Cayetano Cuts Civil Beat From Campaign Media List

Michael Levine

Ben Cayetano is cutting Civil Beat off.

The Honolulu mayoral candidate said Thursday he was telling his campaign to remove Civil Beat from its media list.

And Cayetano told me in an email that he will not answer questions, phone calls or emails from Michael Levine, our reporter on the Honolulu beat.

Cayetano, 72, has re-entered politics 10 years after leaving the governor's office. He's challenging Mayor Peter Carlisle and has said he would kill the $5.2 billion rail project if elected.

The article that prompted Cayetano to send me an e-mail at 7:29 a.m. Thursday attacking Levine and cutting off Civil Beat was actually written by me. My name is at the top of the article, as is my picture.

But Cayetano wrote, "John, Levine writes that I have a 'believability' problem." He concluded:

There is no point in talking to a reporter who accuses me of lacking in 'believability'. So tell Levine not to bother. I will not answer his questions, his phone calls or emails. Moreover, it is clear that Civil Beat's pro-rail stance is embedded in Levine's reporting. I believe strongly in holding people accountable for their actions. Therefore, I will tell my campaign chairpersons to remove Civil Beat from our media list.

This isn't the first time the governor has been upset with our coverage or Michael Levine.

On Jan. 31, he sent an email that got caught in our spam filters. That email was in response to a Fact Check finding a statement he made about rail to be "Half True."

There is no question in mind or any of the other three members of our group that Levine is biased in favor of the City. Anyone who believes otherwise should read or watch the "powder puff" interviews Levine did with Mayor Carlisle and Wayne Yoshioka and then decide for themselves.

It concluded:

So do me this favor: Tell Levine not to call me on my cell phone or try to contact me by email anymore. Notwithstanding my previous complaints about his journalism I always took his call and answered his email -- and answered his questions. No more. Nor will I answer any question from him at my press conferences. If Civil Beat wants my opinion on issues -- send another of its reporters.

(Just as a point of reference for those not familiar with how reputable news organizations work: People in public life do not get to choose who covers them.)

Cayetano received a call from Michael after sending his email. (Michael didn't know that Cayetano didn't want to speak with him.) The call went well, so it didn't appear that there was an issue. That wasn't the first time Cayetano had complained, though.

(Cayetano and three other distinguished opponents of rail last year decried our Fact Checking of their op-ed in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser accusing the city of misleading the public about rail. They argued that Civil Beat was "substandard," "biased," "an over-priced blog with a pro-rail hidden agenda," incompetent, and characterized our coverage of their op-ed as a "hatchet job.")

Thursday made clear that Cayetano still had problems with critical coverage from Civil Beat. He went so far as to say that "during my 28 years of public service no journalist ever accused me of lacking 'believability.'"

I wrote the governor back at 12:21 p.m., explaining that I had written the article.

Aloha governor,

Actually, it was I who wrote that you — and the mayor — both have believability problems."

I concluded:

Again, to be clear, it was not Michael who accused you of lacking in believability. If you're going to hold somebody accountable, as you put it, then you should hold me accountable. I do not see what good could come from cutting Civil Beat from your media list. But, of course, that is your right.

Civil Beat will continue to cover the rail issue thoroughly, rigorously, accurately and fairly. I am always open to your concerns about our reporting, and welcome your feedback.

I do believe it's news when a mayoral candidate says he's going to cut off a news organization from its media list. I don't see how that serves a purpose I believe you and Civil Beat share, and that's to make sure the people of Honolulu are informed and able to make the best decisions on important public policy issues.

I'd be happy to discuss your concerns.

The governor responded at 1:27 p.m., acknowledging that I was responsible. But he still wasn't happy. And there was no apology for Michael.

The governor continued to insist that "debt" and "cost" were synonymous, taking issue with an earlier Civil Beat story by Michael that examined Cayetano's claim that rail would add $5 billion to $7 billion to Honolulu taxpayers' debt.

