
Seattle Light Rail

Alternatives to Light Rail in Seattle: Index

By Emory Bundy (2001.08.29)

Erica, as one who long lamented the inattention of the press to one of the largest public works project in our history, Link light rail, putatively addressing our leading urban challenge, I am grateful for the attention you have given the downtown tunnel. It exceeds that of your peers, and, for that, deserves commendation.

I respectfully object, however, to the following sentence and premise: "As usual, it's all in how you massage the numbers." You imply that Sound Transit and its critics each simply have a point of view, and that both sides work to manipulate data to prove their point. How even-handed of you.

As a manager and producer at KING, I formed a negative opinion of "he says/she says" reporting, in which both sides are considered equally reliable, or equally unreliable, get their counterpoint say, and that's the story. The reporter takes no responsibility to actually pursue and report on what the truth is, or at least some serious effort to approximate it. It's a lot easier to do that kind of a superficial job. It serves, not the public interest, but the comfortable interests of established power--particularly power that has immense resources to create, propagate, and spin its own messages, while plain citizens must rely on the diligence of the press.

Those of us who are alarmed about Sound Transit are desperate for journals and individual reporters who are diligent, and willing to pursue and report the facts. We welcome your scrutiny. But don't make facile assumptions that, because we've formed a point of view, it must be self-serving. Or that, because it has immense power and lots of money, Sound Transit is reliable.

Sure, last September 88 of us, from all walks of life and corners of the community, pleaded for an independent audit of Sound Transit, and said we feared the light rail project was at least a half-billion dollars over it's already-admitted quarter-billion dollar cost overrun. (The Sound Transit claim at that time was $1.9 billion [$1995]; the original projection was $1.67 billion.) We had and specified a credible basis for our suspicions, including work recently concluded by the Washington Research Council that seemed, and proved to be, very conservative.

Well, we got the back of the hand, with Ron Sims and Dave Earling leading the assault, which was generously reported by the daily newspapers. Earling pronounced Sound Transit had already been "audited to death," and that there were no cost overruns. He invoked an audit performed by Deloitte Touche to prove his point. (The firm's work is so satisfactory to the preferences of Sound Transit that recently it was awarded another, large contract.) He accused us of twisting the truth.

I supposed you can just take that as Sound Transit's massaging of the data, vs. ours, in the matter of cost overruns--as you have in this instance of the latest Sound Transit tunnel study vs. that of Integrated Transport Research. Everybody's got their own numbers, and some kind of self-interest to pursue, you aver. But I urge you to consider probing your assumptions, and suggest there are underlying facts that merit surfacing, without fear or favor. Reporting with the premise that Roger Pence, and an estimable figure like Jim MacIsaac, of ITR, are equals, in professional experience, expertise, or integrity, and should be considered equally reliable sources, is tragically misguided.

But don't take my word for it. Check it out.

(c) 2001 www.publicpurpose.com --- Wendell Cox Consultancy --- Permission granted to use with attribution.
The Public Purpose
Demographic Briefs
Government Cost Review
Gov't Employment Fact Book
Highway & Motorway Fact Book
Intercity Transport Fact Book
Labor Market Reporter
School Transport Fact Book
Transport Fact Book
Urban Policy
Urban Transport Fact Book
Competitive Tendering Website
Intl Comp. & Ownership Conference
Alternatives to Light Rail in Seattle

Contact by E-Mail
Subscribe (Free)
Corrections Policy & Rights

The Public Purpose     WENDELL COX CONSULTANCY     Demographia
P. O. Box 841 - Belleville, IL 62269 USA
Telephone: +1.618.632.8507 - Facsimile: +1.810.821.8134