Klementiev/Can Stock photo ##
Klementiev/Can Stock photo ##
By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Seattle isn't dying, but homeless documentary is

 

Seattle is dying.

Really? If so, then why aren’t there more available parking spaces?

Guest Writer

Tom Henderson covers city government and social issues for the News-Register. He has served as a reporter and editor at Northwest newspapers for almost 40 years. As a result, he holds a keen interest in the role the free press plays in the health of our government and society.

Personally, I don’t see it. But Eric Johnson insists the Emerald City has one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel, a particularly black and moldy one, no doubt left on the street by one of those horrible homeless people.

Johnson wrote, produced and narrated “Seattle is Dying,” an hour-long documentary on homelessness first aired by KOMO-TV, a Sinclair Broadcast affiliate based in Seattle. And his work has, as the kids say, “gone viral.”

The documentary was referenced several times April 9, when the McMinnville City Council played to a packed house of aggrieved local residents. They made it clear they’ve had it up to here with homeless people camping on the streets.

For many viewers, “Seattle is Dying” sums up the homeless problem for communities everywhere. They find it a powerful piece of filmmaking.

I have since viewed the documentary myself. “Powerful” is one way to describe it, but several other characterization first leap to mind.

In my view, “Seattle is Dying” is to people concerned about homeless people what “Birth of a Nation” was to people concerned about emancipation of the slaves.

How can I explain it? Maybe I should do so in the style of Johnson himself.

So listen to me. Take the time to really let the words sink in. Contemplate them. Embroider them on decorative pillows and give them to your friends and relatives as Christmas presents.

For if you have any love in your heart for your community and its newborn kittens, these next five words will chill you to the very marrow of your being: “Seattle is Dying” is ... overwrought!”

Let me say repeat, lest you think I am being anything other than completely, absolutely and entirely serious. “Seattle is Dying” is overwrought!! It is so overwrought, I needed to add a second exclamation point.

If that observation seems disingenuous, know that surveys were sent to people who think the documentary was hysterical, but are too afraid to say so publicly.

Of all the anonymous responses received, every one — that’s every single one — said the documentary was overwrought. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

Now, no surveys were actually sent out. However, if they were, the results would have been nothing more or less than shocking and appalling. You read that correctly. Shocking. Appalling.

That cannot be overstated. Then again, it can. (Psst, that’s the point.)

Johnson could have wrapped his maudlin script in bricks and pitched them through viewers’ windows, which would have been more subtle.

The documentary appears like something Johnson undertook to impress his high school English teacher with his command of adjectives.

This class project is apparently designed to represent a new trend masquerading as “solutions journalism.”

In fact, investigating solutions to problems is as old as journalism itself. What makes solutions journalism a term is reporters giving it a name and deciding to be smug about it.

The way it works, in its trendy form, is this:

You find a “solution” in another part of the country that seems to be working — under completely different conditions, of course — and suggest it can be applied universally.

Johnson discovered authorities in Rhode Island supposedly prosecute homeless people, then keep them under lock and key as they undergo addiction recovery.

Recovery involves this amazing wonder drug called “methadone,” which transforms addicts into clones of Ward Cleaver. Taking methadone for the rest of your life — a necessity, because it’s addictive in its own right — is supposedly no bigger deal than taking lisinopril for blood pressure.

Not really.

I recently rode with a group of recovering addicts who leave at 3 a.m. daily to bus themselves to a methadone clinic in Salem. The people on the bus might feel somewhat peevish if I suggested our situations were analogous because I take lisinopril with my breakfast every morning.

Johnson intimates that homeless equals criminal and criminal equals homeless.

Well, that’s not really true. He doesn’t intimate it. He says it flat out.

All the out-of-work truckers and other legitimately homeless people are off quietly suffering somewhere else, it seems. The people sleeping on the streets — every one of them — are drug-addicted criminals.

They care not a whit that your grandfather gave you that Rolex. These lawless scum are defecating in our streets, looting our stores and addicting our children.

They deserve our help. That’s why we must lock them away behind high fences laced with razor wire and slip them methadone with their bread and water.

We’re nice people. We’re just here to help.

To carry out our good works, we need to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate people for various minor offenses. Sleeping on the sidewalk or urinating in public will do.

Incarceration for a long period of time won’t be a problem, as our county jails and state prisons are notoriously roomy. The personnel in those places are practically begging for more inmates.

