A recent editorial in The Oklahoman attacking Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid is not only a typical snarky smear from one of the most right-wing extremist newspapers in the country, but it’s also an open call to ignore reasoned, intellectual debate on any issue in city government.
The editorial, “Councilman unrelenting in his fight against Oklahoma City convention center,” which was published Thursday, essentially tells Shadid to shut up about his concerns over the new convention center to be constructed under the MAPS 3 initiative. The editorial compares Shadid to consumer activist Ralph Nader and literary character Don Quixote, criticizes him for publishing an advertisement about the convention-center issue and then ends with this missive: “Move on, councilman.” In other words, shut the hell up, Dr. Shadid.
Along its snarky path, the editorial gives us this gem of a paragraph:
The ad contains about 2,500 words. By comparison, the Gettysburg Address is around 250 words and the Declaration of Independence is roughly 1,300. But word count isn’t the issue. It’s the actual words he used in the ad and in a subsequent news story on the same topic.
Leave aside the inane comparison between the ad and two of the country’s most famous documents. Focus on the meaning here of word count. Here’s a newspaper calling out someone and ridiculing him for presenting a longer document filled with facts, statistics and references to studies. (This much density of information very rarely occurs in articles or editorials in the The Oklahoman.) The editorial ultimately promotes an illiterate worldview and tells everyone that The Oklahoman will tolerate only so much dissent from its own corporate-driven philosophy about city government. If someone crosses the line, such as Shadid, then that person will be attacked relentlessly and/or marginalized by the state’s and city’s largest newspaper.
In general, Shadid’s argument about the convention center is that it shouldn’t take priority over other MAPS 3 projects, which were ranked more popular in a survey, and that there are problems with how the council has moved the project along in terms of its location and timing and its relationship to a new hotel. Anyone who cares about Oklahoma City should take time to read the document. It’s not a controversial document or an ideological screed.
The ad, which was paid by Shadid, a local physician, argues:
Given the will of the people, and OKC’s horrifying and unsustainable health epidemics, the “quality of life projects” such as trails, sidewalks, and senior wellness centers, neglected over the 1 years since MAPS 3 passage due to our preoccupation with the convention center, should be implemented with urgency. The people did not approve funding for a very expensive convention center hotel, studies do not support its development, and ongoing financial losses of these hotels are commonplace and can be severe.
Some might disagree with Shadid’s overall position, but he makes credible, reasoned arguments. Why won’t the newspaper engage in the debate and drop the extended metaphors and ad hominem attacks? Obviously the newspaper’s editorial writers, led by J.E McReynolds, are incapable of engaging in debate on Shadid’s level of sophistication. It scares them and makes them have to work. First, the writers would have to actually read the ad and then cross check the numerous sources it contains. Then they would have to form a counter argument that goes beyond petty name calling and weird extended metaphors. Instead, here’s what we get:
What’s making Shadid raise his lance? Naderite suspicions of impropriety. He wonders if MAPS 3 would have passed had citizens been “fully informed” about the convention center’s details. Perhaps a 2,500-word ballot section could have accomplished that goal, but Shadid might question why the ink was black instead or red. Or the choice of a printer.
Is this supposed to be humor? Is it mocking intellectualism and the act of informing voters?
The editorial’s only small attempt to engage in debate is when it calls Shadid’s argument about voter preference of MAPS 3 projects irrelevant because the Bricktown Canal was not a popular project initially. But that is a false comparison of two widely different projects. Its other argument that voters trust “city officials and civic leaders” to make wise decisions about MAPS 3 is a huge stretch. Did people really vote to entrust civic leaders, such as Devon Energy Executive Chairman Larry Nichols, to dictate the specific terms of MAPS 3? Why even have a city government and a governing body then?
In the ad, Shadid also points out that the city has been guided by only one study when it comes to the new convention center, a study commissioned by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, which has refused to release it to the public.
Shadid writes, “The CS&L [Convention, Sports and Leisure] study, which the OKC Chamber has refused to release to the public, made clear that such a project would need a roughly 650-room convention center hotel which would require public subsidies with a midrange of $50 million.”
Why would the chamber not release the study and why would a large metropolitan newspaper sanction this type of secrecy? The newspaper’s editorial page often supports open records and open meeting laws, yet in this instance it remains silent on an important freedom-of-information issue in its own backyard. It’s just another reason why no one should take The Oklahoman seriously.
Look, the convention center and its hotel will primarily benefit extremely rich people, who will be subsidized essentially by local residents. This corporate welfare or privatization or whatever you want to call it, is pretty much standard these days in big cities, which rely on tax dollars to build arenas, stadiums and convention centers that are then used by rich people, such as basketball team owners, to make money. That’s the current reality. It’s certainly not a new argument, and the status quo is pretty much accepted without much dissent here.
Shadid’s arguments, though, are more multi-faceted, including the warning that the city’s current hotels could suffer financially as they compete against a new convention center hotel. I think that’s true, as well, but I also recognize it’s a debatable issue. Let’s hear the counter argument from McReynolds.
What should NOT be debatable is the urgent need for trails and sidewalks in Oklahoma City. Those projects should be given priority, and The Oklahoman editorial page writers should “move on” to logic and real debate. Sadly, that’s not going to happen.