Steven Chu doesn’t talk in sound bites
My oh my, how times have changed. For eight years, Washington was run by a crew that seemed to take delight in not sounding brainy, in being plain-spoken and “common-sensical.” Time after time, you’d see reporters banging their heads against the wall when President Bush or his minions would answer complex questions with non-answer answers mixed with tough-guy attitude. Cowboys don’t worry about fancy book learnin’, the Bushies all but screamed.
Akira Hakuta / The Washington PostWe’re not even 100 days into the Obama presidency, and the media-politico relationship has completely flipped. Exhibit No. 1 is Washington Post reporter Lois Romano’s recent series of video interviews with Energy Secretary Steven Chu. In them, you see an incredibly smart guy trying to explain energy policy and climate change to a reporter who was clearly taught that the only appropriate response to any public official’s answer to a question is a look of cynical disbelief.
OK, to be fair, Romano clearly did her homework for the interview. She hit all the big topics — coal, cap-and-trade, solar etc. — and was good at drawing Chu out on some important topics. But I wonder why The Washington Post, which has on staff two serious experts on energy and environmental policy (Juliet Eilperin and Steve Mufson), would send Romano, a journalist whose sort of expertise is in for what passes as “celebrity” in Washington, to interview a Nobel Prize winner who’s trying to save the f’ing human race!?!?
Romano, for example, can’t get over the fact that Chu wants to spend $2 billion on research into better batteries. And you’d think that Chu was an out-of-touch elitist the way Romano wonders aloud about hybrid cars being too expensive for regular folk.
Sitting through the four videos felt like watching Larry the Cable Guy stand in for Charlie Rose.
On the more serious side, one big takeaway after watching the videos is the feeling that energy experts need to do a much better job of explaining the value to consumers of investing more in efficiency — i.e. paying a few thousand more for a Prius or borrowing a little more on a house so that it gets the best-available insulation and other green building add-ons. Chu does his best to explain that money upfront can save consumers more in the long run, but he’s just not a good salesman for that line. No particular foul on Chu’s part; he’s not responsible for the American consumer’s inability to see beyond the next big sale at Target.
There’s a lot of video to watch. Probably the most interesting one has Chu saying outright that clean coal is a possibility and that the developed nations of the world have a responsibility to help perfect clean coal technology. All the videos are available here on washingtonpost.com (I would embed, but there seems to be a tech glitch preventing me from doing that).
And if you haven’t had enough Steven Chu, he was the subject of Deborah Solomon’s “Questions for …” column in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine: “The Science Guy.”