Questionable Headline

"HENRY ARONSON QUESTIONS THE MONORAIL." That should have been the Seattle Times' front-page headline last Saturday, October 19.

Unfortunately, here's what the Times' front-pager actually said: "Are taxpayers protected from monorail overruns?"

Sheesh! Since when do inconclusive questions equal front-page headlines? Front-page news is supposed to be conclusive--e.g., "Message Was Left at Latest Scene of Sniper Attack." It's not supposed to be tippy-toe, lilt-your-voice-up stuff like "Was Message Left at Latest Scene of Sniper Attack???"

It'd be one thing if the Times had determined that, yes, in fact, monorail overruns would bilk taxpayers. That's a front-page headline story. But that's not what the Times found. What they found was anti-monorail campaigner Aronson asking a question about the monorail's motor vehicle excise tax (MVET). The Stranger has given Aronson's question play for weeks.

We've also done our reporting and ridiculed the seriousness of the question. Aronson says the ETC's MVET is open for abuse because there's no time limit on the tax. What he doesn't tell you is this: The tax is the only source of revenue that can be used to pay off the monorail bonds (which are capped, by the way!), and the bonds can only be spent on the monorail's Green Line. If the ETC doesn't pay off its bonds, it can't build the Green Line; if it can't build the Green Line, it can't continue to issue the tax.

Since the Times (whose editorial page came out against the monorail on October 6) could only present their anti-monorail coverage as a question mark rather than a fact, they embarrassed themselves by splashing their front-page with a classic newspaper cheap shot: the question-mark headline ("Senator Beats Wife?").

I don't mind opinionated coverage. The Stranger runs it all the time. But we do it honestly and with confidence--not by tacking question marks onto the end of our opinion pieces. The idea of journalism is to ask the questions and report the answers--not to let political campaigners colonize your front page with question marks.

If the Times wants to campaign against the monorail, that's fine. But they should do it straightforwardly, rather than letting anti-monorail spokesperson Henry "I'm going to single-handedly fight the monorail because it will run past the $800,000 worth of property I own in the Second Avenue Newmark Tower Condos" Aronson write their headlines.

And while I'm talking about the anti-monorail campaign's deceptive sound bites, let me quickly address another whopper. Monorail naysayers have latched on to the idea that because the monorail tax only applies to relicensing cars rather than brand-new cars, the tax is regressive, hitting poor folks and their junkers. Please! Tons of poor people don't even own cars--and rely on public transportation (like a monorail). They won't have to pay the tax. Second, rich folks don't just buy expensive cars and then throw them out a year later. The monorail tax on a relicensed 2002 Lexus GS 430 would be $630 in 2003.

josh@thestranger.com