When it comes to the environment (and foreign policy, incidentally), scrappy little Knight Ridder kicks Reuters’ and AP’s ass. How? By telling it like it is, without a flabby layer of “balance” obscuring the truth. The mainstream media is increasingly crippled by its own conventions. No matter how outrageous the charge, or clear the facts, the media feels duty bound to present every issue as “he said, she said.” This practice, as many folks have suggested, benefits the people who lie. Every lie is presented on equal footing with the truth. It gives readers the impression that nothing is a plain matter of fact, that everything — the temperature of our atmosphere, the condition of Iraq, the beneficiaries of the tax cut — is simply a matter of partisan spin. But of course, with all due respect to Derrida (R.I.P.), there are facts, and real journalists should not be afraid simply to state them.
With that said, I give you Seth Borenstein of Knight Ridder.Earlier this week, he wrote a story with the brave — at least brave in the current media climate — headline: “Environment worsened under Bush in many key areas, data show.” Not “Democrats say” that the environment worsened, or “environmental groups say” it has worsened, but rather, “data show.” The facts are what they are. He takes a look at several metrics — Superfund cleanups, beach closings, civil citations to polluters, asthma attacks, etc. — and finds that they have all moved in the wrong direction.
Today he wrote a story with a similarly straightforward headline: “Candidates’ visions of energy little more than pipe dreams.” Rather than quoting campaign representatives from both sides, he lays out the stark facts:
Energy independence is an unrealistic goal when fuel is bought and sold on a world market where national borders mean little. The amount of oil that could be found by drilling within U.S. borders or saved by greater efficiency is a small fraction of the world oil supply, experts said, and therefore can’t do much to affect prices.
World oil demand is increasing while recoverable supply may soon start shrinking. Even at today’s high prices, oil remains the fuel of choice for multiple applications, especially transportation, and no substitute is likely for decades.
So experts say that increased U.S. drilling, as Bush wants, and increased conservation, as Kerry wants, are like sand castles built during low tide – sure to be swamped by more powerful global forces. That doesn’t make the efforts unworthy as potential contributors to U.S. energy supply, but it does mean they won’t deliver energy independence to America for decades, if ever.
For not simply regurgitating spin. For risking the ire of partisans by stating facts as facts. For not gilding the lily. Seth Borenstein, I heart you.
UPDATE: On the issue of media “balance,” see also: this.