Thursday, February 09, 2006

Two great examples of the problem in a single issue!

Today's Oregonian gave us two great examples of the problem with having a monopoly newspaper.

Imagine if Portland was a two newspaper town. Major political issues of the day would be debated in the editorial pages, and the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments on both sides would come out. Neither of the papers would be able to define the issue by using the news pages to offer up only stories that support the editorial position the paper has taken. Neither paper could dismiss the arguments of the other side as not worthy of consideration.

The Oregonian today gives us two examples of what I'm talking about:

Example #1: We all know the Oregonian wants a property tax hike to once again save Portland School District from itself. So, just like they did when the ITAX was being debated, we can expect an onslaught of "news" stories based on the theme: "schools don't have enough money."

Today we saw the first one - a completely invented news story about high Oregon class sizes. It wasn't a story about release of a national study or anything - it was entirely self generated. The Oregonian apparently asked the Department of Education for class size information, and then they wrote a story about it. Big news.

But it supports their theme of "schools need money," so they do it.

The article itself is basically just a series of whining school officials. They are careful to mention that class sizes would be worse still were it not for the ITAX, and so they will go up unless some replacement revenue is found.

It's a very good example of the way the Oregonian operates - how their "news" pages work in a coordinated fashion with the editorial side.

You'd think any honest discussion of class size might ask the question "why are Oregon's class sizes higher than other states that spend less money than us?" But you won't find it anywhere in this story. You won't find a whisper of the dirty little secret that Oregon has been trading high teacher pay and benefits for class size for years, and that we now have the highest level of teacher benefits in the nation.

That's how you know the story was simply invented to support their push for a new tax. Expect more of them. Mark my words, in the coming months you will see story after story, equally invented (by invented I mean a story not triggered by any news event) that covers some aspect of the theme "schools don't have enough money."

Example #2: The Oregonian's editorial today on light rail.

You probably saw that the Bush administration funded two big transportation projects for the Portland metro area: the commuter rail project that is going to run from Wilsonville to Beaverton, and the I-205 light rail that will go from Clackamas Town Center to the eastside Max.

There is a rapidly growing and very compelling body of research, analysis and opinion that shows light rail and commuter rail projects such as these are monumental wastes of money that fail to deliver on any of the promises that they make. Take a look at this website.

Rail is hugely expensive, inflexible, slow, and it makes traffic congestion and pollution worse, not better. Analyze the cost vs. the ridership numbers and it is pretty clear - rail is a horrible investment if your purpose is to move bodies and goods efficiently.

But I have never seen any analysis of the numbers in the pages of the Oregonian. Not once. Maybe there is somehting I am not recalling, but I don't think so. So, consider the contrast: the Oregonian WANTS a new tax, so they ask the ODE for class size numbers and concoct a "news" story analyzing those numbers to show that we have high class sizes.

Think the Oregonian would ever do a similar analysis of light rail numbers? No interest.

But it is worse than just having an agenda. The real damage of the monopoly newspaper is that it is able to dismiss the other side of the debate. The Oregonian NEVER covers any of the growing body of research that critiques light rail. There's never a news article about the latest study that shows light rail fails to deliver.

In fact, the Oregonian dismisses light rail critics with a derisive snort. This from today's editorial:

"...expect to hear the usual loud chorus of negativity from opponents of rail transit. It's a favorite punching bag for those who think Oregon can simply pave its way out of transportation gridlock."

And later in the same editorial:

" loved to chirp about the sometimes-empty train cars they saw. "

The subtext here is: "There is no reasonable argument against light rail, and any person who argues against it is not worthy of being taken seriously."

And THAT is the damage caused by a monopoly newspaper. They pretty much have free reign to define the political spectrum as, one the one hand, reasonable progressives who support all the right policies, and on the other, "boo-birds in the chorus of negativity."

Over the long term, this has done trememdous damage to the political culture in Oregon. I hope the advent of new media can bring it back.

PS: Here is something I would like to hear from my governor candidate:

"I don't want the Oregonian's endorsement. I think the Oregonian is part of the problem. They have supported all the things over the years that I stand against - things that have done great harm to this state that I love. Why would I ask the Oregonian to endorse me, when I oppose so much of what they support?"


Torrid said...

"rapidly growing and very compelling body of research, analysis and opinion?"

You linked to one guy's advocacy campaign, grounded and predetermined by his stated belief that government should not provide public transit.

And on the facts, he's wrong. His Senate testimony in 2002 claimed that transit leads to more air pollution and lower home ownership rates. Then why is pollution THE SAME as it was years ago in Portland, and why is there MORE home ownership according to the Census?

Maybe The O isn't publishing counterevidence because they're sensitive to being accused of printing someone's hacktastic, unsupported nonsense.

coilhead said...

Maybe pollution is THE SAME because auto emissions have PLUMMETED - helping to OFFSET the INCREASE caused by your stinkin' BUSES.

Even while population and auto use is VASTLY greater.

You attempt to impugn the source's veracity with nothing more than CAPITAL LETTERS.

Sorry, you do also include FACTS without attribution.

