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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shit’s in the PI

posted by on November 22 at 16:40 PM

From this morning’s Post-Intelligencer:

The operator of the Bellevue crane miraculously suffered only minor injuries, but his fitness for the job has been called into question because of his history of drug-related convictions.

And who was it that called Warren Taylor Yeakey’s fitness to operate a crane into question? It was the PI—and only the PI—that went after the Yeakey with both fucking barrels. The PI splashed his history of drug convictions all over its cover, complete with a sensationalistic headline that made it clear just who the PI thought was responsible for the accident. If anti-drug hysteria knocked over cranes the PI’s treatment of Yeakey wouldn’t have left one standing in the whole fucking state.

As I wrote earlier in the week, the PI’s treatment of Yeakey was a hypocritical departure from the PI’s usual take on folks with a history of drug abuse. Usually guys who get off drugs, go straight, and manage to hold down legit jobs come in for high praise in the pages of the PI—but only until something bad happens while a reformed drug user happens to be working in the vicinity. At that point the PI insists that the poor motherfucker’s “history of drug-related convictions” should have disqualified him from holding the job, whatever it is.

I wonder who exactly the PI thinks should be operating cranes or working construction around here? How squeaky clean does someone have to be? Should only nuns work construction? Girl Scouts? Lead singers in emo bands?

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Buried in the deep in the middle of the jump copy the director of the national crane association said he didn't think it was possible for this kind of falure to be caused by the operator. We should drug test Bill Lewis (owner of LCL) who had the brilliant idea of relocating the tower crane off of a traditional poured concrete base to an unusaual welded steel base to save a few dollars. Everyone on that job was either clean carded or repeatedly drug tested. The Swiss made crane has the highest tech controls that don't allow the operator to over stress the crane. The only thing we should change is the metal fatiuge assumtions and weld inspections ( maybe xray) when engineering welded steel crane bases.

Posted by wl | November 22, 2006 7:06 PM

Dan, I guess you're discounting Jamieson's editorial, which seems a lot more nuanced than "DRUGS=EVIL" brush you're painting the PI with.

Jamieson withholds judgment on Yeakey's responsibility for the accident, and instead asks whether or not a person with Yeakey's record should have a job operating enormous construction machinery.

I'm generally with you Dan. But I don't think you can gloss over the fact that Yeaky wasn't just a guy who got nailed in a drug bust, went through treatment, and turned his life around— he's a guy who at age 34 had been convicted six times on drugs charges, and then, you are assuming, turned his life around.

Is the PI wrong to jump to the conclusion that drugs caused the accident? Yes.

But Dan, are you helping anyone when you adopt this black-or-white vision of drug addiction? The PI highlights the success stories, yes. But does that mean there aren't sadder drug addict stories out there, or stories that fall somewhere in between success and tragedy?

You're quick to accuse the PI of hypocrisy, when it seems to me they're not guilty of anything more than reporting man-bites-dog in favor of the converse.

Posted by robotslave | November 22, 2006 7:08 PM

Reply to robotslave:
On the name brand construction jobs everyone is drug tested repeatedly. Construction workers who can't predictably pass drug tests either are short timers that are rotating through short assignments or work for non union companies. The don't have short timers running the tower crane. Right or wrong it's the way it is on this kind of job.

Posted by wl | November 22, 2006 7:17 PM


OK, great. How does that keep out a drug user who relapses after, say, three years of sobriety? And what do the overall relapse statistics look like, for a given number of prior convictions? And has Dan Savage shown any knowledge of, or even interest in questions like these?

I know you've got to be a longstanding vet in the longshoreman's union before you get a container crane assignment, but let's face it, the construction industry isn't attracting America's best and brightest (it is attracting Mexico's best and brightest, but unfortunately there aren't enough of them to make the high-responsibility, high-paying construction assignments as competitive as, say, sex-columnist jobs).

Posted by robotslave | November 22, 2006 8:11 PM

classic case of passive voice obfuscation.

Posted by wf | November 22, 2006 11:41 PM

This is still on target.....

Dan Savage on journalistic ethics?

C'mon, this has got to be a gag.

Dan, isn't your paper's mantra that it's a low-budget "advocacy" rag, meaning it can take sides, select facts and ignore other facts, use fake names, call people "asswipes," hell, just make shit up - and that's the whole point?

Are you seriously making a point about fairness or sensationalism? How about policing your own publication? Or is this yet another publicity stunt?

What a hypocrite.

