Friday, May 06, 2005

"Cox, BellSouth poll questions called misleading"

The Advocate's Kevin Blanchard does yet another superb job of digging down into the stories he covers. Today he works through the push poll story with a degree of thoroughness and dogged determination to track down answers to questions that required interviewing a raft of different experts. Folks, read the story not only for the excellent information it contains but also for the work and the craft that had to go into it. Not every story can be done this way, I know, but fix this one in your minds as an example of just how good workaday journalism can be.

Here's the theme of the story:

Some reported questions contained in a recent poll sponsored by BellSouth and Cox Communications seem to put Lafayette Utilities System's proposed telecommunications business into a false light, according to city officials and people who have been contacted by pollsters.
Blanchard briskly repeats the outline of the story, from Cox's early, forced admission, to its claims that nobody local knew anything about content, to BellSouth's denial, to Cox's Cassard outing BellSouth as co-conspirators, to BellSouth's belated admission that someone knew (level and name unspecified).

But what is most valuable, and required a lot of work, was tracking down the specifics on the various bits of absurd misinformation that the poll was intended to convey. Go look at his explanations for yourself, but I just can't resist repeating the list:

1) There's no issue with religious programming. The ACLU says it's nonsense. Cities like Bristol and Dalton with systems similar to those proposed by LUS have religious programming.

2) The idea that LUS might limit TV to 3 days a week because they ask for restraint on lawn watering in the summer is just absurd.

3) The LUS plan will not serve the south side first and only. This little bit of an attempt to stir up racial animosity is particularly contemptible. We really, really don't need any "help" from outside corporations on this issue. Even more astonishing, this sick puppy of a question inverts the real issue: LUS, precisely because it is a public utility, will serve everyone. Private providers have no such intention, will tell you so, and are currently lobbying the FCC, Congress, and the states to make sure they don't have to.

This question amounts to an uncaring bit of malice which trys to exploit Lafayette's racial history to gain a little financial advantage. That is combined with what the purveyors know is a lie about their opposition, but true about themselves. It is disgusting. This is one of those points where I begin to question how anyone can support these guys. Why put up with this? If these were people instead of unthinkably wealthy corporations we'd all hold them in fine contempt. We ought to anyway.

I'm not the only one who thinks so. It's a good thing the corporations don't need the council's votes any more:

Councilman Dale Bourgeois, who represents an area of north Lafayette, said the question offended him.

"I truly take offense at somebody trying to divide the citizens of Lafayette. I don't have any kind of respect for anybody trying to do that," Bourgeois said.

Part of the LUS plan will work to increase lower-income households' use and access to the Internet. LUS is already providing service for children's programs at parish public housing authorities, demonstrating their commitment to serve the entire community, Bourgeois said.

Finally, we have the little canard that anyone will be able to find out what you are watching by consulting the public records law. They absolutely know this is a lie. They've got oodles of smart lawyers padding around plush offices in Atlanta to tell them so. That doesn't matter. Advantage is all that matters to these guys. They are trying to find out what will be the right buttons to push. And they think that we are or might be just this stupid. Absolutely amazing.

The story ends up with a comment that lets us recall just what the point is... and it lets us know that the people who are getting this "poll" get it too:

Cassidy said he's all for having a vote and debate on the LUS issue, but doesn't appreciate Cox and BellSouth's tactics.

"That's what Democracy is all about -- put the facts out there and let the best man win," Cassidy said. "But simply to put these lies out into people's heads -- that's what made me mad."

This is the kind of election campaign that BellSouth and Cox always wanted -- one of lies and deception. It's just our people's response that surprises them.

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