Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Toll of Improper Attribution

The WSJ published an interesting article Tuesday about the growing use of toll roads to enhance traffic flow in and around the major metropolitan areas in Texas.

The following paragraph purports to explain the funding issue that is leading to the choice of tolls vs. taxes to pay for the road-building:

The toll boom is taking place in part because a primary source of highway-construction funding in the U.S., a federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline, hasn't changed since 1993.  Many states also haven't raised state gasoline taxes for decades, including Texas, which hasn't increased its 20-cents-per-gallon tax since 1991.

Note that these statements are presented without any attribution.  No research study was referenced.  No budget documents were referenced.  No public hearings were referenced.  No politicians' statements were included in quotes.

We the reader are supposed to simply understand that toll roads would go away if only the citizens would agree to raise these specific taxes, and there are no other factors involved.

By not including some attribution, the paragraph above becomes the opinion of the authors (Miguel Bustillo and Nathan Koppel) and should be relegated to the Opinion section.  It allows the reader the opportunity to assume the authors would encourage the government to raise taxes.  It's possible the statements about fuel taxes are true and were validated by presentations at referenced public meetings, but by excluding attribution the authors deprive their readers of that truth.

The lack of attribution even proposes the possibility that the authors are engaging in a one-sided argument with the citizens impacted by the increase in toll road development, especially considering that one local man is quoted in the immediately preceding paragraph:

"We pay taxes for roads and bridges, and if that's not enough, if you can't afford it, don't build it."

News articles should be news, and the WSJ has an obligation to ensure the quality of the journalistic product of their authors.  A correction or follow-up is appropriate.

No comments: