Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Bridge building

Consensus is never sexy.

That may explain why news of an agreement this week between local leaders on a scaled-down I-5 replacement bridge seemed to travel far less widely than say, one of the many disagreements on hot-button issues like tolls on the proposed Columbia River Crossing.

Especially in a fast-paced age in which attention spans seem to be getting ever shorter, people are finding it much easier to digest conflict, with its easy-to-swallow empty rhetorical flourishes, than the complex carbohydrates of accord.

Think about it for a moment. What local happenings from the past 12 months do you remember? Chances are it’s in the same vein as candidates Pollard and Leavitt trading jabs last fall over the moot issue of tolls on the CRC or last year’s phoned-in threats to Rep. Brian Baird’s office over healthcare reform.

The one constant in these widely-circulated news stories is disagreement, discord, division – a three-pronged stool of a stimulus plan for our national media, if there ever was one.

Take this top story originating in my native New York, for instance. Last December, to little fanfare, leaders of the American Society for Muslim Advancement joined an interfaith coalition including the United Jewish Federation of New York, Trinity Church and the September 11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow to announce the planned construction of a community center and mosque in downtown Manhattan.

Then organizers scheduled what in New York City is a happenstance hardly receiving mention on the back page of a Metro section: a community board meeting.

However, a combination of a slow summer news cycle and recently-reignited fears of terrorism in the wake of a foiled Times Square bombing had found its venue for the “perfect tempest” in the proverbial teapot. Suddenly, a community center located two blocks away from the World Trade Center site (a proximity which loses significance given the close confines of Lower Manhattan, which at any point is only a dozen-or-so blocks wide) became a “WTC Victory Mosque,” creating an atmosphere ripe for division, if not honest discourse.

Closer to home, we find the seeds of division in stories covering recent police shootings in Portland, with the usual lines being drawn between community activists and men and women in blue.

At the CRC negotiating table, the disagreement was more geographical than political, with Metro president David Bragdon and Portland Mayor Sam Adams worried about traffic bottlenecks and urban sprawl on one hand and their Clark County counterparts concerned about tolls and the near-constant delays in getting an out-of-date bridge replaced, on the other.

But in the end, there is agreement, which nine times out of ten is the end result of any discord, no matter how deep – that is, if we slow down enough from our busy lives to digest it.