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Time to find the facts in streetcar debate

By Ben L. Kaufman · February 13th, 2008 · On Second Thought

It appears our Sole Surviving Daily is recovering its will to pursue stories beyond the usual sources � e.g., Eileen Kelley's stories from Mexico on four illegal immigrants murdered in Sharonville.

Now it needs to go beyond traditional boosterism to examine promises promoting any proposed streetcar loop. No one else has the resources, not even CityBeat, where Kevin Osborne updates the streetcar debates last week.

Contrary to critics of corporate journalism and the Enquirer publisher�s role in 3CDC marketing, such tough-minded reporting is possible. In this case, information vital to communal decisions coincides with Enquirer interests in a vital (ad buying) urban center.

If streetcars connecting Downtown to Over-the-Rhine and/or UC/Pill Hill enhance urban prosperity, it will be wise to consider the public investment. However, if a deep, wide, skeptical and smart probe finds streetcars that don't live up to their promise and numbers that don't add up, we need to know that.

Cincinnati isn't Seattle or Portland, Ore. Cincinnati isn't a destination city. It's not crowded with well-educated, increasingly affluent and younger talent clamoring to raise and educate families in an urban center with streetcars at their doors.

City Councilman John Cranley and a recent Enquirer editorial are asking questions. So is Bill Sloat, the retired Plain Dealer correspondent in Cincinnati who runs The Daily Bellwether blog. Now let slip the reporters.

Curmudgeon notes:

� How do editorial writers maintain or feign interest as candidates parade past like similarly talented contestants on American Idol?

� Political endorsements tend to confirm voters' beliefs rather than change minds.

Some papers decline to endorse, saying it's a waste of effort and an immodest assertion of omniscience that confirms suspicions of bias in its reporting. Yet a recent Enquirer editorial makes a clear, sensible case for endorsements. Its journalists have more contact with candidates and more information readily available than most voters, and endorsements are the editorial writers' conclusions and arguments about who best can serve.

That doesn't ignore partisanship. Rather, partisanship is the framework in which that information is viewed and presented. Fair enough; that's what opinion pages are for.

� How much air time and news print can we save if reporters stick to campaigns and results instead of guessing what might happen? Or maybe they're mixing fact and wishful thinking ... just like the poor slugs who have to write endorsements.

� An Enquirer truth squad joins CityBeat in debunking false claims that Barack Obama is not a Christian and assertions by WLW's Bill Cunningham and others that Obama's middle name is Mohammed.

� WKRC-TV covers a local fatal mobile home fire and interviews neighbors about failed rescue attempts. Why not ask firefighters why mobile homes burn so explosively and so few occupants are rescued?

� Peter Heimlich�s campaign to challenge his father's epynomous "maneuver" for choking and "malariotherapy" for AIDS now includes a 2007 article by Jason Zengerle in The New Republic magazine. Among Peter Heimlich's complaints are TNR's use of outdated information and interviews, abuse of confidentiality, inaccuracies and a concealed conflict of interest in which he says Zengerle's physician wife had professional links to the elder Heimlich.

After editor Franklin Foer rejected Peter Heimlich's complaint and questions, Cincinnati lawyer H. Louis Sirkin pressed the issue with TNR. A TNR lawyer summarily dismissed both queries. For more on Peter Heimlich�s efforts, see medfraud.info.

� Jon Talton, blogging as roguecolumnist.typepad.com, flays owners and managers, saying they are killing daily papers. Talton is a former Enquirer business editor who left for bigger and better things years ago.

The Nation fills in a gap largely ignored by national news media: what is happening in the primary campaigns. Not candidates, fund-raising, not celebrity endorsements, not redundant speeches, but who is doing what in the states and why some succeed better than others.

� Obama reportedly wants everything said to reporters on his campaign plane to be off-the-record. Dumb. Will someone please send him The Times' recent obit of Earl Butz? Maybe Jesse Jackson can do it next time he's in Hymietown.

CONTACT BEN KAUFMAN: letters@citybeat.com



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