Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 08, 2007

This has to be the dumbest AP article - ever

Shame on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for putting this joke of an Associated Press article on their website:
Eyman files Taxpayer Protection Initiative

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Tim Eyman says he's filed the "taxpayer protection initiative" in Olympia.

It would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or voter approval for any tax increase.

Any proposal to raise taxes would have to go through a study by the state budget office, with public hearings, on its cost over ten years.

The initiative doesn't yet have a number and Eyman says initiatives won't be available until early February.

But Eyman does have a Web site (article displays URL of website)
That's actually it. There isn't any more; this isn't an excerpt. The whole thing reads like a short, badly worded press release written by an amateur publicist. It's not journalism and it's certainly not quality reporting.

There's so much wrong with this "article" I hardly know where to begin. First, this isn't even news and shouldn't have been put on the wire. (Eyman already received coverage last month for announcing his 2007 initiative.) But it was.

Second, the headline. It uses Eyman's framing. It looks like the subject line of an email he might even write to his supporters. An objective reporter would not merely copy the one-sided language of a political demagogue. That's laziness for you.

Next, the body. The first paragraph (or line) sounds juvenile.
Tim Eyman says he's filed the "taxpayer protection initiative" in Olympia.
Once again, Eyman's language is used, albeit this time in quotes. The first sentence in the body, which is duplicative, states no new information. The state capitol is mentioned but any intelligent reader knows the seat of government is Olympia (where ballot measures would obviously be filed).

A citizen doesn't actually have to appear in person in Olympia to file an initiative. They can be filed electronically with the Secretary of State's office, which is headquartered within the Legislative Building on the Capitol Campus. (It also maintains another building out on Union Street where its Elections Division is based). Eyman apparently filed electronically this year.

The second and third paragraphs are a simplistic attempt to describe what the initiative does. There is no analysis or breakdown, no depth, no discussion of the consequences or the possible unconstitutionality of the proposal.

(For example, the Constitution says explicitly that the Legislature has the power to approve bills with a simple majority - and this initiative would require a supermajority vote for a broad category of bills, effectively meaning the Republican minority would get to run the statehouse).

The fourth paragraph contains an error which makes it painfully obvious the reporter who wrote this (there was no byline besides "ASSOCIATED PRESS") didn't check their work over very carefully:
The initiative doesn't yet have a number and Eyman says initiatives won't be available until early February.
Emphasis is mine. It's petitions, not initiatives. "Initiatives" can't "become available until early February".

I almost started laughing when I saw the last line:
But Eyman does have a Web site
Well, of course. Any savvy activist or businessperson puts up a website these days if they're trying to sell something - whether that be fraternity wristwatches or badly written right wing initiatives. The address for Eyman's website is supplied but there is no link to the opposition.

The perfect finishing touch for a lousy, wimpy, poorly written news brief.

There is actually another version of this article which uses different wording but sounds just as dumb. This version comes from KOIN's website. Again, no author byline, just this credit: The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Like before, there's a stupid headline:
Washington State Anti-Tax Initiative
That's the headline. It doesn't even have "filed" on the end! It's a title without any verbs! And even if it had "filed" on the end, it would still be a bad headline. Anti-tax initiatives are filed every year. It's not a new phenomenon. Headlines need to be more descriptive than that.

The first paragraph:
Anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman plans another tax-limitation ballot measure for the state of Washington.
Who writes this stuff? What's with the shabbily constructed sentences and the redundancy? But let's continue:
He says he has filed the "Taxpayer Protection Initiative".
Once again, Eyman's terminology is used. No objective paraphrasing. Then there's a rehash of the simplistic explanation present in the other version of this article (as discussed above). Finally:
Critics say that would make it very difficult to raise any taxes at all. Eyman says that's the point; on his Web site, Eyman argues that because the Democrats control both the governor's office and the legislature, that more tax increases are in store unless something is done to stop them. He claims to have enough signatures to qualify his measure for the November 2007 ballot.
The first few sentences in this paragraph could use better word choice and mechanics, but let's forget about those and focus on that last sentence:
He claims to have enough signatures to qualify his measure for the November 2007 ballot
That's right, folks. Before the initiative has even received a ballot number or title, before any petitions have been printed...the media is reporting that Eyman claims he ALREADY has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot!

Tim Eyman - what a a magician! Renowned around the world for the ability to conjure over 224,000 signatures at any given moment, whenever he needs them!

Humor aside, Eyman has not, to our knowledge, made such a claim. So that means the reporter who wrote that Eyman did is careless. The error about the signatures may not have actually come from the AP (it could be KOIN, and it's hard to tell) but what difference does it make?

There are plenty of people in the traditional media who often like to thumb their noses at the blogosphere, at citizen journalism and the open publishing revolution. They accuse us of being unprofessional and not being interested in objectivity (among other things) at the same time they're putting out garbage like this.

There's so much they get wrong that organizations like Media Matters are can stay constantly busy catching it and pointing it out.

The traditional media seems locked in a race to the bottom. Everything has to have entertainment value. Celebrity relationships and incidents are the top headlines. Crime dominates the local news. What's deserving of coverage is underreported, what's not is given priority billing.

The traditional media has no ground they can stand on to criticize us.

The article discussed above (both versions of it) is below the standards of the Associated Press and below the high standards for good journalism. It's even below the standards for a subjective blog - because it contains factual inaccuracies!

The Associated Press is in the powerful position of being able to set the agenda - decide what's important and what deserves coverage. Given the responsibility they enjoy, this kind of sloppiness is unacceptable and inexcusable. The crew at the Olympia bureau need to clean up their act, stop doing favors for Tim Eyman, and make a strong effort to deliver fair and comprehensive coverage. If they can't or won't, they risk losing what's left of their credibility.

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