Sent just now to the Globe and Mail Public Editor, Sylvia Stead. Beneath this I will post any reply I receive.
Thank you so much for your followup re the Crowley article [see yesterday's post, and Ms Stead's comment at the end]. As a professional consultant and author on public transit, I have one more thought.
The interesting journalistic question is "What degree of rhetorical exaggeration crosses a line into explicit falsehood, and requires a correction even for an opinion piece?" I assume you'd agree that opinion pieces must still state accurate facts. The New York Times runs corrections to its opinion pieces and columnists all the time, at least in its online version.
The issue is clearest in this paragraph of Crowley, which I believe warrants a correction:
Portland, Ore., has pursued road-skeptical policies similar to many major Canadian cities. The result is markedly worsened commuting times. According to the TTI, over the past 30 years Portland has gone from having the 47th worst congestion in the U.S. to the sixth worst.
The second sentence not only untrue but the opposite of the truth. Portland has among the best commuting times in the US. As the third sentence reveals, when Crowley talks about "commuting times" he means "motorists' commuting times". Portland's commuting times are relatively fast not just because lots of people walk, cycle, or take transit. They're faster because people here tend to live closer to their jobs, the result of decades of careful land use planning that began with Oregon's 1972 laws limiting horizontal sprawl.
Crowley's omission of that crucial word "motorists'" not only makes the sentence false, it reveals that a large part of the population simply does not exist to him. People who do not commute by car do not count as commuters at all in this calculation.
Does denying the existence of a large group of readers constitute a reasonable distortion for an opinion column? Or is it just a falsehood?
(You can find my rebuttal of Crowley here.)
Regards, Jarrett Walker
UPDATE 1: Globe and Mail's Sylvia Stead replies:
Yes thank you Mr. Walker. An opinion piece must be based on the facts so that a reader can come up with his/her own opinion. I will look into the points below and get back to you later this week.
More when I have it.
Keep up the good fight, Jarrett.
There is another way to show that the TTI “congestion” ratings are crazy. Because they measure the difference between “free flow” and rush hour speeds, a city could get a perfect rating by slowing down “free flow” traffic speeds. Set speed limits to 15 mph on city streets and 30 mph on the motorways, and even New York would be “congestion free”, based on this metric: the speeds at midnight would be just as slow as at rush hour.
I guess this means the Globe and Mail is not interested in improving its journalistic standards? Or did they post a clarification that the story confused commute times (total travel time for all users) with a measure of how much faster a car commute is at uncongested periods versus peak periods?