He concluded: "Sorry if my English is not precise enough by CB standards but I think most readers understand what I wrote. Besides my English was good enough to earn me degrees from UCLA and Loyola Law School -- and write a best selling book.

"As for making my removal of CB from my media list a news story -- be my guest."

Then, the strangest thing happened.

At 1:42, Cayetano for Mayor's Facebook page posted the following about my article about the need for serious conversation about rail:

So while Cayetano was cutting us off, a pro-Cayetano Facebook page was praising my article, the one Cayetano erroneously blamed on Michael.

"We couldn't agree more. What about you? Click over to this Civil Beat article and add your voice to the conversation," the Facebook post said.


DISCUSSION: What do you think about the governor's reaction to Civil Beat's coverage? Share your thoughts below.

Here's the Email Cayetano Sent Me at 7:29 a.m. Thursday

John,

Levine writes that I have a "believability" problem? Why? I gave Levine the two sources for my statement that the rail project could cost as much as "$7 billion." He did not mention either -- instead he plays on the words "debt" and "costs." When Levine called me he asked what did I mean by the word "debt." I was surprised and thought here we go again its the "aircraft carriers in the sky" and "snaking along the waterfront" nonsense. So I replied, "maybe I should have said 'cost'" instead of "debt." Now as I understand the English language -- and I think most would agree with me -- there is little difference in the meaning of the word "debt" and "cost" at least in the context of the taxpayer who will pay the bill. Does Levine have so little confidence or respect in the reader's ability to parse the difference that he feels obligated to give them a lesson in the English language rather than, as a good journalist should, mention the two sources (IMG and FTA) I relied on for the "$7 billion" number?

So now Levine writes I have a "believability" problem. Journalists may and have differed with my interpretation of data or questioned the credibility of my sources -- but during my 28 years of public service no journalist ever accused me of lacking "believability."

The last time Levine went through his play on my "snaking through the waterfront" metaphor I wrote to you that I did not want him to ever call me again. I relented because I thought I may have been too hard on him. Not this time. There is no point in talking to a reporter who accuses me of lacking in "believability". So tell Levine not to bother. I will not answer his questions, his phone calls or emails. Moreover, it is clear that Civil Beat's pro-rail stance is embedded in Levine's reporting. I believe strongly in holding people accountable for their actions. Therefore, I will tell my campaign chairpersons to remove Civil Beat from our media list.

Ben Cayetano

This is the Text of an Email Cayetano Sent on Jan. 31, in Response to a Fact Check:

Half-true? It's difficult not to laugh. I must admit Levine is creative in trying to make a point. His use of photos from the end and middle of Bishop Street to prove the view plane is not affected because the rail structure cannot be seen is a classic. Levine concedes that the view plane would be affected the closer one walks down from Bishop Street toward the waterfront. Curiously, Levine did not use photos of Bishop Street taken from Merchant Street or from the "waterfront" side of Nimitz Highway where thousands of cars and buses carrying local residents and tourists drive by every day.

There is no question in mind or any of the other three members of our group that Levine is biased in favor of the City. Anyone who believes otherwise should read or watch the "powder puff" interviews Levine did with Mayor Carlisle and Wayne Yoshioka and then decide for themselves.

What concerns me most is how you, John, with your experience, can put up with Levine's "counting angels on the head of a pin" journalism.

So do me this favor: Tell Levine not to call me on my cell phone or try to contact me by email anymore. Notwithstanding my previous complaints about his journalism I always took his call and answered his email -- and answered his questions. No more. Nor will I answer any question from him at my press conferences. If Civil Beat wants my opinion on issues -- send another of its reporters.

Ben Cayetano .

Here's the Email I Sent Cayetano at 12:21 p.m. Thursday

Aloha governor,

Actually, it was I who wrote that you — and the mayor — both have believability problems.

Here's what I wrote:


"The city has a believability problem. Their PR is often shallow. The critics also have a believability problem. Just one recent example: Cayetano wrote an op-ed telling the public the project would add '$5 to $7 billion in debt."