In the unlikely event of jail overcrowding, we can just build massive new facilities. Taxpayers love major multimillion-dollar public construction projects — especially jails and prisons supplying vastly expanded drug addiction and mental health services.

Did you know that most people arrested by police are never prosecuted? What is happening to our once-beloved society? There was a time when ... when ...

No, come to think of it, only a fraction of the people arrested have ever been successfully prosecuted. That’s the nature of the justice system.

Prosecutors must always pick and choose the cases that can be brought to court. That was as true in 1955 (or any other Golden Age year you care to name) as it is today.

Sorry, but you can’t arrest people for just being scary or unsightly and toss them into the Chateau d’if like something out of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” (See? I can impress my high school English teacher, too.)

All people — yes, even those of the homeless variety — have rights. That can really muck up your ability to throw them in a cell and forget they existed.

However, if we give police the authority to do that, we’re going to be looking at problems far worse than homelessness.

None of this negates the validity of people’s frustrations. I understand and appreciate most people’s views on homelessness.

It’s a difficult issue. I’m glad I’m not in the business of proposing policy.

McMinnville definitely has a problem. So does Seattle.

However, neither city is dying. Not even close.

Poverty and homelessness are nothing new in the Pacific Northwest. After all, the term “skid row,” a corruption of the skid road used by loggers, originated in Seattle.

To insist Seattle is dying isn’t journalism. It’s fear-mongering.

Johnson started with a thesis and built his documentary to support that thesis. That’s not honest journalism.

However, he apparently comes by his views “honestly,” based on the reputation of KOMO’s corporate parent.

Sinclair, controlled by the family of founder Julian Sinclair Smith, is the largest television operator in the U.S. Its 193 stations populate more than 40 percent of American households, particularly in the South and Midwest.

Sinclair Broadcast is best known for engaging in questionable business practices, currying favor with the Trump administration and imposing its conservative political orientation on its legions of viewers. That led a former Federal Communications Commission chair, from the Bush administration no less, to dub it “the most dangerous U.S. company most people have never heard of.”

Of course, most people don’t really want unflinching journalism. They prefer propaganda affirming their biases, which is what’s made “Seattle is Dying” so wildly popular.

I cover homelessness for the News-Register. Readers occasionally criticize me for being sympathetic to the homeless because I include their comments in my story.

The way I see it, we shouldn’t talk about people without first talking to them. That’s not bias; it’s good journalism.

“Seattle is Dying” is something else. It’s propaganda stuffed with overblown and florid rhetoric designed to propose simple answers to complex problems while simultaneously generating fear and pointing fingers.

I hope that technique is still considered bad journalism.

Comments

Jim

Tom your article made me want to think more about this problem till I got to the end and saw it was all about politics. You had me till you want to lay the blame on the TV station because they are a backer of President Trump. And you people as journalists wonder why everybody is tired of “fake news”. Why has this country become all about politics instead of the people that work and live here?

Tuvey

Jim I agree, in fact I was going to thank Tom until I read that. I was appalled at the Seattle video and noticed that there were very few examples of the homeless population thus I agree with the thesis comment. Then again, I liked the Rhode Island plan. Does McMinnville have a better one?

Bill B

OK, I finally watched the video and I have to wonder whether Mr. Henderson really watched it. All of the comments and I do mean all by the normal (non-homeless) citizens echo what most of us here in Mac think.

Do we really need to hear the same excuses by the homeless time after time. I for one don't think so. It's way past time to put the hammer down.

Just another liberal piece by the NR in my opinion!

Mike

Fun. Using some of the propaganda techniques. And it was working until you had to say the propaganda was aired on a Sinclair TV station which is a political oriented media corporation and mention it supports Trump. That destroyed your point it was Johnson who created the propaganda that homelessness and criminality are the same thing. You just can't mention a link to Trump without it becoming liberal fake news. Too bad. You're point that 'just throw them in jail and hook them on methadone' is a simplistic solution to a complex problem, seems reasonable to me.

gregtompkins

Self aggrandizing about his superior English skills and yet I found many grammatical and spelling errors . That’s what really turns me off about this paper - it’s extreme liberal bias and the errors galore !!

Joel

Go back and watch it again, Tom...this time with an open mind.

Joel

And watch it all the way to the end. If you do, you'll realize it wasn't a hit job on the homeless or Seattle. It was a celebration of what's truly helping people in Rhode Island...and how that could be replicated in the PNW.

Finch

I agree with you Joel -- I finally took the time to watch it today. Powerful!

