You'd think that a major Oregon newspaper would want to correct factual errors when they're pointed out to them. But not the Salem Statesman Journal, which published a Measure 49 editorial today that is riddled with inaccuracies.
Yesterday I wrote about the draft editorial that was put up on the paper's editorial blog Friday evening. The editorial board said that the draft was "subject to change." They asked that comments and suggestions about this editorial be sent to the lead writer, Editorial Page Editor Dick Hughes.
And, oh boy, did Hughes did comments and suggestions. In a continuation to this post you'll find an email message that I sent to the editorial board today, describing what happened after I found the draft editorial at 9:30 pm Friday night via a Google News "Measure 37" alert.
The upshot was that Hughes got deluged with emails from people a while lot more knowledgeable about Measures 37 and 49 than he appears to be. Neighbors, friends, and other Oregon countrymen concerned about preserving this state's land use laws told Hughes the truth about Measure 49.
Some of the comments are on the Statesman Journal editorial blog. They're marvelous. Thoughtful, detailed, considered, passionate discussions of what passage of Measure 49 would mean for Oregon, and what a disaster it would be if Measure 37 is allowed to continue on unfixed.
State Rep. Brian Clem, who was on the legislature's Land Use Fairness Committee that referred Measure 49 to the voters, sent in an email that corrected inaccuracies in the draft editorial. So did Bob Stacey, executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon. In part Stacey said:
The draft Measure 49 editorial posted last night is deeply disappointing, given the Statesman-Journal's long support for responsible land use planning. It also advances a series of arguments that don't support the editorial's conclusion. You should take the time to fix it, and change your recommendation to "yes."
…You say, incredibly, that "Oregon won't be devastated by letting Measure 37 run its course." You'd better look again at the maps. Or look at the photos of Measure 37 subdivisions under construction at www.yeson49.com. The parts of Oregon where farms and towns coexist today, thanks to land use planning, will indeed be devastated if this continues. That's why The Oregon Farm Bureau Federation--and the Marion, Polk and Yamhill County Farm Bureaus--have endorsed Measure 49. It's still not too late to amend your draft editorial and join them.
Dick Hughes and I, along with my wife, have been engaging in an extensive exchange of emails about how the comments to the draft editorial were responded to by the Statesman Journal. I appreciate Hughes' willingness to get into a back-and-forth with readers, but it's become distressingly clear that he doesn't understand what bothers us so much.
Sure, we're disappointed that the editorial didn't endorse a "yes" vote on Measure 49. But if good reasons had been offered up for a "no" recommendation, backed up by facts, we would have said to ourselves, "We don't agree, but the editorial board is entitled to its own opinion."
Instead, Hughes ignored virtually all of the emails he got that pointed out inaccuracies in both the factual foundation and conclusions of the draft editorial. This is what deeply bothers us: the Statesman Journal asked for feedback on the draft, which was open to changes, then turned a blind eye to the many substantive comments and suggestions sent to Hughes.
I've compared the draft and final versions of the editorial. Here are the differences I found:
--an "it's" became "it has"
--"overwhelmingly embrace Measure 37" became "embrace Measure 37 overwhelmingly"
--"laws" became "rules"
--"simply" became "only"
--an "Unfortunately" was added before "It doesn't repeal Measure 37"
--"2007" was omitted from "until the 2007 Legislature"
--"killed" became "cut" in describing legislative funding for the Big Look task force
Yet Hughes had the gall to say this in a prefatory comment to Rep. Clem's email message: "A variety of comments, including Clem's, helped us refine and clarify today's editorial."
Oh, whoopee. The biggest change was clarifying that the 2007 legislature "cut" funding for the Big Look task force rather than "killed" it.
Meanwhile misleading statements remained in the editorial. Many people pointed this out. In an email to Hughes I gave him my own take on some of the worst inaccuracies in the draft editorial (quoted at the beginning of each section).