Posted by Look who's talking | November 22, 2006 11:44 PM

I agree that the PI is slandering someone without evidence. And immediately after that paragraph, Steinberg, the crane operator being interviewed, says that "those doubts are misplaced." He then points out the critical safety issues which merit attention, like contractor cost-cutting and lack of machinery maintenance or certificiation. Those are areas deserving of investigation, but the PI prefers to focus on a more sensational angle.

Posted by Gabriel | November 23, 2006 3:24 AM

Today's PI piece is a bit better, focusing on crane safety regulations in WA. While rules were passed in the 90s regarding basket safety and radio communications, the idea of licensing crane operators never got off the ground. And drug-testing is done on a per-company basis, so that some companies don't do it at all, and an employee who did fail a test could go to work for another company right away. This is obviously a big problem, but not a reason for the PI to prejudge the crane operator in question.

Posted by Gabriel | November 23, 2006 3:35 AM
drug-testing is done on a per-company basis, so that some companies don't do it at all, and an employee who did fail a test could go to work for another company right away. This is obviously a big problem

I don't think it's a big problem at all. Off-duty use of illegal drugs shouldn't disqualify someone from work. Many drugs linger in the body for days or weeks after the impairment caused by them has ended. What we should be concerned with is impairment on the job. A test for impairment would be infinitely more useful than a drug test.

If you're clean as a whistle but operating a crane on two hours' sleep, or hung-over from using a legal drug like alcohol the night before, you're dangerous. What a person chooses to ingest should be of no concern to his employer unless he's causing himself to be impaired on the job.

If a contractor can't be bothered to do any better estimation of whether a crane operator is fit for work than to examine what substances he's put in his body in the past month, then the contractor is putting the rest of us at risk. Impairment tests exist; why not use them?

Posted by Phil | November 23, 2006 7:33 AM

In 1994, I snorted/shot/smoked/slammed down nearly everything I could. And I'm not going to lie: It was fun! Fast-forward 12 years later and if every mistake I made was blamed on 1994's follies, well, I'd be holding a cardboard sign on the onramp.

Slumping circulation figs aside, the P-I bought into the Nannygate finger-wagging that seems to be all the rage in Seattle these days. In a desperate search for an instant scapegoat, they failed to connect the dots for those of us who wear our bullshit goggles.

Posted by CURTIS E. FLUSH | November 23, 2006 9:37 AM

OK lets be completely safe here and ban anyone who doesn’t have a 5 year proven drug free history from operating tower cranes. Woops it wouldn’t have been enough here lets make it 10. Id bet anyone that it winds up being a design and or engineering problem. The only possible exception is faulty welding and no one (even WABO certified) welds perfect 100%of the time and in a critical situation the engineer should require x-ray and magna-flux inspection.

So then let’s add the same requirement on to engineering licenses and WABO certifications. And while we’re at it the real culprits are often the owners of the construction companies so let’s add the same requirement on to contractor’s licenses. And we can’t forget all the field technicians that inspect and verify the design standards are met. Lets ban them too.

And if we think about it someone is just as likely to have a lapse in judgment as a result of PTSD. So let’s keep out all veterans from any of these trades for 10 years as well. And PTSD can be caused by incest, rape violent crime so let’s keep them all out for a decade as well.

Going through divorces can clearly cause people to stupid erratic things so let’s cover that base as well. Drug abuse tends to be prevalent in college even when no arrests result so let’s ban college graduates as well.

Or we could address the real problem and make more stringent standards for crane engineering. That’s no fun, wonkish, not-sexy and won’t sell media so it probably won’t happen.

Posted by wl | November 23, 2006 9:54 AM

People with substance abuse histories aren't allowed to work in many safety-critical jobs (airline pilot is one). Perhaps crane operators should be another. There is already talk of legislation in Olympia on this matter.

Posted by Prospero | November 23, 2006 10:01 AM

Oh, for chrissake, NO. Having a drug history has fuck-all to do with crane safety. Even recreational drug use outside of working hours has fuck-all to do with crane safety. The state's new testing and certification plan has fuck-all to do with crane safety.

The crane in question is designed so that even incompetent operation won't overstress it. You could do damage if you dropped your load on a car, or swung the arm into a building, but that's NOT WHAT HAPPENED. Not here, not in previous fatal crane accidents.

The crane collapsed. The operator had nothing to do with it. It was either assembled incorrectly (not addressed by the proposed new state regs) or (more likely) the steel failed (not addressed by the proposed new state regs).

