Sunday, July 13, 2008


TWO BITS A YELP: The Honolulu rail debate has been a circus.

And one of the pro-rail’s biggest of clowns Doug Carlson has now been exposed by Disappeared News’ Larry Geller today for putting up a blog of hypocritical drivel and getting paid for it with his supposed “full disclosure” buried and blurred. In it, though it’s an ordeal to find it, he “admits” he’s being paid to produce this pro-rail blog- although by whom isn’t quite clear- but pooh-poohing any concerns he’s unduly biased.

And in a comment on Geller’s post today Carlson refused to tell Geller who is financing him claiming it would violate his financial privacy.

But the most galling part of Carlson’s little shilling adventure is his contention that only the anti-rail people are engaged in below-the-belt distraction-from-the-real-issues discourse while his pro-rail crowd would never stoop to that, all the while maintaining that the whole purpose of his blog is to separate the “Sideshow” from the “Big Tent” .

Carlson who has held various jobs as a corporate spokesperson and worked for Hawaiian Electric Company as their mouthpiece for 10 years, tries in his blog to paint the anti-rail people as not addressing the issues while he is focused on debating as to core rail issue.

He says:

After reading hundreds of letters to the editor and comments in the newspapers about rail, it seems to me they fall into one of two groups – the Big Tent or the Sideshow.

The Big Tent’s center ring features the primary reason to build this system, which is traffic avoidance. Commuters who can’t tolerate the lost time and immense frustration caused by traffic congestion or for whom reliance on their own car is too costly are attracted by this reason to ride the train. They want back their mobility, which they’ve lost. That’s the reason to build this system.

The anti-rail crowd pretty much avoids the Big Tent altogether. For whatever reason, they can’t or won’t even look at the traffic-avoidance issue and instead hang out in the Sideshow where everything but the main issue is on stage.

The Sideshow’s leading “barkers” are well known, and some have been shouting about what’s behind their tents’ curtains since the last time this circus was in town. You’ve heard it all – how HOT Lanes will be the cheap and easy solution to traffic; why a vote on this issue would be the democratic way, etc.

Yet the only arguments Carlson raises- again and again and again- boil down to “we need rail therefore we need THIS rail system”.

His writings are filled with the wonders of rail transit in general and the benefits of getting cars off the road but not once does he relate those arguments to the specific controversial- and some say corrupt- proposal for Honolulu.

Geller on the other hand has written entries on the subject and they are perhaps the only intelligent discourse we’ve read on the subject, saying that “rail or no rail” is not the issue as much as is the absolute dearth of any community based planning on the system’s specifics like location, stops, need, type etc.... especially given that the lines seem to go places where the intent appears be to open up certain areas for development rather than serve the already populated neighborhoods..

Yet, Geller says, there was never any community based planning, which is typical of Honolulu in all development matters.

Geller says he is not against mass transit or even rail per se, he just wanted to back up a little and get a real plan going, asking rhetorically if anyone has even heard of “smart growth”.

And we’ve agreed with both statements wholeheartedly.

But more significant is the fact that the rail system has been turned into a revolving-door boondoggle for Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration as we also detailed.

Here’s what the Honolulu Advertiser had to say on June 29

The project's largest contractor is Parsons Brinckerhoff, which has an $86 million deal with the city. The other major contractor is InfraConsult LLC, which has an $11.5 million deal to manage the rail project for the city. InfraConsult was founded in part by former Parsons Brinckerhoff employees.

The train project is run by the city transportation department, which is led by director Wayne Yoshioka, a former Parsons Brinckerhoff engineer. Yoshioka has promised to recuse himself from key decisions regarding his former employer

And this on May 4"

Contractors on Honolulu's $3.7 billion transit system and their employees have contributed $163,000 to Mayor Mufi Hannemann's re-election campaign.

Between November 2004, when Hannemann was elected, to December 2007, he has raised $2.26 million for his campaign, and $163,000, or 7.2 percent, has come from contractors involved in the planning of the project, their employees and families, according to an Advertiser search of Hawai`i Campaign Spending Commission records.

The $163,000 donation figure includes companies already receiving money from the city but does not include contributions from land owners and developers, labor unions, other future beneficiaries of the transit project.[Honolulu Advertiser 5/4/2008

Carlson doesn’t mention these issues at all in his blog but rather sounds like Frankenstein describing food, smoke and fire

“Mass Transit, gooooood. Rail gooooood. anti-rail – arrrgh”. No further debate needed. And if you don’t agree Doug claims you’re just a name-calling, partisan sideshow geek.

That’s rational, focused “Big Tent” discussion of the real issues? Sounds more like his little side show might just have more headless chickens than you can shake a blog at.

And now he is calling Geller’s revelation a “part of the side show” although in questioning Carlson's ’s credibility Geller does only what the rest of Carlson’s blog attempts to do.

The difference is Geller is spot-on right about Carlson while Doug apparently makes up things to attack.

The blog appears to be one of those “Wizard of Oz on steroids” sites: i.e.-. more straw men than Ray Bolger and Buddy Ebsen combined could have depicted.

His most recent entry tries to excoriate Governor Linda Lingle’s recent signing of the stop-rail petition and although she- genuinely or disingenuously- is saying she is just doing it to “let the people decide via the ballot box”, Carlson belittles any such notion by saying

Governor Linda Lingle’s signature is now on a petition whose sole purpose is to prevent the construction of Honolulu’s proposed rail transit system. Since signing a petition implicitly supports its intent, her insistence that she’s not advocating for or against rail rings hollow.

He then goes on to say what he wished she had said, misrepresenting, mocking and personally deriding her but not making any real arguments for rail, just against her and what he imagines her motives are.