--"By toying with the state's land use system instead of reforming it..." Measure 37 reformed Oregon's land use system, for the worse. Measure 49 fixes the worst flaws of the reform. This isn't "toying." That's demeaning to the 7,500 Measure 37 claimants and the many more thousands of Oregonians who are directly affected by those claims.
I'd like you to tell our neighbors on Liberty Road who have had to replace or deepen their wells, even without 42 more wells being drilled on the subdivision property, that limiting this Measure 37 claim to three home sites is "toying." Real people are living in the real world, with real wells that can go dry. They can't wait for Big Look to come up with recommendations that may or may not be enacted years in the future.
--"Measure 49 adds to that complexity." No, it simplifies it. Measure 37 was poorly written. Transferability of waivers, for example, isn't allowed under an AG's opinion, even though OIA thought they'd allowed for it. This shows, by the way, that the number of words in a piece of legislation doesn't equate to how clear it is. Measure 49 was reviewed and approved by legislative counsel to make sure it does what legislators wanted, which is more than Measure 37 does.
I can tell you that Measure 49 is a much simpler approach to protecting groundwater limited areas than the mishmash of county water ordinances that currently exists. Our neighborhood's Keep Our Water Safe committee has spent almost $30,000 on trying to get Marion County to enforce its own groundwater ordinance. Not many areas adjoining a Measure 37 claim that threatens their water supply are able to do that. Measure 49 gives them the protection they need (again, by limiting home sites to three) in a much simpler fashion.
--"In fact, the only people who may benefit from Measure 49 are the lobbyists, interest groups and lawyers on either side." This is completely and utterly wrong, beyond misleading. It's flat out wrong. My wife and I sat through most of the Land Use Fairness Committee hearings that produced Measure 49. We're completely familiar with the Measure. We know how it will affect our neighborhood and similar groundwater limited areas that have Measure 37 claims nearby.
Measure 49 will benefit property owners out here a lot. That's why you've been hearing from so many of them, like Don Dean, who lives next door to the Laack subdivision and is worried about his well going dry after 42 additional wells go in next door. An entirely justified fear, because independent water experts hired by Marion County have concluded as much.
I've already told you, as has my wife, how Measure 37 claimants will benefit from Measure 49 by getting transferability and inheritability of their waivers. So again: this statement is not only misleading, it is absolutely wrong.
--"Until then, Oregon won't be devastated by letting Measure 37 take its course." This is another inaccurate statement, unless by "Oregon" you mean the members of the SJ editorial board. Again, out in the real world, like here in south Salem, and in the orchards of the Hood River valley (to mention but a few places), Oregon indeed is going to be devastated.
I've heard Brian Clem speak about his family farm in the Hood River valley, and seen the map he holds up of the Measure 37 claims that essentially surround it. He says that it is virtually impossible to keep farming when subdivisions encircle a farm. This is why the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation supports Measure 49.
But Hughes merely sat at his computer most of the day yesterday, merrily ignoring the corrections to factual inaccuracies in the draft that kept pouring in to him, while getting testy when my wife suggested that the newspaper may have some subscriptions cancelled because of the editorial, and saying he was "torqued" when I told him there were misleading statements in the draft. Which, there were.
I've asked for two things from the editorial board: (1) the go ahead for me to write an opinion piece for the editorial page that discusses how the newspaper's process for soliciting feedback on draft editorials is seriously flawed, using the Measure 49 piece as an example, and (2) a meeting with the editorial board to discuss our concerns.
I'll end with my message to Hughes and the Statesman Journal editorial board. Hopefully they'll be open to improving their disastrously flawed system (or rather, non-system) for responding to comments and suggestions on draft editorials.
As I said in my message, a lot of people put in a lot of time and energy telling Hughes about the errors in his draft editorial. Journalistic ethics demands that you seriously consider those comments, not summarily dismiss them – which is what happened with the Measure 49 editorial.
[email message sent to Statesman Journal editorial board on October 21]
Yesterday I requested that I be able to submit an opinion piece to the Statesman Journal about the newspaper’s process for commenting on draft editorials, and how the “no on 49” endorsement was a good example of how to write a bad editorial.
