Dobbs Takes Left Turn on Private Highway Investment

     In its rush to anger viewers about private company “ownership” of public roads, the January 9 “Lou Dobbs Tonight” presented only one proponent of privatized toll roads, and then misrepresented his position on the issue, cutting out his defense of private investment.

     Anchor Lou Dobbs sounded the alarm about federal highways “now being sold to the highest bidder” as he introduced a story by Lisa Sylvester.

     Sylvester began by suggesting that “Wall Street is paving the road to highway privatization” and that far from being sound policy, “states are eyeing privatization as a quick fix.”

     Sylvester, who earned her master’s degree from the distinguished Medill School of Journalism, then aired a clip of the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole. The sound bite featured the transportation policy expert observing that while “people are frustrated” with congested roads and that “nobody really wants to raise gas taxes.”

     Those sound bite selections left viewers with the impression that Poole favors more taxes and government spending on highways, which is far from true.

    Yet when asked by the Business & Media Institute (BMI) about his reaction to Sylvester’s presentation, Poole assured BMI that he “addressed all their concerns in the material we taped.”

     “I was afraid they would selectively use what I said,” Poole lamented in an e-mail, adding he’d “debated whether even to be interviewed” given the show’s previous biased presentation on transportation.

     While Poole’s other comments never made it past the cutting room floor, Sylvester found time to feature complaints about road privatization from the extremely liberal Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.), who scored a 100 out of 100 Liberal Quotient in 2005 with the Americans for Democratic Action, and Todd Spencer of the Independent Drivers Association, which represents truck drivers who naturally oppose toll roads..

    Other media outlets have turned to Poole for a free-market perspective on private investment in highways.

    The Indianapolis Star reporters quoted Poole in the Nov. 10, 2006, paper, praising Gov. Mitch Daniels’s (R-Ind.) plan to authorize a private toll bypass around Indianapolis. What’s more, the Reason Foundation’s Web page notes, The New York Times has characterized Poole as the “chief theorist for private solutions to gridlock” whose “ideas are now embraced by officials from Sacramento to Washington.”

     But Poole is just one of many transportation policy experts who, far from seeing privatized roads as a cynical “selloff” by government, welcome private investment, praising it as a sound public policy.

    Three months ago, the Independent Institute’s Gabriel Roth wrote that mismanagement and waste, such as the ‘Big Dig’ project in Boston, are more often the hallmark of government-run management of highways that Dobbs advocates.

     “Roads are too important to be left to the vicissitudes of politics. The time has come to unleash the power of the private sector to deliver to road users the innovation, cost savings, quality and choice we take for granted in telecommunications and other services,” Roth wrote on Sept. 26, 2006.