Bias? What Bias? I Don’t See No Stinking Bias.

Michael Hardy, Jeff Schapiro and the Richmond Times-Dispatch have outdone themselves with the headline and lead paragraph of their transportation story today:

Fees, fines for roads proposed
GOP plan relies on bonds, increased fees and fines, and $250 million from schools, police and the poor.

Republicans hope to finance Virginia transportation improvements with the government credit card, by siphoning significant dollars from schools, police and the poor and raising taxes and fees for drivers and homeowners.

Funny, I don’t recall the news reporters of the Times-Dispatch using the pejorative description “financing … with the government credit card” when characterizing Warner administration initiatives to issue bonds for parks and college construction projects. Apparently, issuing long-term bonds to underwrite acquisition/construction of long-term assets is prudent finance when executed by Democrats but reckless when proposed by Republicans.

As for “siphoning significant dollars from schools, police and the poor,” the charge may parrot Democratic Party talking points — “Sen. R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania, a budget negotiator, emphasized, ‘We should not pave roads in Virginia at the expense of schoolchildren and frail, elderly nursing home patients’” — but it is never backed up in the story. The fact is, the Republican plan wouldn’t cut a dime from existing programs. A number of politicians are concerned that transportation would compete with schools, health care, etc. for future dollars, but that’s a very different story.

It’s bad enough that two experienced political writers would craft such a lede. It’s even worse that no one on the T-D copy desk failed to call them on it — and, worse, would replicate the offense in the headline. Tom Silvestri, read the treatment of this story by other Virginia newspapers. Then sit down with the editorial staff for a little chat explaining the difference between writing news stories and writing editorials.

Washington Post
Roanoke Times
Free Lance-Star
Washington Times

(For the record, I am not defending the Republican road-financing plan, which I regard as a horror and abomination and will criticize in a future post. I simply expect the Times-Dispatch to uphold the fundamental tenets of journalism.)

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11 responses to “Bias? What Bias? I Don’t See No Stinking Bias.”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon:

    You fail to grasp the fact that the GOP 2007 Transportation
    Package is designed to create the impression that the GOP is
    dealing with our growth and transportation problems prior to
    the fall 2007 elections, but it falls short of meeting many of
    our needs and it is a package full of problems for Virginia.

    I want to consider these points:

    -the alleged proposals to help Northern Virginia and Hampton
    Roads may once again fail, as they did in 2002, if the anti-tax
    forces in the GOP prevail in regional votes needed to implement

    -the bond obligations may require a reduction of other government
    services over time, if there is a dip in the economy, thus requiring
    funds to meet this debt obligation first, prior to being spent on
    other needs which would please the anti-tax, anti-government forces
    in the GOP and it will require additional revenues from local governments
    to meet those needs (education, public safety, etc.);

    -the money needed to maintain secondary and subdivision roads at the
    local level (which has limited taxing authority) will now compete for
    funds needed for parks, police and school programs, unless the state
    provides funds to meet those needs;

    -and the so-called growth management measurements have little benefit
    in communities such as Stafford County, given the exisiting inventory
    of approved building lots and land zoned for residential use for more
    than 25 years, protected by Virginia case law relative to vested rights
    that landowners enjoy. Nor will it encourage new growth in our cities and
    older suburbs, thus reducing our sprawl pressures.

    I think your attacks on the Richmond Times-Dispatch and your blind support
    for the House GOP Caucus is truly amazing.


    A Virginian

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    gee… where have I seen this writing style before? 🙂

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon and Larry Gross:

    My, I can’t believe Larry Gross has
    nothing more constructive to say about
    this matter than “gee ….where I have
    I seen this writing style before?” It
    seems Mr. Gross has fallen into his own
    vat of blather ….

    A Virginian

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “future money”

    I can’t agree with this.

    The debate itself is over whether or not a change will be made to the traditional way we’ve separated transportation from other funding.

    What we’re doing is saying that we’re really not debating this… because it won’t happen this year but next General Assembly.. it will be a done deal.

