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April 12, 2013

In 'Keeping Them Honest,' truth not necessary to 'report' on rail

by Nicole Schlosser - Also by this author

While the typical griping continues in California over its plans for high-speed rail, projects across the U.S. were subject to a recent hatchet job, ironically, by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360◦” in the segment, “Keeping Them Honest.”

The story, “High-speed rail Boondoggle,” claims to be about how $800 million in federal funds was spent only to take 10 minutes off a rail trip between Portland, Ore. and Seattle, while promising high-speed rail. However, it was really just making out the concept of bullet trains in the U.S. as a waste of money for something nobody wants without sharing any facts.

“Investigative Correspondent” Drew Griffin begins spinning his colorful yarn about how the public is supposedly being cheated with a really premature statement: “The dream, shared by those who stand to make money from high-speed rail, is turning into a pipe dream.”

He goes on to oversimplify the situation with this generalization: “Four years and $12 billion later, scattered projects across the country that slow trains moved just a little faster.” Griffin also implied that there was no other work being done to complete the projects nationwide.

Throughout the story, Griffin gave the false impression that building an entire high-speed rail program, basically from scratch, would or should only take four years, as the U.S. High-Speed Rail Authority pointed out in a release responding to the show.

“…it takes a lot longer than four years to launch a new national program, have new high-speed rail systems fully engineered, miles of land purchased and construction already underway,” the release said. “It also takes more than $10 billion to [build] multiple HSR systems. To question results after only four years demonstrates considerable ignorance of the complexity and timelines of these mega projects, even after we carefully spelled this all out for CNN and Anderson Cooper last time.”  

Cooper and Griffin, at the end of the report, glibly referred to this attempt to let them know what they got wrong as being “email bombed.”

Additionally, in a doctored interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, CNN cut LaHood’s mention of the California high-speed rail project and his explanation of the progress of the comprehensive national program. LaHood at least gets to mention in the aired version that there have already been improvements in service and reliability in existing rail systems, which is the first necessary step in the process. He added that the $12 billion is just the federal portion of the funds, not including state and private funds, and that Amtrak is at an all-time ridership high, one key indicator that more, faster rail is something that the American public does want.

At the height of his patronizing tone, when LaHood explained that the goal is to get trains running at 200 mph in some parts of the country, Griffin made a stern face and asked, “When?”

Griffin, here’s your answer: We’ll get it when people like you and certain politicians stop using fear of these projects’ supposed “failures” and hiding the actual progress being made to manipulate people.

In the uncut version, which you can see on the U.S. High-Speed Rail Authority’s website, LaHood pointed out that state and private funding are also helping to support the projects.

Media Matters for America also responded, saying that "CNN shouldn't be so quick to declare these investments failures. Developing a high-speed rail system in America that rivals those in Europe and Japan is a massive undertaking akin to the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. As Federal Railroad Administration Chief Joe Szabo noted last year, 'The Interstate Highway System took 10 administrations, 28 sessions of Congress, to be completed. It also cost taxpayers more than $100 billion.'"

But let’s not compare rail to highways. Griffin and Cooper probably don’t have a single unkind word about all the spending needed and the taxes we have to pay to maintain them.

I was really disappointed in CNN and Anderson Cooper for presenting the issue in such a blatantly slanted way. There are certainly reasons to be cautious about aspects of high-speed rail, and the situation is complicated; different regions of the country have different transportation needs. Because it’s such a multi-faceted issue, the last thing we need are false reports masquerading as “journalism” that are designed as yet another scare tactic to convince the public that their tax dollars are being “misspent” and turn them away from progress.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Building public transportation's next generation" here.

Nicole Schlosser

Senior Editor


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  • D. Vanderbilt[ April 12th, 2013 @ 12:09pm ]

    I totally agree with Ms. Schlosser here. Want better roads, less gridlock and a reliable and affordable rail system? Well, it costs MONEY. And it takes TIME. And you also need to do some homework to find the actual FACTS rather than trust a politician, pundit or corporate-owned news source. Change comes at a price, and continuing to cut funding to crucial public works every single year because certain interests have managed to demonize long-term investment and because 24 hour news services prioritize speed of reporting over fact-checking is not going to pay the bill. In the end, we will all lose unless we take time to do research, vet our leaders and news sources and make change at the ballot box!