All they're going to accomplish by instituting a draconian drug testing regimen is driving highly qualified operators out of the business. It will thus make crane operations LESS SAFE. And the root problem is not addressed at all.

Posted by Fnarf | November 23, 2006 11:41 AM

Warren Yeakey: What can I say. I cannot go into the details of all of his life because it is not my place to do so. I will say that I have watched him as he has turned his life around and how he has handled the rather precarious situations he has been through in the process. We have been very proud of his accomplishments, his hard work and dedication, his love for his children and wife and the rest of us, and his honesty, forthrightness and integrity. Through all of this uphill battle, he has maintained his sobriety, he has built a reputation in his industry as one of the best, he has loved his job and has been an exemplary employee. He is a humble man. He is a great man, and I would have no trouble saying that God, who really knows his heart, is pleased as well. I have watched as he has climbed out of his past, day by day, hour by hour, persistent and determined to be a success and to leave his past behind. He has counseled others and helped them get a new start. Yes, he is one great man, and he does not owe anyone an explanation. It is too bad that the press did not chose to report on the man he really is. Now, that would have made a great story! I am his mother-in-law and I love the guy. My husband and I are glad he is ours and proud that he is the father of our grandchildren and the husband of our daughter, you couldn’t ask for better.

Kristine & Greg Schwenzer

Posted by Kristine Schwenzer | December 6, 2006 8:39 AM

The story by Andrea James on the operator of the Bellevue crane was not an article regarding crane safety. It was a glimpse into the character and personal agenda of a reporter who has an axe to grind.
It seems Andrea and her bosses at the Seattle PI have some growing up to do. Andrea apparently thinks that no one is above redemption or is allowed to make amends for their past mistakes other then someone she approves of. It would be interesting to peel back the layers of Andrea's past and place a spotlight on any lapses in judgment she has made. Would she be able to live up to the same one-sided scrutiny of her own standard of personal behavior?

This crane accident had nothing to do with this crane operator's past. This accident had everything to do with engineering, structural integrity, mathematics, weather and similar factors.

This crane was brought down by gravity, not by someone's personal character.

There is an opportunity here for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to join in the cause of making workplaces safer. Clearly the State of Washington and the Department of Labor and Industries deserve a swift kick in the pants to get with the program and quit playing politics with the lives of construction workers all across the state. The Seattle PI could help move that effort along.

Unfortunately, the newspaper chose to send a reporter consumed with a personal agenda to do an important story involving workplace and public safety. And instead, the story ended up being about the reporter; a reporter obsessed with getting even with anyone who does not live up to her personal way of living.

I do not approve of anyone who thinks it is ok to drink and drive, abuse drugs, beat their wives or abuse their children. Such offenders should be punished as the law requires. But there are those who stray from the path of right minded living and do realize the errors of their ways and work for the rest of their lives to correct their mistakes. Knowing that their past will haunt them for their remaining life is a cross they bear forever.

Apparently Andrea James and her supervisors believe that only certain people in society meeting their approval are worthy of making such amends. How sad for them.

Many states are moving toward tightening the rules and regulations regarding all aspects of crane safety; from the qualification and competency testing of crane operators to the structural design, integrity and safety performance of the machines.

When we raise our expectations for safety in the workplace to a higher standard we usually get the results we want.

It is too bad the same can't be said for our expectation of news reporters.

The crane that fell wasn't the only wreck that occurred in Washington last month. The other wreck was Andrea James' personal attack on a crane operator who rode a falling crane 200 ft down to the ground. It is my guess that as the crane fell, Warren Yeakey most likely had a personal conversation with God the likes of which he had never had before; and of which someone like Andrea James could never understand.

I believe the vast majority of people who work in the crane industry feel as I do that the licensing of crane operators and the tightening of crane safety standards across the United States is a good thing. The State of Washington needs to listen and learn from the lessons of November 16th.

It too bad the same couldn't be said for the newspaper business. Perhaps it is time that in order to prevent journalistic disasters like the article written by Andrea James, there should be a raising of standards of professionalism and competency in the newspaper business as well.

And since we are engaged in a constructive dialogue about crane operator licensing, perhaps we should consider the licensing and competency testing of newspaper reporters before they act irresponsibly and destroy the ability of someone to provide for their family when something happens on the job site that is entirely out of their control.

As the Bellevue crane accident illustrates, when we hold ourselves to low standards of performance and expectation, we should not be surprised at the results we get. Not only should the State of Washington learn from this example, but so should reporter Andrea James and her supervisors at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Posted by Bandaid | December 8, 2006 9:35 PM

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