I think this is worthy of an email campaign — this time to the Post (see below).
To fire at GM and hit yourself instead thus requires a special kind of ignorance, as both cartoonist Pat Oliphant and the Washington Post exhibited Saturday when they ran this staggeringly ill-informed cartoon:
This easily wins the 2008 award for the most unintentionally laughable cartoon of 2008. The cartoon mocks GM for designing a car that solves the very problem the cartoon claims it does not address.
The idea that a major media outlet could publish such a cartoon in the internet era is almost incomprehensible and really tells you a lot about why the print media is dying a long-deserved death.
I do think this cartoon should represent a mini-wake-up call to plug-in hybrid advocates (note to self: this means you) — every time you discuss plug-ins, you must be 100 percent clear the vehicles revert to being gasoline-powered after they exhaust their charge from the electric grid.
But that is not to excuse the supreme laziness of both Oliphant and the Post.
First, how is it possible Oliphant managed to learn enough about GM’s Volt to know that it has an all-electric range of 40 miles — but failed to notice that the car still has a gasoline engine to run the car when the battery has discharged? Snarky answer: Perhaps he only gets his news from the Washington Post (see below).
This mistake is so embarrassing that I think Oliphant — “the most widely syndicated political cartoonist in the world” who has also been called “the most influential cartoonist now working” by The New York Times — should issue an apology or some sort of retraction cartoon.
I can’t find an email — but his official page is here. The comments on this cartoon will not reassure anyone that plug-in advocates (and the media) have done a good job explaining what the vehicle does.
Second, does not a single person associated with the Washington Post editorial page actually read their own newspaper, which has published countless stories on the the Volt? Maybe that tells you all you need to know about print media these days — although the stories aren’t actually that informative (see below). The Post actually ran a letter to the editor by Nobel laureate Burton Richter a couple of weeks ago on plug-ins. And the Post‘s editors themselves wrote an editorial on the Volt back in October (criticizing the tax credits in the bailout bill).
Toles is the Post‘s regular political cartoonist, so I believe the publication of this Oliphant cartoon Saturday was purely a choice by the paper’s editorial page editors — although somebody may know different. Certainly the Post should publish both a retraction statement and one or more letters to the editor. I suggest bombarding them with short, intelligent letters here: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read their letters policy here.
Since the Post is unlikely to publish a letter by somebody who isn’t an expert on plug-ins, you might also consider writing a letter to the Ombudsman, Deborah Howell (yes, the paper still calls her a “man” — sue them, not me!). If she receives enough letters questioning the Post’s decision to run this cartoon, she might write a column. You can reach her by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 202-334-7582.
Note 1: The Post is so lame internet-wise that if you are reading their editorial — “Congress approved $7,500 tax credits for purchasers of GM’s much-touted plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, built to run 40 miles on a single electric charge” — and click on the link, you’ll find “No results” unless you click again for “More search results.” Then you’ll find articles like the recent “The Car of the Future — but at What Cost?“
Note 2: The Post editorial does not explain to you how the Volt or any plug-in works (and would in fact be quite misleading to a general reader). Nor does the recent article. Nor does the Richter letter, really.
The bottom line for advocates: Yes, this is still the car of the very near-future — but many well-informed people obviously remain quite confused about what a plug-in does. We all need to work on that.
TWIMC: Plug-in hybrids revert to being gasoline-powered vehicles after their initial battery charge runs out. Until they are charged again on the electric grid, they can still run on gasoline and be refueled quickly at a gas station like any other car.