Scandal! “Anderson Cooper 360” smears passenger rail; Corridor Capital replies

January 30, 2013

The passenger-rail movement is abuzz following an eight-minute “report” on CNN’s Jan. 25 “Anderson Cooper 360” show that misrepresented President Obama’s high-speed rail program as a waste of taxpayer money.

The CNN clip can be viewed here

Following the airing of the segment, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association Web page opened a message box allowing rail advocates to submit their critiques and replies to Cooper and his producers.

Corridor Capital LLC Dir. of Communications F.K. Plous submitted the following letter:

Dear Mr. Cooper:

As a former railroad employee and a former reporter (United Press International, Chicago Sun-Times) I was appalled at the sloppy staff work and biased viewpoint that characterized your January 25 segment on high-speed rail.

It is hard to ascertain which of your staff’s decisions represents the more serious assault on journalistic ethics: the selection of a CATO Institute spokesman as the report’s sole outside commentator or your researchers’ failure to understand the economics, technology or history of American mobility.

Leaving all outside assessment to the CATO Institute is troubling because this organization, founded by the Koch brothers, is notorious for its knee-jerk hostility to all forms of fuel-efficient transportation that compete with its funders’ petroleum interests.

Those interests are, of course, entitled to have their views aired during an inquiry into a transportation issue, but so are the views of contending interests and the organizations that represent them. Why did you not seek a comment from the National Association of Railroad Passengers? And since your inquiry concerned a rail project in Vermont, why did you not ask for an opinion from the Rail Users Network, which is headquartered in that state? Where was the balance? Passenger-rail development is a contentious issue that attracts a variety of viewpoints. Why did your staff include only one?

It was clear from the tenor and content of the report that the people who prepared it had very little background in American passenger trains and of American transportation in general. The announcer claimed the $53 million being invested in rail infrastructure improvements would reduce travel time between New York and St. Albans by only 30 minutes. The real figure, easily obtainable by anyone with a computer or a telephone, is two hours.

The announcer also claimed that the $53-million expenditure was a waste of taxpayers’ money because Vermont is a “mountainous state with no big cities and little population.”

Funny, but that didn’t stop the federal government from spending several billion dollars to build two Interstate highways through Vermont (and branch off a third into that neighboring buzzing hive of humanity, New Hampshire).

These rookie gaffes would earn any cub reporter in Chicago a refresher course at the City News Bureau, where the motto was: “If your mother says she loves, check it out.” Doesn’t your production staff employ any fact checkers? Is the staff not aware that passenger-rail development is an issue, i.e., a set of ideas that reflect contending viewpoints and vigorous debate?

Your story on high-speed rail was embarrassingly amateurish, shallow and incomplete.

Ironically, however, it was not brief. It included long, boring stretches of track-walking and platform-loitering that could have been occupied by a monologue explaining why the rails in Vermont were allowed to deteriorate while billions were spent on highways and airports.

You had the time to tell a serious policy story, but you wasted it on a drive-by smear on railroad travel.

The ultimate irony was that this smear went out in the name of a scion of America’s most illustrious railroad family. I hope you’ll make amends soon. Unless you can eliminate the half-truths and one-sided reporting, you may as well just change the name of the show to “Anderson Cooper 180.”

F.K. Plous

At this time neither Mr. Plous nor the Midwest High Speed Rail Association has received a reply.

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