My wife and I also would like to meet with the Statesman Journal editorial board about the concerns I’ll raise in the opinion piece. It’s clear that your current approach to soliciting feedback on draft editorials is seriously dysfunctional. We’d like to talk with you about how to improve the situation.
Allow me to describe how it went for us. Around 9:30 pm on Friday I was blogging away on my laptop and noticed a Google News Alert on “Measure 37.” That led me to your editorial blog, where I read the draft editorial, noted that the editorial was “subject to change,” and saw an invitation to “Please send any comments or suggestions about this editorial to the lead writer, Editorial Page Editor Dick Hughes.”
That invitation spurred us into action. Rather than relaxing for the rest of the weekend evening, Laurel and I worked until after midnight emailing neighbors involved in the fight against a Measure 37 subdivision near us and contacting other people concerned about Measures 37 and 49, including Rep. Brian Clem and 1000 Friends of Oregon staff.
The next day we spent a lot more time phoning people who might not have checked their email inbox. I called Rep. Clem and urged him to contact the editorial board. We engaged in an extensive series of back and forth emails with Dick Hughes, sending him more information about both factual errors in the draft editorial and mistaken conclusions.
Throughout the day we got copies of some of the emails that people were sending to Hughes. Universally they echoed our concerns: that the Statesman Journal didn’t understand Measures 37 and 49, and had drafted an editorial that was surprisingly “content free” -- meaning, it didn’t talk at all about what Measure 49 would do if passed, and the impact on Oregon if Measure 37 is allowed to remain as is. The draft was all about process, not substance, as its main focus was a call to reject Measure 49 so that the Big Look could be revivified.
You asked for comments and suggestions. You got them. Oh boy, I know you got them. Brian Clem emailed me and said, “I wrote Dick a very long email correcting errors and trying to persuade them to re-think the effect of their recommendation and even their premise.” I’ve read the lengthy response from Bob Stacey of 1000 Friends of Oregon that you put on your editorial blog.
And naturally I know what I, Laurel, and some of our neighbors told Dick in numerous emails. We all trusted that since you asked for comments and suggestions about the editorial, you’d take them seriously. However, that didn’t happen.
I’m in receipt of several emails from Dick where he said that the editorial position had already been decided and wouldn’t be changed. Not only that, he never addressed any of the factual errors in the draft editorial that we (along with 1000 Friends, Clem, and others) pointed out. I kept telling Dick that opinion that isn’t founded on a factual base is worthless – it’s then just “belief,” not informed “opinion.”
Comparing the draft editorial with the final version, I counted five minor wording changes [on second reading, seven]. The big change was to add an “Unfortunately” before “It doesn’t repeal Measure 37.” [on second reading, "killed" to "cut" becomes the big change] Whoopee. Yesterday I told Dick that, as a writer, I’ve frequently asked for comments on drafts of what I’ve written. I consider it my ethical duty to seriously consider those comments, and to tell people who’ve put a lot of time into critiquing my draft why I agreed or disagreed with substantive changes that they suggested.
Dick didn’t do that. I see no sign that he ever seriously considered altering the editorial to correct the factual errors and unfounded conclusions. Not once in all of the emails that went back and forth between he, my wife, and I yesterday did he address any of our substantive comments and concerns.
He got excited when we suggested that some people might cancel their subscription after reading the editorial, and he got “torqued” when I said there were misleading statements in the editorial. I then emailed Dick a list of those statements, with reasons why they are misleading, but never got a response.
The Statesman Journal shouldn’t ask for comments and suggestions on draft editorials if you aren’t going to take them seriously. A lot of people took a lot of time and trouble to contact you yesterday, all for nothing. That’s exasperating. Either you should shut down your dysfunctional editorial blog, or you need to institute a process for genuinely considering and responding to reader feedback.
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible about writing the opinion piece and meeting with the editorial board. The longer you keep on with a draft editorial commenting process that, clearly, is just window dressing for editorials that already are set in stone, the longer readers are going to be legitimately frustrated that they’re being asked for feedback that won’t be taken seriously.