Shameless Lies Stoke Fear, Destruction

Seattle’s Enemy #1 — Sinclair Media

Parked on a sidewalk, in a spot maybe not so susceptible to NW rains, a “lucky” camper. Photo by Diane Nilan

I’ve slept in parking lots in and around Seattle. I’ve driven through the downtown and many neighborhoods. I recognize rampant homelessness when I see it. But the Sinclair Media (KOMO-TV) hour-long mocumentary Seattle is Dying left me gobsmacked. They did a bang-up job, not in a good or honest way.

I managed to watch this highly-deceptive, sensationalist production the other night and could not sleep. While I normally focus on families/youth experiencing homelessness, and this video omitted that population, I have worked with homeless adults for decades. So I can weigh in…

God Bless America. Photo by Diane Nilan

Nothing about what the average person sees around Seattle (or most bigger cities in the western part of the country) is pretty when it comes to visible homelessness.

Plenty of people call the streets home. Many are deeply troubled, exhibiting signs of mental and physical duress. In fact, my knowledgable friend Tim Harris, Founder/CEO at Seattle-based RealChangeNews, who has poured his life blood into fighting the inequity that’s at the root of all things evil, made this astute observation about this video’s premise:

Seattle is not “dying.” Seattle is splitting. West Coast cities with the highest rates of inequality — Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose — are also the cities that struggle most with growing homelessness. The prosperity at the top makes the anguish in the streets all the more galling.

If Sinclair rings a vague bell in the back of your addled brain, it might be because they were caught forcing their anchors to read a script that could be considered friendly to our current White House occupant. The Washington Post reported:

Interest in Sinclair picked up recently after reports exposed a seemingly Trump-friendly script the company ordered its anchors nationwide to read, lambasting “irresponsible, one-sided” and “fake” news stories.

I’m not a Seattle resident, so I’ll leave the point-by-point debate to those better equipped. I will, as a documentarian whose work features homeless families/youth, pass on a criticism of KOMO’s Eric Johnson’s portrayal of one of the men maligned in his piece, Robert Champagne:

Champagne struggled to explain why he was sitting on the street that day. It may have been because he sometimes suffers from sciatica — a shooting pain in his back and legs radiating from the sciatic nerve. In fact, his former case manager, Howard Bess, said that at one point a doctor advised Champagne to use a walker.

To make a few points that Johnson failed to cover in his “expose” I’d offer:

  • No one grows up wanting to live on the streets. It happens. For a variety of complicated reasons. It’s easier to land on the streets than to escape them.
  • Homelessness takes a terrible toll on you. In fact, it’s traumatizing, both physically and mentally. The impact of that trauma alone would impact your ability to function.
  • When babies are born into homelessness, and little kids experience this highly mobile life, it ravages their development, something that often upends their lives as adults.
  • Although it’s more complicated than “just” affordable housing, the lack of housing sure contributes to homelessness, as the entire country has noticed. Too bad Congress hasn’t caught on.
  • Besides the lack of affordable housing, millions in living in abject poverty in our country can’t get medical care, nutritious food, quality child care, decent education, adequate transportation…and on and on.
  • Decades of dis-investment in our human infrastructure has created this out-of-control homelessness. The very industries fueling Seattle’s economy are among those who’ve not paid their share of taxes. Hello, Amazon! Fortune magazine calls them out:

Those wondering how many zeros Amazon, which is valued at nearly $800 billion, has to pay in federal taxes might be surprised to learn that its check to the IRS will read exactly $0.00.

Back to Sinclair, and how we need to pay more attention to this kind of sleaze “journalism.” Mr. Johnson was masterful at portraying the worst nightmares of non-homeless people. He zoomed in on what would scare the crap out of even the Seattle cops he managed to snooker with his project. One can only surmise that if Sinclair wants to really wreak havoc they can do these kind of stories in all of their markets.

Too bad Johnson’s effort was so determined to malign both those relegated to the streets and those who’ve tried to change the vast inequities that cause and perpetuate homelessness. He managed to ignore solutions, or progress. Put his considerable talent to work for good and we’d be well on our way to solving this seemingly intractable issue.

Tim’s KOMO rebuttal pointed out several areas where Seattle excelled, among them:

According to Visit Seattle, our city has enjoyed record-breaking growth in tourism for nine consecutive years. In 2018, nearly 41 million people came to Seattle, up 2.5 percent from last year. Tourist spending in Seattle increased by 6 percent, reaching a record $7.8 billion.

One area where Tim, Johnson and I agree:

Seattle is long overdue for change. The misery we see on our streets is morally unacceptable.

We need to invest in mental health services, better treatment options, more low-barrier shelter, and lots more affordable housing.

What’s broken in Seattle is the link between who benefits from our rising economy and who gets hurt. Fix that, and we all win.

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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