The Oregonian is lucky to have you.

Torrid said...

Whatever causes you wish to attribute it to, the fact is that Cox's premise is not borne out in Portland. I'm also not sure what buses have to do with allocation for light rail.

I do not include facts without attribution; I sourced home ownership to Census. I assumed you were conversant with the recent report on PDX pollution; it seems you don't actually argue the truth of that point anyway.

I don't work for the O. I'm not attempting to impugn Cox's veracity; I'm impugning Kramer's. He claims there is a large body of research--and then pointed to one guy who writes his own stuff and doesn't show his methodology.

Chris McMullen said...

The POSD's supposed study is inherently flawed. First, they falsely claimed pollution levels went down, but even after they corrected that lie, their whole methodology was still suspect. Of course the POSD will attempt to obfuscate the truth, their budget depends on success.

We should be thankful the Cascade Policy Institute objectively looked at the report:

Moreover, home ownership has risen due to low interest rates and a bank lending frenzy -- along with record bankruptcy and defaults. Furthermore, the UGB and increased demand (mainly from California transplants who can buy 4-times the house here than down there) are the reasons for rising home costs.

To attribute this to MAX and TODs is sheer stupidity.

Bailie said...

Thank you for asking the perplexing question, "why are Oregon's class sizes higher than other states that spend less money than us"? I have yet to receive an answer for that question from "pro-education". The other question is, "what is the value of having among the highest compensated K-12 employees in the U.S., when academic success does not correlate?"

Thank you for asking the question, and you are correct, it should be part of every K-12 discussion.

Jim Evans said...

Does anybody actually believe a one paper town is better informed than a town with two healthy newspapers that reflect respectfully the center right, and center left view points? Only if you are happy that the left controls Portland, and are determined to keep it that way, regardless of the present circumstances. Are there any folks from the center left perspective who are dissatified with what has been happening lately with Portland City Goverment?

Steve Schopp said...

What a dishonest sap you are.
You obviously did not spend much time at if you claim Cox's site represents one guy who doesn't back up anything.
But the dishonesty you display is no surprise. It's right out of the TriMet/Metro play book.

Kremer was spot on with the "rapidly growing and very compelling body of research, analysis and opinion?"

That body is also conclusive and irrefutable. That is why the O goes there, does not. It's their Car Wars.

I see you mentioned a recent report on emissions in Portland.

Would that be the Portland Office of Sustainable Development's report which has been shown to be publicly funded fraud?
Fraud which includes claims of emission measurements which never took place?

Kremer's only erred in not adequately labeling the fraud, waste and corruption as this "boo-bird" would.

You are without question part of the swindling around here as you help to distribute the many and endless falsehoods.

Here'e a test question to prove my point.
Have millions of school dollars been diverted to help pay for light rail?

Benjiman Disraeli said...

Is there a source for "highest level of teacher benefits in the nation"?

And does that source also take into account lower teacher pay which is sacrificed to get these supposed highest benfits?

And does it also account for a very aged teacher workforce which is at the top of the pay scale (and also comparably lower than other state's top scale) and so therefore getting a higher PERS contribution from their respective districts?

And does it also take into account the limited choice of medical plans which forces up prices of medical for districts due to lack of competition?

And finally, does this completely politicized figure ever account for the fact that current teachers under the age of 40 gain no benefit from these supposed "highest benefits" and are bewildered when they are attacked for having cushy jobs and will most likely not see the benefits when they retire because they will be destroyed by the baby boomers?

Come on....explain your Sources, Rob.

Bailie said...

You ask, Is there a source for "highest benefits"? Latest source is for 2001-02 school year. Chalkboard Project (ECONorthwest) January 2005. "Benefit expenditures total $17,684 per full time staff member, which ranked 1st nationally and is 11 percent higher than second-place Wisconsin. Taken together, expenditures on the total compensation package average $60,137 per full-time employee, which ranked 8th nationally"

Since 2001-02, these numbers have increased and have not been refuted by any organization.

scroll down to "Condition of K-12 Education in Oregon", page ix

Rob Kremer said...

Thanks, Bailie, was just going to get to this and now I don't have to.

Benjamin: Oregon teacher pay is not "lower." Teacher salaries ranked 14th nationally in the Chalkboard study Bailie refers to, and benefits are #1 nationally. Total teacher compensation is 8th nationally.

As for your other questions: Why should this study "take into account" the "limited choices" of medical plans which you say "drives up prices?" Districts are free to choose any plan they want for their teachers. Nobody limited their choices except for themselves.

Same with your question about the age of teachers. Why on earth do we pay teachers based on age? That is a choice, and an irrational one at that, which is part of the problem.

The funny part of this is that you apparently were ignorant of the fact that Oregon is a high teacher pay state. Even with all the publicity and news stories surrounding this issue, somehow you remained in the dark as to teacher compensation, which makes you look very silly with your demand for "come on.... explain your sources, Rob."

One minor correction to Bailie - I think they changed the link at Chalkboard. You can find the study at

with the summary fo the teacher pay findings on page 11.

So, there you have it Benjamin.