Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 4th, 2008 at 1:08 pm
When Senator Floyd Prozanski backed away from his idea to propose a mandatory, all-ages helmet law (in large part because of swift and copious stream of feedback left on this site), Oregonian reporter Michelle Cole responded with a story that opened with this line:
“Bicyclists who have their shorts in a bunch at the prospect of a state law forcing them to wear a helmet can settle down now.”
And no, that was not published on the Opinion page.
Her story went on to point out Prozanski’s bike-friendly efforts in Salem and then wrote:
“That didn’t seem to matter to many Oregonians who shared their outrage on blogs this week. One suggested Prozanski has his “head in a bucket.””
Of course, not only is characterizing the over 240 comments left here as “outrage” not accurate (since most of them offered thoughtful feedback and critiques), but the “head in a bucket” comment was taken out of context. If you read the entire comment, you’ll notice that it follows with, “I can’t believe he’s so unaware of the firestorm he’ll cause if he follows through on this” — a fact that turned out to be true.
The fact is, Prozanski did not realize at the time he proposed the idea that both the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Cycle Oregon — two of his major allies on bike-friendly legislation over the years — were not in favor of it.
He might not also have been aware of how this issue played out in Vancouver Washington earlier this year (where public sentiment and bike advocates were against the measure, but the City Council passed it anyways).
Back to The Oregonian.
As if Ms. Cole’s article wasn’t enough, they then followed up with an Opinion piece yesterday.
Oregonian writer Susan Nielsen continued their negative characterization of those “bicyclists” who dared speak in opposition to Prozanski’s idea. Here’s the opening line of her editorial:
“Floyd Prozanski just got run over. It was a hit-and-run, carried out mostly online by people who called him a weak-spined politician and left tread marks on his back… The good senator from Eugene deserves better from the bike community…”
Nielsen then admits she picked “a few insults at random” to form her opinion. She wrote:
“To read the hundreds of online reactions to that initial post, you would see Prozanski swiftly pilloried as (to pick a few insults at random) an uninformed and spineless poor soul with his head in a bucket.”
Re-reading the comments, I do not think that is an accurate description of how BikePortland.org readers responded.
I saw many comments discussing various studies that have been published about helmet use, people sharing emails they wrote to the Senator, people sharing their gratitude for his support of such an idea, incredulity that a bike-friendly legislator would consider a law that is well-known to be poor policy, and so on. I only read one comment that I felt could have been taken as downright rude.
But that didn’t even stop Prozanski himself from name-calling. He reportedly told Nielsen that, instead of proposing a new helmet law,
“There may be some other ways to tell a few idiots that their head may be worth more to them that they think.”
Of course a state senator calling anyone an “idiot” even surprised Nielsen. But she responded by writing, “Perhaps using the word “idiot” is contagious.”
However, after searching all 242 comments I found not one that referred to Prozanski as an “idiot”.
The characterization by traditional media outlets that “the blogosphere” is full of ranting, knee-jerk lunatics is old and unfair.
And this is far from a case of me taking this too personally. Several readers also noticed.
One of them, a reader who goes by “wsbob”, posted thoughts in the Portland Bike Forums:
“I feel that Ms. Nielsen’s comments about the discussion on bikeportland irresponsibly indulged in an opportunity to take a cheap shot at the for the most part, thoughtful, respectful tone of the comments about this issue posted on this weblog.”
Reader Kris Schamp sent Ms. Cole a letter. He wrote that he found her “shorts in a bunch” statement to be “extremely condescending,” and, “not something I would expect in the Oregonian’s news section.”
Schamp went on to write that,
“Further, the overall tone of the article feels biased against those folks who are opposing a mandatory helmet law for adult cyclists.”
And Schamp also notices a trend in their handling of some bike-related issues:
“Overall, I find it sad to see the Oregonian continuing to depict recent news stories related to cycling and cyclists in a black-and-white manner, often stereotyping cyclists and framing the issues as “cars-vs-bikes.” I for one expect a much higher standard of balanced and responsible news reporting from my local, daily newspaper.”
I really don’t prefer to spend my time doing stories like this, but I feel I need to try and set the record straight when such a widely read media outlet decides to mis-characterize this site, its readers, and people who ride bikes in Porltand.
Now, let’s get back to creating quality content and keep our focus on the real issues, shall we?