When challenged about it, he said maybe he should have said "cost," but then defends his approach and attacks Horner.

Maybe?

It's time for serious people — Carlisle and Cayetano — to talk seriously about the merits or problems with rail. And Horner, Okinaga and others on the unpaid HART board should join the debate, along with thoughtful opponents who have fought the project."


Michael Levine had nothing to do with that article. We understand that you gave sources for the estimates you used, and he quoted you and provided those sources in his article. Here's the link. http://www.civilbeat.com/articles/2012/02/13/14855-just-how-deep-will-honolulu-rails-debt-be/

As you know, the debt claim came from a column you submitted of your own volition to Civil Beat in response to statements from Sen. Inouye. That column was carefully enough crafted by you that you sent me an updated version and asked me to use it. So I think it's fair to think that the words you chose were used deliberately.

Regarding the difference in the meaning of the words debt and cost, I don't agree with you.

Here's the definition of the two words from Investorwords.com.

debt Definition An amount owed to a person or organization for funds borrowed. Debt can be represented by a loan note, bond, mortgage or other form stating repayment terms and, if applicable, interest requirements. These different forms all imply intent to pay back an amount owed by a specific date, which is set forth in the repayment terms.

cost Definition The total money, time and resources associated with a purchase or activity.

I'm not sure why you say Michael didn't mention the sources of your numbers. Here's the sentence in his article: "He (Cayetano) said the $5 billion figure comes from the project's own estimated cost, and the $7 billion figure comes from the IMG study produced at the behest of then-Gov. Linda Lingle in late 2010.1"

Again, it was not Michael who wrote that you have a believability problem. It was I who wrote that. And I wrote the same of the mayor.

I can't speak to your history with journalists. I've always appreciated your willingness to communicate with me. But, as I said in my column, I think everyone involved in the debate over rail would better serve
the public by raising the level of the debate. To me, that means greater precision in language.

I never received your email telling me you didn't want Michael to call you again. I only saw it after he spoke with you, when he brought it to my attention. It appeared from that phone call that you had worked out any concerns you might have had, which I thought was the best result.

Again, to be clear, it was not Michael who accused you of lacking in believability. If you're going to hold somebody accountable, as you put it, then you should hold me accountable. I do not see what good could come from cutting Civil Beat from your media list. But, of course, that is your right.

Civil Beat will continue to cover the rail issue thoroughly, rigorously, accurately and fairly. I am always open to your concerns about our reporting, and welcome your feedback.

I do believe it's news when a mayoral candidate says he's going to cut off a news organization from its media list. I don't see how that serves a purpose I believe you and Civil Beat share, and that's to make sure the people of Honolulu are informed and able to make the best decisions on important public policy issues.

I'd be happy to discuss your concerns.

Best,

J

Here's the Email Cayetano Sent Me at 1:27 p.m.

John,

OK, it was you. As for our mentioning the two sources, you mentioned one -- IMG - but not the FTA's cost overrun probabilities study which we had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to get. Clearly, if one had to choose between the two studies, the FTA would be more important to the readers because it is the very same entity which vetted the City's rail proposal. I suggested to Levine that since he fancies himself an analyst to read the FTA study and if he disagrees with our conclusions so be it.

As for your resorting to Webster's dictionary on the difference in meaning between "debt" and "cost" -- I see it as splitting hairs. In the end, because the general excise tax applies to virtually everything local residents buy or do (services, etc) they have little choice but to pay the 1/2% general excise rail surcharge until 2022 when it expires. Sounds very similar doesn't it -- to a mortgage -- you know -- "debt."

Sorry if my English is not precise enough by CB standards but I think most readers understand what I wrote. Besides my English was good enough to earn me degrees from UCLA and Loyola Law School -- and write a best selling book.

As for making my removal of CB from my media list a news story -- be my guest.

Ben Cayetano

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