SEATTLE SOUNDINGS | Media follies of 2016

It’s a holiday season tradition! Here, for the 21st year (!), is the list of overhyped and underreported stories of the year. After a year in which “fake news” became a thing and a “reality” TV star became president, we can only hope it gets better. 


2016’s Most Over-Hyped Local Stories

Mayor Ed Murray Is Really Doing Things!: Which, like, he is. He puts out press releases. He makes splashy announcements and proclamations (leaked days in advance to maximize coverage. He convenes task forces, names czars and declares emergencies. All of this usually when somebody else is poised to do something more substantive he can’t take credit for.

Let’s Have a Riot!: When a march breaks out in Seattle — and with Trump’s election, get used to it — you can practically hear breathless live TV reporters begging for some awesome anarchist-on-store-window or cop-on-little-old-lady action. It demeans police and protesters alike.

Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent crimes, big (or not) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic kids overcoming adversity or reuniting with pets, and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy News. Every time you watch local TV news it lowers your IQ.


2016’s Most Underreported Local Stories

Sigh. There are dozens to choose from:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Seattle’s rapidly growing population masked a clear demographic trend: our newcomers are younger, whiter, and much, much wealthier than existing residents, many of whom are being forced to leave Seattle for more affordable areas. This wholesale change in who lives here has countless cultural and political implications, but local media has preferred to keep on reporting like it’s 2000 — or, at the Seattle Times, 1950.

The Link Between Housing and Homelessness: People who can’t afford housing sometimes don’t have housing. Duh. Seattle’s exploding housing costs got lots of media attention as a good thing. So did the steadily worsening homeless crisis — as a bad thing. But Murray and other city officials, who’ve done their best to promote our real estate frenzy, work hard to treat the two issues as entirely separate. Shamefully, our media generally follows suit.

The End of Progressive Politics?: The remarkably progressive tone of this year’s City Council likely won’t last. The explosion of money in local politics — and tens of thousands of new, financially comfortable voters — all but guarantees it. We’re already seeing a lack of serious challengers to Murray’s 2017 mayoral re-election campaign, despite the widespread criticism he’s drawn on multiple issues. Prospective candidates are concluding they can’t raise enough money to compete with his business community support. There’s lots more of this coming.

Olympia Heads Toward a Trainwreck: Our state Legislature punted again on education funding in 2016, opting to “solve” its ongoing contempt of the state Supreme Court by agreeing ro convene a task force. This year’s elections, which kept tax-hostile Republicans in charge of the state Senate, will perpetuate that stalemate.

But if the rejuvenated congressional Republicans and Trump’s Cabinet nominees indicate our current state of affairs, much worse is coming. Wholesale repeal of the Affordable Care Act will force hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians out of AppleCare, and often out of health insurance entirely, unless the state replaces that federal funding. It’d also be a disaster for health care providers. Republicans are also vowing to privatize Medicare and Social Security. Meanwhile, federal education funding could be tied to charter school funding requirements that would be unconstitutional here, and federal housing money also looks to be on the chopping block. Ditto for environmental protection and a host of other departments. 

Olympia will be asked to pay for all of these things. It can’t. So it will be forced to make some impossible choices — choices that will come with a death toll.

Ditto for the City of Seattle: Seattle’s problem — compounded by Trump’s vow to defund most of America’s major cities for continuing sanctuary policies — isn’t tax-averse politicians. It’s that the limited taxing options allowed by state law are already close to maxed out. So is Seattle’s ability to pass special levies for ordinary needs.

Local leaders will face an impossible choice: make brutal program cuts or find the courage to tax local businesses (especially real estate and big employers), close tax loopholes, and tax wealthy local residents at a higher rate than the rest of us rather than with continue regressive sales taxes.

Seattle Public Schools Feel the Pain: Seattle’s troubled school district announced public hearings this month on what items it should cut for a worst-case budget that assumes Olympia will continue to underfund K-12 education. That likely scenario would lead to a $74 million shortfall for local public schools in the 2017-2018 biennium.

Did I mention that SPD is still a problem?