The Oregonian responds to critique of road rage coverage

“Maybe we overplayed this story, but it was compelling to readers…”
–Rick Attig, associate editor of The Oregonian

An associate editor of The Oregonian has penned an editorial in response to my critique of their coverage of the recent road rage incident.

The editorial was written by Rick Attig, a former Pulitzer Prize winner and member of The Oregonian’s editorial board.

He writes:

“Maus and most of his readers believe the newspaper blew the road rage incident out of proportion, and in the process of sensationalizing the story, only exacerbated the tensions between cyclists and motorists.”

Attig admits that’s, “a fair point”, but he goes on to write that:

“…it seems like Maus and his readers want The Oregonian and the other media to put a gloss over one of the essential facts of this highly unusual story… does anyone want to claim that the fact that Steven McAtee was on a bike and Colin Yates was in a car had nothing to do with this incident?”

Unfortunately, one of the problems with how this story came out was that there was no “other media”. The Oregonian was not only the first outlet on the story, they reported it in detail (based on police reports and the police spokesperson), therefore the impact of that one story was paramount. Also, I never suggested that anyone should “gloss over” essential facts.

A few lines later he writes:

“There’s nothing constructive to be gained by denying that there is, as the story says, an undercurrent of tension between motorists and cyclists, here in this city and in many other places.”

I am not “denying” that tension exists between “motorists and cyclists”. I have been at ground zero of that tension for years and have written and spoken about it on this site and in media interviews many times.

Attig then writes that they might have “overplayed” the story, but offers this justification:

“Maybe we overplayed this story, but it was compelling to readers for two reasons: It had a man bites dog element, with a cyclist attacking a motorist. And it strikes very close to home for tens of thousands of people who are now more focused than ever before on how to safely and affordably get around this city.”

Again, it seems Attig does not understand my chief concern is not with the incident itself, but with how it was covered.

I find it sadly ironic that Mr. Attig mentions how many of The Oregonian editorial board staffers ride to work and then writes, “Many of us have suffered some abuse from motorists over the years.” Yet even so, his newspaper decided to run these highly divisive headlines and graphics on their front page:

I’m all for more coverage of the tension on our roadways, but I feel it should not be framed as one specific user group vs. another simply because of one “compelling” incident.

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