    I’m not arguing the merits of doing so or not but I am saying that this is not a very honest way to debate the issue and when stuff like this gets embedded in the dialogue and negotiations – it erodes trust in the process and breeds suspicion about motives.

    If I wanted to take a really hard view .. I’d say ..this is a strategy that is intended to evade public scruitiny by essentially misleading the public with regard to what is actually on the table for debate.

    Sorry.. that’s my view. I don’t think we get to real issues for debate… on the merits this way.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Virginian – you’ve told us what you don’t like.

    Put something on the table that will generate the dollars you say are needed.

    VDOT has a 100 billion dollar backlog.

    What funding mechanisms do YOU support that will generate the 100 billion dollars?

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Virginian – if you can’t be honest about who you are … then why should we have much confidence in what you say?

    For the record .. I HAVE .. ON THE TABLE – my proposals for transportation and have urged folks like you to do the same instead of sniping and hit/run type comments, and in general a refusal to deal with the merits.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Accusing the Times-Disgrace and Mediocrity General of pro-Democatic bias is indeed a strange accusation.
    Let’s face it — most of their political coverage is one giant laud of the Republicans. Their Washington guy, Peter Hardin, has tossed one bouquet after the other at J. Warner, Allen and the rest of the Congressional delegation, provided they are Republicans. While their Richmond writers were shoveling the usual lame stuff, the Wash Post nailed Vance Wilkins for his sexual lapses. Where was “Virginia’s News Leader” on that one?
    And, forget Silvestri. We’re looking at a cheezy tabloid now — front page stories galore, dat after day, about the tragic fire deaths of children in Petersburg and giant front page photos of a Catholic priest accused on embezzling (plus the lede on the Metro front). Of course, the priest hasn’t been convicted yet — only in the pages of the TD.
    This is Silvestri’s idea of “excellent” journalism.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 8:23, I don’t know about Peter Hardin or the Vance Wilkins controversy. They have nothing to do with the story I’m criticizing, or the ongoing narrative of transportation-debate-as-tax-fight of which it is only the latest example. Would you characterize the story as remotely objective?

  9. David Mastio Avatar
    David Mastio

    Jim is absolutely right. That lead on a news story is simply pathetic. I can’t believe any self-respecting reporter wrote it, let along the mind-boggling lapse by the editors who put it in the paper.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Folks – I NEVER thought EVER that I was reading absolute truth from on high from ANY publication – as the words are from other humans.

    Multiple NEWs sources – are the cure.

    Grinching about bias is unproductive.

    BIAs is like cigarette butts in the median at the stop light… if you cannot keep from getting into a tizzy.. when you see it .. avert your eyes.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon,
    No I wouldn’t say the TD story is even remotely objective. You, however, seem to imply that Hardy and Shapiro and the TD at large have some kind of editorial agenda. I am not sure that is the case, other than the writers zipped out an opinionated lead paragraph that apparently, as usual, zipped through the editorial checkers without much thought. Just about EVERYTHING in the newspaper goes through without much thought.
    I rather wish the TD DID have some kind of focus. I can deal with opinion and points of view. But I can’t deal with mindlessness — constant stories about fire victims or a Catholic priest accused of embezzling (when many Protestant ministers have been jailed for it, but that’s not news since so many readers are Protestants. The RD has to play up to their assumed anti-Catholic bias, as if to say, ‘Look here, you thought pedophilia was bad, now we have embezzling from the Catholics with the funny names’).
    The tragedy is that this kind of pandering to anyone with an IQ of 90 or less is Publisher Silvestri’s gimmick to boost his all-important circulation figures and prove to his masters that he is a successful manager.
    Meanwhile, we get knee-jerk pro-GOP pieces such as a ridiculous little nugget that George Allen loves his supporters as he leaves Capitol Hill. Can you imagine that gem being run in any other metro-sized daily?
    I don’t care about real bias — just don’t treat me like an idiot which is what the TD does to its readers.

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