Let’s see what today brings in the old media slop bucket! Here’s the Chicago Daily Herald with a report on the Chicago Bears‘ Arlington Heights stadium plans titled “Could Bears stadium benefit Arlington Heights taxpayers? Mayor says yes,” wonder what that’s about:
Facing some constituent concerns — if not outright opposition — to the Chicago Bears’ potential move to Arlington Heights, Mayor Tom Hayes is touting what the relocation could mean for local property values and taxes…
“We envision that it’s going to do great things for their property values because people are going to see Arlington Heights as a destination not just to go to a Bears game but to raise their family, as they always have,” Hayes said. “I think this is only going to improve our reputation and quality of life.”
So … people have always seen Arlington Heights as a good place to live, but once they go there for a Bears game, even more will? There is actually some evidence that a stadium announcement helps drive up property values somewhat in the stadium site’s immediate surroundings — and drive down property values in the rest of the metro area that will have to pay for it — but that’s not quite the same as saying it would benefit taxpayers, especially when any public cost to Arlington Heights of the plan is as yet unknown, as Hayes freely admits:
“I don’t know how they’re going to do it,” Hayes said about a Bears stadium project that could cost billions of dollars. “They haven’t asked us for any money at this point. And we haven’t committed any money.”
Okay, that’s not actually that informative at all. No one else is quoted in the article, so really the headline should be something like “We asked Arlington Heights mayor if village would lose money on Bears stadium, he said he doesn’t think so but isn’t sure.” That’s a terrible headline, though, and even if that’s befitting a terrible story, somebody went through the trouble of going to a village board meeting and asking Hayes some questions and transcribing the answers, that’s journalism, right?
Moving on, here’s an op-ed in Colorado Politics by “public affairs consultant and former Colorado legislator” Miller Hudson (very former: he was in the state legislature from 1979-1983) titled “New Denver Coliseum will pay for itself.” No “mayor says”! Let’s see what evidence Hudson brings to bear about the home of the National Western Stock Show:
A handful of opponents claiming to represent residents of the nearby neighborhoods in Swansea and Elyria has suggested these dollars would be better spent on additional social and homeless services. Fortunately, this decision lies with voters.
Good ol’ “voters”! They’ll never listen to “opponents,” who are a different thing from voters, because, um, what else we got:
Yes, it will be nice to have a modern arena with all the bells and whistles that today’s technology can provide but, more importantly, this facility offers a chance for Denver voters to express our genuine appreciation for the families who produce the foodstuffs we purchase at the grocery store.
I have heard many justifications over the years for why new publicly funded venues are needed, but “It’s the only way to properly applaud the people who raise cows to turn into our steaks” is admittedly a new one.
The proposed arena will pay for itself over time. Crowds attending as many as 200 events each year will spend on tickets, hotel rooms and keepsakes. This economic stimulus will translate into additional revenues for the city.
This one is less supported by evidence, so what does Hudson cite for these statements?
I’m of the opinion that we owe it to our fellow citizens across rural Colorado to replace the Coliseum with a state-of-the-art showcase
Yeah, you covered that. Anything else to add?
There’s something heartwarming about watching teenagers crawling under blankets to keep their animals warm in their concrete stalls.
Okay, so while the Bears article is a classic example of stenography journalism, the Denver op-ed is just an op-ed, which has “opinion” right in the title, so it’s unfair to complain about it not having any actual facts. Except that op-eds are generally fact-checked, too: I know in part because many years ago, I arranged to write an op-ed for the Boston Globe on the reasons why it wasn’t worth Boston spending $312 million to build a replacement for Fenway Park for the Red Sox owners, only to have the op-ed editor call me back 15 minutes after accepting it to say that on second thought, she had found “factual inaccuracies” and was no longer interested. Our conversation from there, as I wrote it up at the time:
Editor: There are problems with the numbers.
Me: What numbers?
Editor: Well, the $312 million in public cost…
Me: I got that from the Globe story, if I remember right.
Editor: No, we have $100 million.
Me: No, that’s just the state money. $100 million in state, plus $140 million in city, plus $72 million for the parking garages is $312 million.
Editor: Well, and then the comparison to Comiskey Park doesn’t work for me. You say it’s going to be a sterile park, but that’s not what we say in our stories.
Me: Well, that’s what the Red Sox are saying, obviously. But the point is that the last time a city tore down an old park to make way for a modern, oversized one — and I guarantee the new Fenway will be just like new Comiskey in terms of size and sightlines — they regretted it.
Editor: Well, it just raised red flags for me is all.
Me: If you’re worried about the accuracy of the article, I can provide you with cites. I have piles of research materials here.
Editor: No, I’m kicking it back to you for now. If you want to place it elsewhere, go ahead. Maybe I’ll consider it on another day, but I don’t know about that.
(I eventually was able to publish the op-ed in the Boston Herald; you can read it here if you want to play hunt-the-inaccuracies.)
The point here isn’t whether op-eds should be fact-checked, but the discrepancy in who gets to assert what: If you’re a regular columnist, or were in an elected office sometime in the last 40 years, or agree with the conventional wisdom being put forward in the rest of the paper by other elected officials and business leaders, then you get a lot less scrutiny of the factual basis of your arguments. Though I guess another lesson here might be: Don’t include any actual facts in your essay, and you’ll leave nothing for the fact-checkers to object to.