Stella

All the great people in this County need to vote them out. This article was pathetic - really? We have a real choice. There is a way out of this mess. It doesn't happen everywhere and we are much smarter than they think.

PS. Wasn't it odd a few tents show up on 4th just prior to the "emergency declaration"? Think outside the box....

OregonBorn

“Good journalism”?

Where?

You?

Okay, I guess I’d call that a serious stretch.

And the irony of you calling out “propaganda” pieces is hysterical.

You should try journalism, facts and information, and not political commentaries that expose your obvious political biases.

You can (maybe) impress your English teacher, but I’m not impressed, nor many others I’d imagine.

Mike

This is a great opinion piece. I love the 'turn' when you indicate homelessness is problem, you're glad you are not in the policy business. "However, neither city is dying." I don't think Seattle or McMinnville are dying.

Stella

Mike

Really? Go pay Mac Water and Light in person this month lol

OregonBorn

Dying? Hyperbole.

Becoming a place where you wouldn’t want to raise your kids, go to the park, and be proud of your city?

Absolutely.

And you clearly haven’t been to downtown Seattle recently.

actionjax

Seriously Tom H. you don't see Seattle is in agonal breathing status? Dear Lord you are a lousy diagnostician. Ever been to a Mariner's game? Homeless tents and structures are everywhere and it isn't even possible to walk up to the park entrance without being accosted by some shaking, wild eyed, drug addict asking for a "smoke, cig or change". Heck I had never been to a game until last year and I won't be taking my family back because it was scary for my kids to have to walk past all that. It smelled like human waste and garage was everywhere. I have to say I especially loved your parking analysis. I don't know if you took the time to actually look around but when you shove almost four million people into a space that has inadequate infrastructure there will be limited parking. Hell L.A. has limited parking and you can't tell me California isn't dying because their debt says otherwise. Another left of center wearing rose colored glasses. The News Register must adore you.

Mike

Stella. I did pay Water & Light in person. Walk there from home. The campers, cars, and parked motor homes looked lived in. What's your point?

Mike

I'm amazed so many think McMinnville is dying. A few visions of extreme poverty and folks are outraged. It sounds like Breitbart and Fox New are right here in river city. Look around the world extreme poverty looks worse than it does here. But with our policies to increase the income disparity, rich getting richer, and poor getting poorer, soon our extreme poverty will look like the rest of the world.

Bill B

Mike, apparently you didn't read the article, view the video or read other comments on this thread or you would know the point. So you walked the gauntlet; good for you!

Stella

Mike

I didnt see extreme poverty - I saw a group of happy drug addicts who have everything just the way they want it 🤓 at the taxpayers expense.

Sponge

This opinion piece makes notable points regarding so-called "solutions journalism". Unfortunately, it undermines its own value by emulating one of the points it wishes to decry, namely "deciding to be smug about it. " A far stronger case could have been made without the snark.

Mike

Here is a poem from the former poet laureate Peter Sears for those of you who think everyone of those you see on the streets is a criminal.
Back From The War
...
You may have seen him in his fatigues downtown.
He was good about looking for work
when he first got back from Afghanistan

but his concussions were too bad. He was begging
the other day -- said he was going out to get some air.
Still it's nice to have our son home again,

even if he's on lots of medications
while we wait for the VA to tell us he's getting better.
At least our son is back from Afghanistan.

Please, if you see him downtown begging
point out the bus stop and write down the right number
tell him it's nice to have him home again
that you're glad he's back from Afghanistan.

actionjax

Mike, this isn't about our veterans I don't know a single person from either side of the isle who wouldn't go over and above to help those who have served. This is about displaced families and addicts. The families are displaced for the most part because of a family member who isn't doing all they can do to help their children or is letting them down by being lazy or using. There are exceptions but having worked in the system I can tell you it's just that an exception. If the Marsh lane people really cared they would be going over and above to self police, keep the place clean and safe as a staple. I agree with Stella, lots of drugs and very little reverse care or compassion.

gregtompkins

Downtown Seattle is nasty. So is the capital hill area. I was walking all around in both areas and the town is starting to look like San Francisco and LA. Progressives are destroying the west coast !

OregonBorn

Ah, Mike.

When you politicize things, you lose all credibility.

Hey, I can do it too.

This is like CNN, MSNBC, and The Oregonian live right here in this city.

And perhaps you’re woefully unaware, but we're in the greatest economic times ever.

So, they can get jobs and support themselves.

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