Calhoun’s Can(n)ons The Bay New, Morro Bay, CA for April 12, 06 (25)
Tribune Out-Onions The Onion!
Oh, God Love em! The Tribune has finally and spectacularly out-Onioned The Onion (http://www.theonion.com/), that deviously delicious satirical “newspaper” that regularly makes up hilarious headlines and phony news stories.
Most folks learned years ago to read the Tribune’s Los Osos stories with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pound of salt in the other. In their defense, all newspapers have a tough time reporting on wars. The chaos of battle, the fog of conflict, the fast changing skirmishes over disputed ground, the rotation of reporters so that institutional memory gets lost and whoever gets tossed into the Los Osos Sewer Wars’ free-fire zone ends up with one overriding wish: Scribble something, anything, then get the hell out of the place alive.
The result is that the reader can end up with that amazing Onionish March 28th headline: “Plan calls for new tanks in Los Osos; An engineering firm says bout 5,000 septic tanks labeled as faulty need to be replaced – at their owners’ expense – with pressurized models.”
The lead paragraph continued, “About 5,000 Los Osos homes and business may have to buy new septic tanks under a plan advanced by a small engineering firm the services district will hire next week.” Puzzlement surely would have turned to consternation or anger: “A plan has been picked and is being advanced? Hey, I thought the voters were supposed to select the wastewater plan!”
Well, not to worry, there was indeed a problem with the story.
The CSD had voted to enter negotiations with Ripley Pacific Co. to determine the scope of work to be done in order to update the wastewater project report – the “scope of work” being a “compare, contrast and price out” various alternative systems which can then be presented to the Board and then the voters. In short, when the story ran, the negotiations to determine the scope of work hadn’t even been finished.
But there it was, the gape-mouth question: Plan? What plan? Was the Tribune calling the race even before the horse could get out of the stall? Not quite. Turns out the “Plan” presented on the front pages as news, was a three-year-old Ripley Pacific alternative step/steg proposal for Los Osos, a plan similar to what Ripley Pacific is now building in the northern California city of Stevinson. But the Tribune failed to identify it as such, even in their buried-on-B-2 “Corrections” section.
In addition to specious headlines, a more serious problem appeared in the text that repeatedly appears in so many stories about the Sewer Wars: “He said - She said” claims that are printed without making even the slightest effort to determine whether the claims are true or arrant nonsense.
For example, the March 28th story reports that “. . . 5,000 septic tanks labeled as faulty by [Regional Water Quality Control Board] regulators . . .” Five thousand “faulty” tanks? Really? There are about 5,000 homes in the prohibition zone. As anyone with a septic tank can tell you, if you have a “faulty” septic tank, you call a septic pumping company really, really quick.
Since the Tribune printed that claim without attempting to verify its truthfulness, I asked CSD Board Member, Julie Tacker: Has a septic tank inspection of the prohibition zone ever been done to determine how many tanks are “faulty”? No, Never. I called Al’s Septics: Have you gotten calls from 5,000 people complaining about “faulty” tanks? Laughter.
Three-year-old “plans,” Five thousand” faulty tanks?” That’s how unchecked, arrant nonsense can turn into “fact,” how perception becomes “reality.” And when the arrant nonsense is coming from a regulatory Regional Board that then uses this false information to damage a whole community, it’s easy to see the role our county’s newspaper of record plays in this game, not as a watchdog or factual corrective, but as a megaphone and nonsense magnifier.
Perception IS reality. The Sewer Wars, like all wars, are no joke and require serious, accurate reporting. When that goes missing, the community is badly served, indeed. And you wonder why the outside world has a totally false picture of Los Osos?
With The Onion, you know in advance it’s a joke. If the Tribune is now trying to out-Onion The Onion, then in addition to Caveat lector, when reading the Tribune Los Ososians need to add two more words: Bwa-hahahah.