  • Joe Railroad[ April 12th, 2013 @ 2:39pm ]

    Quoting Media Matters for America in any reporting shows terrible judgement and bias. There are many positive things about passenger rail but defaulting to a wing of the progressive left for statements shows an obscene lack of judgement. You can do better.

  • Roy[ April 12th, 2013 @ 3:25pm ]

    Put it to a vote. If the folks of California want this. Let the voters of California vote on it. Then, let the tax payers of California pay for it. NOT the tax payers of any other state pay for something in California. High speed rail, and light rail is a LIE. Nothing else. Only the rich profits in the long run on high speed and light rail.

  • Nicole Schlosser[ April 12th, 2013 @ 3:37pm ]

    Actually, Roy, California did vote for high-speed rail. Proposition 1 passed in 2008.

  • Roy[ April 12th, 2013 @ 9:13pm ]

    Sounds good. Now, let the tax payers pay for it. Not the Fedss

  • Alan[ April 13th, 2013 @ 8:14am ]

    Actually, Joe, Media Matters has it exactly right. It does take many years and dollars to build any public works project as massive as the Interstate highway system or high-speed rail. Do you have a problem facing facts?

  • John Kessler[ April 13th, 2013 @ 8:18am ]

    I see lots of attacks on Media Matters which call them a biased left wing group which should not be trusted. Rarely do I see someone provide facts to back up the impression that Media Matters is wrong. While Media Matters does have a left bias, that does not mean the stuff they write is incorrect. It mainly means they tend to focus on inaccuracies coming from the right and they tend to ignore inaccuracies coming from the left. I have however seen examples of Media Matters going after liberal news media when they find errors or misinformation there. The best and least biased fact checking organization in my opinion is "factcheck.org" but they don't cover as many issues as Media Matters. Another reasonably good source is "politifact.com" but they drop the ball at times as well.

  • Steve Ly[ April 16th, 2013 @ 11:29am ]

    The reason that these types of reports get traction is that "high speed rail" has been oversold. Frequently, planners refer to medium-speed rail as “higher-speed” rail. It gives people the wrong impression and spits on basic English. Normal usage is: High Higher Highest So why is “higher-speed” rail slower than “high speed” rail? I internally blanch when I read about “higher speed rail” in Railway Age when in fact they’re refering to “medium-speed rail.” Why make a big deal about this? Well, for one thing, it hurts the pro-rail argument. Normal people hear about “high speed rail” money getting spent on medium speed projects and they cry “pork.” It explains why CNN got a receptive audience with its report. Bottom line: it’s false advertising. If they simply called these medium speed projects “upgrades” it would remove lots of the “boondoggle” stigma.

  • Ted Edwards[ April 23th, 2013 @ 11:13am ]

    I would love for states to have to raise taxes to fund their own infrastructure projects. Then they wouldn't be "forced" to accept all of that filthy redistributed lucre from the likes of Pres. Obama!

  • John Light[ April 30th, 2013 @ 11:35am ]

    Some journalist think we are still operating stream locomotives powered freight trains, our tracks are in terrible condition, and our trains are slow, as well as our safety record being terrible. Even NS CEO Moorman was asked, as late as February 2013, by a journalist, how steam locomotives Norfolk South in its daily Passenger Train Fleet So just consider the source (unenlighten), and go on. JML

  • Omar[ May 10th, 2013 @ 12:22pm ]

    I'm in California and against the HSR boondoggle. When on the ballot, all the numbers were inflated or understated in favor of the CA HSR fraud--on so many levels. Yes, they got the vote by trickery, the ballot measure was ruled unconstitutional by the 3rd Appellate, but the judge refused to revoke the vote results, Peer reviews, state auditors, and Legislative Analyst all derided the bases of the project. Lots more, but enough here to educate Nicole on "the rest of the story."

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Janna Starcic

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Nicole Schlosser

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