That had been preceded on the blog with another personal attack that avoids any of the issues:

People sign petitions to support the intent of the petition, which in this case is an unambiguous attempt to kill Honolulu’s rail project now and forever, once and for all time. Her signature – if it’s actually been affixed – sends a clear message, no matter what his 800-word explanation says.

No, you da liar- no, you da liar- no, you da liar. Yeah- real erudite and honest argumentation Doug... during a trash talk session with 12 year olds.

One has to wonder if Mr. Carlson’s M.O. is based on the famous legal case of Rubber v Glue.

His previous posting before the one where he attacked Larry for disclosing the corporate and/or governmental funding for his blog, attacked rail opponent, Honolulu Councilperson Charles Djou personally because he used the word “propaganda” on a radio program in characterizing the city’s use of taxpayer money and Hannamann’s own campaign funds to promote the project and discourage those signing the petitions.

One of the more bizarre red herrings is this little previous ditty:.

We talked yesterday with a friend who has signed the anti-rail petition and asked what his big objection to rail is, and it came down to Honolulu’s alleged inability to maintain a rail system due to our climate, rust, etc. So I pointed out that dozens of elevators and other key equipment in town are maintained with no apparent problem and that train systems apparently are maintained well around the world in caustic conditions. He had no response, because the “maintenance issue” is another Sideshow act that attracts attention but has no substance.

Where did he dig someone up who claimed this? We’ve read almost every article in the mainstream papers and dozens of alternative news sites and blogs and no one has ever seriously said “oh it’ll rust too quick here so we shouldn’t have rail”. Gee- it couldn’t be one of those corporate spinmeister tricks of making up a bad argument, creating something to rail against (pun intended)...could it?

Boy it’s a good thing he’s concentrating on the issues and not just personally attacking those anti-rail people who he actually criticizes for not doing anything but criticizing the pro rail people... otherwise we might think that his disingenuity stems from his being a paid hack.

Preceding the circus post were various other attacks on anyone daring to question the wisdom of the project as it is currently designed and sited including an excoriation of former Governor Ben Cayetano who wrote an essay in the paper before he and his wife were character-assassinated by Carlson without discussing specific issues

Before that was a piece promoting a big pro-rail demonstration containing no discussion of the merits but plenty of attempted ridicule of the anti-rail people and another post with a bunch of attacks on the reputation and temperament of Panos D. Prevedouros, a UH Engineering professor and outspoken opponent of rail itself (he prefers to spend the transit money on high occupancy freeway lanes) who is now running for mayor against Carlson’s presumed employer, Hannemann.

As much as Larry Geller represents the best of journalism- a reasoned and well researched web site “appearing” the Disappeared News- Carlson represents the worst.

Carlson says he used to be a journalist but now, as we can see, he is an anything-for-a-buck con artist who, unlike any journalist with ethics, doesn’t feel like he needs six showers a day after running his three-card-Monte and shell-game public relations and marketing scams.

Mainstream media pundits like to deride and question the accuracy of on-line citizen-journalist postings. But few things are more reprehensible than people who trade on their good name for being honest and factual reporters to do the paid dirty work of crooks, whether they basically agree with them or not.

This kind of thing isn’t acceptable in an ethical newsroom. If the Advertiser has big banner ads for the Superferry at least it acts as disclosure. A site like Carlson’s needs a “sponsored by” box at the top of the side column at the very least.

Otherwise it’s a trick- a PR ploy to try to get your marketing campaign to look “grassroots” and “go viral”

Larry Geller says today that “I am still a great fan of Doug Carlson’s writing and his work”. That may be the only thing we’ve ever read at from Larry that really doesn’t make sense.


Anonymous said...

Doug Carlson is on PB Americas, Inc. payroll. See Contractors list on

JIM LOOMIS said...

You fail to inform your legion of followers that Doug Carlson has a very long list of credentials in journalism and is universally respected by any professional who has ever dealt with him. Why is it that he cannot be believed or trusted the moment he is paid (a pittance) for his work?

A- If you write for free, you're credible.
B- Any idiot can write for free.
C- Therefore any idiot is credible.

Andy Parx said...

No that’s not the point Jim. And you make my point by stating Doug’s reputation as a journalist.

I don’t begrudge someone making a living in PR but when they establish a journalistic reputation and then trade on that there is a difference between taking a normal job in PR where the veracity of information you’re disseminating is read without using the credibility of a journalist and conflating it the message with the messenger.

I’ve done PR work for projects causes I believe in. But I don’t go out and use my professional reputation to sell that product. I may use my contacts my writing skills my communication skills but I don’t say “buy this product because you’ve trusted me as a journalist”.

Disclosure helps but it is not the only part of the equation. This is a very serious ethics question these days. Many journalists and reporters will not even take a stipend to appear on a talking-head opinion TV show. And certainly they won’t trade on their credibility by taking an “outside” PR job, especially on the subjects they cover but really on any subject.

No one I know would think it ethical for a city hall reporter take a job lobbying the mayor or lobbying for the mayor or working for one side or another in any matter that could possibly come up before city government. No publisher or editor would stand for it whether “disclosed” or not. And that applies to free lancer too.

Getting paid and what you get paid for- and just as importantly what you don’t get paid for- is a major ethics issue that is becoming more scrutinized every day in journalism and reportage. And the reason I object to the blurring going on here is because it reflects on all journalists when someone does this kind of thing and worse tries to defend it.

Go to Romenesko at Pointer Institute and you’ll see the same conversation going on with virtually no one trying to actually defend these types of things only discussing what can be done about it and perhaps some discussing on how to toe the line.