Ceaseless Press Errors About the So-Called ‘Innovation Express’

There’s a recent story over at the Daily Union that repeats a prior distortion about thousands in public funds for a bus to cart a few private workers of multi-billion-dollar Generac to their homes far outside Whitewater after work. The whole proposal is an exercise in crony capitalism. I’ve written about the mistaken use of public funds for private, cash-flush Generac before.

This program has relied primarily on public money.

(See, for example, A Local Flavor of Crony Capitalism, A little consistency would be in order, A Generac bus by any other name, The Generac Bus and Bottom-Shelf Messaging, The Innovation Express Generac Bus: ‘Public Transit Is Not Expected to Make Money,’ and The City of Whitewater’s Draft Budget: Crony Capitalism.

The current DU story is false, and even more dishonest, than one that came from that paper months ago.

This Month’s Errors. The October story states that “[t]he Whitewater Common Council continued its 2013 budget review pro­cess….” and then describes supposed item after item of actual discussion from the meeting.

Here’s how the reporter describes discussion of the ludicrously-named ‘Innovation Express’ bus:

The second policy issue Clapper said the council had to decide upon was the continued funding for the “Innovation Express” bus service. He noted that the bus service started earlier this year and has been funded primarily by Generac Power Systems, although the company has received financial support from both the city and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Clapper said funding the bus service in 2013 would cost an estimated $15,000.

That’s entirely false: City Manger Clapper never said during the session that (1) the bus was primarily funded by Generac or (2) stated the dollar-amount of funding during his open-session remarks.

That is, these two statements were never uttered during the session: they’re a fabrication, a false reconstruction, of what was actually said at the meeting.

Readers can see for themselves, in the full video of the session:

Common Council Meeting 10/23/2012

Why doesn’t Clapper say during the meeting that Generac primarily funds its own bus? Presumably because it doesn’t primarily fund its own bus. This reporter had Clapper declaring something he never said at the 10.23.12 meeting.

April’s Errors. In April, I wrote about how a news story at that time concealed the large, public cost of the project:

One newspaper’s account of the ten-month cost of this service is false and misleading.

The total cost is $128,310. The actual public cost to support Generac is $68,005 in state and federal money, and $15,000 in funding from the City of Whitewater and UW-Whitewater. That’s a total of $83,005.

It’s simply not true that Generac’s portion of $26,058 is a majority of the cost — it’s not even a match for the public portion of the cost. Reporting the ‘local sponsorship cost’ (Generac, Whitewater, UW-Whitewater) conceals the true burden on taxpayers to support Generac.

Publishing big companies’ and local officials’ talking points isn’t reporting — it’s stenography.

In April, reporting that Generac paid most of its own way was false. It still is.

Months later, there’s not even a ‘local sponsorship cost’ dodge. That song-and-dance is gone: now it’s just an utter falsehood.

Journatic, but Worse! Readers will recall Journatic as a company that ‘processes news’ for American papers by having foreign scribes in the Philippines or other places re-work press releases so they look like local news stories. It’s cheaper for papers than hiring a real reporter here in America, and sometimes they don’t even bother to tell their readers who’s actually doing the ‘processing.’

I certainly don’t fault people abroad for taking these jobs – it’s probably a better living than others in their home countries, and a chance to work on English-language skills.

For the Americans who hire Journatic, however, I’ve considerable criticism: you’ve degraded the news to mere processing.

Imagine, though, when people who live here do no better – and perhaps worse – than low-wage workers in cramped quarters halfway around the world. Do reporters care so little about what they do that they’ve reduced it to mere processing, filled with errors or lies, and poorly written on top of it?

An American community deserves better than this.

One can guess, like clockwork, that a local news and sports website will repeat these press errors about Generac’s paltry contribution unthinkingly. There’s no effort to reason well and write truthfully – it’s just one person cribbing off another, pushing whatever party-line they feel they need to advance.

In this way, the local sites are worse than anything from abroad – at least the low-wage workers from abroad aren’t fawning scribes afflicting our own community.

Unsolicited Advice to Local Officials.. These gentlemen who are writing or regurgitating our local news are next to useless to local officials: they’re simply not industrious enough to write accurately and well. They’d much rather buck leaders up than speak truth to power, but their bucking up is mostly mucking up.

If leaders want to succeed they’ll have to do it on their own, by their own better standards, than the low expectations a local press sets for them. They’ll have to write their own solid presentations, on their own sites, and speak their own words, to meet those better standards.

If one is looking for quality, while in public office, one’s on his or her own – the local press won’t help politicians in a way that matters.