Unlike my blogospheric brethren, I rarely indulge in media criticism. Poking around for flaws and bias in mainstream news reporting is a rather masturbatory undertaking — everybody who looks will find exactly what they’re looking for, and the entire exercise will do nothing but decrease the prestige and authority of the press, which I happen to think is a bad thing on balance.
But. That’s not to say reporters don’t have their annoying habits, and just this once I’ll indulge in a little rant about them.
Consider today’s big news: U.S. EPA administrator Stephen Johnson updated the agency’s particulate-pollution standards (finally — they’ve been unchanged since 1997). He cut by almost half the amount of soot acceptable on a given day, but left the annual soot standards unchanged.
This move flew in the face of the almost unanimous advice of the EPA’s own scientific advisory council, the considered opinion of environmental and health experts, and the fervent pleas of environmental and health advocacy groups. It was, as clear as almost anything you’ll see in politics, a decision to sacrifice lives on behalf of "the economy" — that is, on behalf of the short-term profits of polluting industries.
Now, read this passage from Juliet Eilperin’s account in The Washington Post:
The decision sparked complaints on both sides of the pollution debate, with public health experts saying it was inadequate and industry officials calling it too stringent.
Or check out Christine Gorman in Time:
The Environmental Protection Agency managed to upset doctors, environmentalists, automobile companies and the coal industry all at once today when it released new standards on air quality.
Oh look, everybody’s upset! Heck, the EPA must have forged a wonderful compromise if "both sides" criticized them. Right?
Ugh. This is just lazy.
On one side, we have scientists and experts that have devoted their lives to studying the effects of particulate pollution, and have considerable evidence that it sickens and kills people. On the other side, we have industry groups that don’t want to spend the money to clean up their operations.
How, I ask you, are these "sides" equivalent? How is the nature of their disagreement equivalent? What exactly are they supposed to be on either side of?
(PS: Johnson said "there was not complete agreement" on the science advisory council. He’s right — only 20 out of 22 of the council’s members recommended the stronger standards.)