In Sunday's business section, the AJC ran a full-page house ad drawing attention to a 1-A article from November that blared, "Pricey streetcar won’t ease traffic." Since the proposed streetcar had never been touted as a short-term gridlock-reliever, the headline and the story that followed came off as a gratuitous, intentional — and wrong-headed — attack on a project that should have been a cause for celebration in Atlanta.
In fact, Mayor Kasim Reed explained that the $47.6 million federal streetcar grant was a coup for the city because:
It’s not as if the streetcar money could necessarily have gone somewhere else in Georgia. Reed said the project will create 5,600 jobs. In the first round of grants, announced in February, no project in Georgia won a dime. In this round, 1,000 projects nationwide competed and fewer than 80 won.
In any case, Reed said, in the long run it’s not either-or.
“The Atlanta streetcar needs to be viewed as part of a multi-pronged solution to our congestion challenges,” Reed said. “You’re always going to have a cadre of folks that are critical, but I think they’re wrong there.”
Maria Saporta, the paper's former longtime business columnist, was so affronted by the tone of the article that she used it as Exhibit A for the AJC's growing anti-Atlanta bias.
Sadly, Sunday's promotional ad would seem to confirm Saporta's suspicion that the decision to take a negative slant on the downtown streetcar was driven in part by a desire to pander to Atlanta-haters. Underneath a hokey magnifying glass examining the original article appear the words, "Finding the truth," followed by a quote attributed to a Mark Hodge, presumably a reader.
"Thank you for pointing out spending $70 won't affect traffic at all," Hodge gushes. "This is nothing more than someone's pet project."
At the bottom of the ad is this sign-off: "AJC readers count on us to dig deep and report the real story. And when we deliver, they let us know. Tell us what you think."
The irony is that the AJC has done some great investigative work in recent months, notably on the Atlanta and DeKalb school systems, and on (allegedly) crooked Gwinnett politicians. But the streetcar slam wasn't an investigative story. It didn't even have any new information, but merely suggested — in part by seeking out quotes from nay-sayers — that the streetcar was a waste of public money. In other words, it was what we call a hit piece, pure and simple.
Apparently, that's what the AJC's many surveys and focus groups are telling them people want to read. But that's nothing to brag about.
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