Around 9 AM this morn­ing, dis­graced ini­tia­tive pro­mot­er Tim Eyman hit the Send but­ton in MailChimp to send out an email to his fol­low­ers, the press, and elect­ed offi­cials pro­claim­ing he was launch­ing a new ini­tia­tive to gut prop­er­ty tax­es — an ini­tia­tive which, if passed, would evis­cer­ate vital pub­lic ser­vices in every city and coun­ty across Wash­ing­ton State. Police forces, fire depart­ments, emer­gency med­ical response, libraries, parks, pools, schools — all would be hurt by Eyman’s I‑1550.

A cou­ple of jour­nal­ists tweet­ed about Eyman’s “announce­ment” after it land­ed in their inbox­es, but it oth­er­wise did­n’t get picked up on by any­one work­ing in big media. That is, until some­one work­ing in the Asso­ci­at­ed Press’ Olympia bureau decid­ed that it was wor­thy of a half-baked, one-sided blurb:

New Eyman ini­tia­tive would cut prop­er­ty tax­es 25 percent
Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished Jan­u­ary 30, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Anti-tax ini­tia­tive pro­mot­er Tim Eyman has filed his lat­est effort, a mea­sure that seeks a 25 per­cent prop­er­ty tax cut.

By The Asso­ci­at­ed Press

OLYMPIA — Anti-tax ini­tia­tive pro­mot­er Tim Eyman has filed his lat­est effort, a mea­sure that seeks a 25 per­cent prop­er­ty tax cut.

Ini­tia­tive 1550 was intro­duced Mon­day. Under the mea­sure, cur­rent vot­er-approved local school levies would not be affect­ed. After the ini­tial prop­er­ty tax cut in 2018, the ini­tia­tive caps prop­er­ty tax increas­es at 1 per­cent a year, unless local gov­ern­ments go to the bal­lot to ask vot­ers for more.

Eyman needs to col­lect near­ly 260,000 sig­na­tures by July 7 in order to qual­i­fy for the Novem­ber ballot.

The Asso­ci­at­ed Press

Promotional blurb for Tim Eyman
The blurb on The Seat­tle Times’ website

Since being put out on the (vir­tu­al) wire, this blurb has got­ten pub­lished in The Olympian, KING5, The Seat­tle Times, and pos­si­bly by oth­er AP mem­ber pub­li­ca­tions as well. The Times even put the blurb above the fold on its front page.

Homepage of the Seattle Times
Front page of The Seat­tle Times as of the evening of Jan­u­ary 30th, 2017

This blurb shares many char­ac­ter­is­tics with oth­er such blurbs the AP has gen­er­at­ed in the past for Eyman… like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one.

Specif­i­cal­ly, it:

  • is pro­mo­tion­al in nature;
  • lacks con­text;
  • does not go beyond the bal­lot title, mean­ing the poten­tial cost and con­se­quences aren’t men­tioned, let alone discussed;
  • does not incor­po­rate any oppo­si­tion perspective.

Most embar­rass­ing­ly of all, it fudges some of the few basic facts it pur­ports to offer.

Actu­al­ly, he needs to col­lect about 325,000 sig­na­tures, because the min­i­mum num­ber of valid sig­na­tures required this year is 259,622, and it is always nec­es­sary to have a cush­ion to account for dupli­cate and invalid sig­na­tures. It would have been bet­ter to say some­thing like Eyman needs to col­lect at least 259,622 valid sig­na­tures by July 7th in order to qual­i­fy for the Novem­ber bal­lot.

The exis­tence of this blurb and the promi­nence this blurb has been giv­en by the pub­li­ca­tions that have run it is a nice reminder of how sub­jec­tiv­i­ty rules news­rooms. Edi­tors, pro­duc­ers, and reporters — includ­ing those com­mit­ted to objec­tiv­i­ty in their report­ing — are in con­trol of what top­ics, issues, and devel­op­ments their pub­li­ca­tions cov­er. They decide what con­sti­tutes news and what does not.

Many reporters have start­ed using Twit­ter or Face­book to pass along press releas­es and advi­sories they get, or report tid­bits in real time, there­by expos­ing to their audi­ence some of what would have in the past been left on the cut­ting room floor, to bor­row some film par­lance. There’s noth­ing wrong with this practice.

But if a news agency like the Asso­ci­at­ed Press is going to put an item out on the wire for inclu­sion on web­sites and in the pages of news­pa­pers, it should meet at least some defen­si­ble stan­dard for news­wor­thi­ness, and care should be tak­en in its prepa­ra­tion. The pub­lished prod­uct should not be slop­py, one-sided, or half-baked.

The last three ini­tia­tives Tim Eyman said he was going to do did not qual­i­fy for the bal­lot. So far, there’s no evi­dence that would lead us or any oth­er rea­son­able observ­er to con­clude I‑1550’s fate is going to be any different.

If we judge Eyman by his track record and his actions, as opposed to sim­ply his words, today’s announce­ment is mean­ing­less. Eyman has made run­ning ini­tia­tives his occu­pa­tion; he always has to have some ini­tia­tive to sell because he needs to be able to pay the bills and he does not seem to be inter­est­ed in any oth­er kind of job in pol­i­tics (like lob­by­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ly in Olympia).

Eyman is not the only activist out there who reg­u­lar­ly files ini­tia­tives. Two indi­vid­u­als have already filed sev­er­al ini­tia­tives this year per­tain­ing to mar­i­jua­na, but they’ve been ignored by the AP and its mem­ber pub­li­ca­tions. And why is that? Are they not deserv­ing of cov­er­age for hav­ing pro­posed their ideas, same as Eyman?

That is all Tim Eyman is doing, after all. Again, there’s no evi­dence at the moment that Eyman has the back­ing he’s going to need to get his idea on the ballot.

We have said we’re ready to fight I‑1550 should Eyman suc­ceed in con­vinc­ing his wealthy bene­fac­tors to put mon­ey behind the mea­sure.

When and if that hap­pens, then it should def­i­nite­ly be report­ed as news, with the oppo­si­tion’s per­spec­tive present in addi­tion to Eyman’s perspective.

All Eyman did today was reset his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry for anoth­er year… and that is an annu­al rit­u­al for him. It did­n’t mer­it a pro­mo­tion­al piece from the AP.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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