Monday, December 10, 2007

Funny Paper hit piece

For years we’ve been reading “Monday Profiles” in The Funny Paper, where they publish a fluff piece on some certified interesting person around the town. The person they choose is almost always some cultural or political liberal, and the treatment they receive is uniformly positive.

But today, The Funny Paper did one of their Monday profiles on a conservative. Randal O’Toole, who just published a book that is scathingly critical of Portland’s planning class. Did he get their famous Monday profile fluff piece? HA!

No, that treatment is reserved for people The Funny Paper wants you to like. People such as New-Urbanism activist Chris Smith, bike advocates, school activists – you know, people who have the “correct” views – they get the kid gloves.

Critics of land use policies? Well, The Funny Paper uses its Monday Profile to let everyone know in no uncertain terms that we should not take them seriously.

Consider the opening of the article, the set-up, where writer Anna Griffen so evenly and without bias provides a glimpse into Randal O’Toole’s persona:

“Slap a Bible in his hand and O'Toole could easily pass for a frontier preacher. He has the look, if not the Good Book: a stern, tight-lipped expression, an impressive display of graying facial hair, a wardrobe that tends toward simple black suits and looping Western-style bow ties.

He has quite the homily to tell with his slides, a story of righteousness vs. sin, of good guys and bad guys and the long-term consequences of bad judgment and poor choices. Bashing Portland has become a cottage industry, and O'Toole is its leading figure.”

Oh, thanks for the neutral introduction, Anna. Thanks for the heads up that nothing this frontier preacher has to say needs to be taken seriously. She hurries to tell us that O’Toole has it all wrong:

“Times are flush in Portland. Planners and civic leaders from around the world come to see how we do it. The New York Times can't stop writing about how great we have it, whether we're sipping tea, buying big vacation homes or biking to work. Although the housing market has cooled, Portland hasn't suffered the same steep decline as the rest of the country. “

Times are flush? I thought Sam Adams wanted a tax increase to pay for the huge backlog of street maintenance? If the NYT likes Portland’s planning culture, well, then what could Randal O’Toole possibly have to say?

Nothing that needs to be listened, to, she so very carefully points out:

"Yet the people in power say they don't take this would-be shadow government very seriously. Homer Williams, one of the city's most prominent developers, called O'Toole "an idiot" in the Daily Journal of Commerce. Ethan Seltzer, head of Portland State University's urban planning department, wonders why anyone would waste time writing about O'Toole -- or even listening to what he has to say. "

Can you imagine any such quote about one of The Funny Paper’s liberal activists finding its way into the story?

And how about this:

"He's crafted a complicated narrative to explain the Portland region's evolution into a national smart-growth darling: Once upon a time…”

Oh I get it, he is just telling fairy tales about how Goldschmidt started the whole light rail thing going in Portland. Again, no reason to take him seriously. He doesn’t analyze what happened, he “crafts complicated narratives.”

Then she so evenly presents the two competing visions for Portland (in a batant example of the liberal’s favorite logical fallacy, the fallacy of the false alternative:

"Vancouver [BC] is, of course, the urban planner's dream city, sleek and sophisticated, laid out as carefully and creatively as blown glass. Houston is the planner's nightmare, a sprawling monster of a town with no zoning code and a love affair with the automobile."

No bias in these two descriptions! Then she says:

Judging from recent elections, most Portlanders would rather trade in their Keens, give up their microbrews and swear off fleece than live in Houston. Portland's annual survey of residents suggests that most like where the city is headed, even if they might prefer a quicker commute or cheaper real estate."

Oh really, Anna? Is that why Portlanders twice voted down light rail lines, but got them shoved down their throat anyway? Is that why Measure 37 passed overwhelmingly?

Nowhere in this article did the writer so much as pretend to consider any of O’Toole’s substantive critiques of the effects of planning on Portland. The high housing costs, the congestion, the pollution. What could have been an interesting profile of a very interesting person with well researched and well considered conclusions was instead just another dismissive hit piece, intended to silence the contrarian view rather than present it so people can consider it.

Typical Funny Paper.


Anonymous said...

Not long after she arrived in Portland Anna Griffin told me in a private conversation that she left North Carolina because she hated sprawl. She loves the "smart growth" culture and this biased piece of writing shows it.

Anonymous said...

Face it Rob - the BOREGONIAN is in no way objective. The editorial page has been takne over by the lefty nutjobs. Just this sunday, they devoted a full third of a page to letters from the "Bash Bush" and "Impeach Now" nutjobs. Then further on down the same page, some ugly old witch of a socialist is whining about the "unfairness" of how some of the wealthy are doing so well financially and the unwashed are not. I thought this class warfare CRAP was exposed in the last national election for the pointless pap it really is

Daniel said...

Good to know that Portland elected officials are working on a longer commute and higher real estate prices in the opinion of The O.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I didn't think the Oregonian's story was harsh enough on O'Toole. It let his comments go without critique or rebuttal, when most of his comments have been thoroughly debunked.

DonS said...

Here is my email to Ms. Griffin:
Sometimes, the O does a credible job. This instead was a deft hack job. There is much to criticize in Portland such as tax burdens shifted from some onto others, the decline in basic service while extras for some keep coming from the City Council. City officials are not even honest in their attack on cars. By neglecting and deconstructing our streets the City is driving more people to the suburbs and worse, increasing fuel consumption. You don't think driving over speed bumps, around obstructive traffic islands, and requiring circuitous routes to a destination reduces fuel consumption do you? Thank you though, for bringing Mr. O'Toole to my attention.

Rob Kremer said...

Anon - "most of his comments have been thoroughly debunked."

Really, now? Care to be at all specific? Debunked, such as Homer Williams calling him an idiot? Or Ethan Seltzer saying nobody should listen to him?

Actually, if the article DID go through O'Toole's assertions and then have someone try to refute them, it would have been a very honest and valuable piece.

But it didn't attempt anything of the sort. Total hack job.

Anonymous said...

Kremer does a good job of deconstructing the article.

Time will tell on Griffin's characterizations. Just today, The Oregonian editorialized about the possibility of recession, using the big 'R' letter.

Now if Oregon and Portland go into recession -- expect wailing and gnashing of teeth -- because Portland is leveraged big time.

Jack Bogdanski has been talking about municipal bankruptcy for a long time.

But recession could be the reversal of fortune that bites the plannner culture in the behind.


Because all their plans (schemes) are the most expensive and only work financially if the economy lifts all boats.

If not -- look out.

MAX Redline said...

Glad that you got to touch on this during your stint on the radio today! Anna Griffin, like that Welsh nutjob Nicholas, got into "journalism" not to report the facts, but because they want to "change the world". To suit them.

Daniel said...

I didn't get a chance to call in and yell at you yesterday Rob. Here are my thoughts on the sales tax.