CNN Screws Up: Quotes John Mica.
How I hate writing about Congressman John Mica! But the Republican from Winter Park, Florida, just won’t go away. In fact—God help us!—he’s become the “go-to-guy” for every lazy or uninformed reporter who’s assigned to do a story on Amtrak.
A producer from CNN recently took a ride of the Southwest Chief and the result is a story predictably riddled with bad information and false assumptions. There are several quotes from John Mica who is no doubt the source for much of that bad information.
Mica takes the opportunity to express bewilderment that Amtrak is not turning everything over to one of the multitude of private entrepreneurs eager to take over all the long-distance routes and turn them into rolling profit centers.
“Why wouldn’t you open it up to getting funds from the private sector that can also get a return?” Mica says. “They’ve done it in Europe, they’ve done it in the Far East, they’ve done it in other countries. Why can’t we do it here in the United States?”
Well, Congressman, one reason could be that those European trains run on track owned by the various governments, while in this country, Amtrak’s long-distance trains have to travel over track owned by the freight railroads, and they would much rather Amtrak go away and leave them alone.
And then there’s the matter of government subsidy. Great Britain, for example—a country the size of New England—subsidizes its passenger rail system to the tune of something like $9 billion a year. By contrast, Amtrak’s subsidy has been running about $1.4 billion a year for at least a decade. Come on, Congressman, ‘fess up. I’ll bet you actually knew that, didn’t you?
Then the CNN guy takes over, stating that the Northeast Corridor is “the only sector of Amtrak’s system that is profitable”. It isn’t, and it’s not even close. Then he adds that “beyond the Northeast … the financial situation is bleak.” Wrong again … not if obvious and sensible accounting principles are applied.
But Mica isn’t through with the CNN reporter. “Amtrak has had a long history of waste, fraud and abuse,” he says. “We’re running a Soviet-style train system and a third-world country operation.” (Mica has been gleefully using that line about the “Soviet-style railroad” for twenty years. He thinks it’s clever.)
Next month, when Congress reassembles, John Mica will go back to the business of making statements about America’s only national passenger rail system that are both damaging and demonstrably untrue. And he will do it for the most cynical and shallow of motives—because it gets his name in the paper and his face on TV. In the Spirit of the Season, I’m not going to run it here.