McGinn is engaged in textbook manipulation about tunnel

The mayor is engaged in spreading F.U.D.: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It's time to recognize what he's doing and get down to the business of connecting the city and its waterfront.
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Seattle City Council member Jean Godden.

The mayor is engaged in spreading F.U.D.: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It's time to recognize what he's doing and get down to the business of connecting the city and its waterfront.

I went home the other night and looked under the bed. Then I looked in the closet and the alcove by the fireplace. Nothing. Not one single "cost overrun." Not even a stray "legislative intent."

That's when I became more convinced than ever that it's time to put an end to all this fearmongering and begin the task of creating a waterfront for all.

For too many months, Mayor Mike McGinn has been trying to scare the public with his repeated outcries over "cost overruns." You have to give the guy credit for his approach. He's been using a technique commonly known as F.U.D. — sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

His tactics remind me of a class I took at the University of Washington School of Communications. It was titled "Techniques of Persuasion," and better known as "Propaganda 101." The class studied techniques used for centuries to change attitudes and manipulate public opinion. These same techniques have been used to prop up dictators, popularize wars, and sell soap.

The assigned text was J.A.C. Brown's Techniques of Persuasion: From Propaganda to Brainwashing. As an unreformed book lover, I still have the text on my bookshelf. It's interesting to see how many propaganda techniques the mayor has used in his mission to blow up the tunnel. Among them:

  • Simplicity and repetition. Make the issue something easy to grasp and repeat it over and over. In time, it will be accepted by your audience. In other words, instill fear of 'ꀜcost overruns'ꀝ and "Who Will Pay?"
  • Selection. Present one side of the picture only. Don't talk about successful tunnels such as San Francisco's Bart, the Third Avenue Transit Tunnel, or the 100-year-old railway tunnel under Seattle's downtown.
  • Assertion. Make bold statements. Unveil graphs showing that everyone will be forced to pay big taxes for cost overruns.
  • Find a scapegoat. Convince people that the governor and the city council are to blame. Offer to debate those who differ and if they don't take the bait, have your surrogates stereotype them as cowardly.
  • The Big Lie. During his campaign the mayor said that, while he personally opposed the deep-bore tunnel, he would not stand in the way. He is now on the record as saying that he would oppose it, even if the cost overrun issue were removed.
  • Ignore or discredit conflicting evidence. No matter that the city attorney has stated that the cost overrun language isn't enforceable. Never mind that the governor pointed out that cost overrun language is merely an expression of legislative intent, not enforceable law. Nor that the state attorney general has said that further legislation would be required to make the legislature's intent operative.

These propaganda techniques have all been employed by the mayor to oppose the tunnel project. Yet his most formidable weapon is the use of FUD, scaring everyone into thinking they'll be taxed to the max for a project that they cannot influence or afford, spreading uncertainty about the ability of the project to be completed on budget, and casting doubt on the wisdom of preserving a vital transportation route.

Because the propaganda campaign has gone on long enough, it was timely and welcome Monday when I joined a majority of city council members in sponsoring a resolution that affirms the council's intention to move forward on agreements with the state. After months of negotiations, the city council has introduced Resolution 31235 stating the council's intention to authorize agreements if the state awards a contract to a bidder who can complete all elements of the deep-bore tunnel project within budget.

The resolution protects the city of Seattle and reaffirms the city'ꀙs policy that the state is solely responsible for all costs associated with the deep-bore tunnel, including any cost overruns related to the implementation of the state transportation department's program. The resolution directly addresses potential overruns, stating that "it is the city'ꀙs policy that in no event shall the city or any Seattle area property owners be specially required by the state to pay for costs or any cost overruns related to implementing (the Washington State Department of Transportation's) program."

The hope that the mayor might give up on his mission to make "cost overruns" a perennial rallying cry is probably an empty one. Like the "birthers" who refuse to give up on their campaign to make the president seem an alien, the 'ꀜcost overrunners'ꀝ are hell bent on spreading their propaganda, even after it has been repeatedly revealed as an empty threat.

It's been an interesting exercise to witness. But now it's time to move on and to focus our energies on moving the project forward and providing a corridor that works for the city, region, and state. We must take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unite Seattle with the sweetest deepwater harbor in the world.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Jean Godden

Jean Godden

Jean Godden served 12 years on Seattle City Council.