Steven Mufson’s a good reporter, but I swear to God, something about the conventions of traditional journalism just drives people to do things that might as well be deliberately designed to obscure the truth.
Take Mufson’s recent piece on the costs of climate legislation. In particular, look at this bit:
Listen to John Engler, former Michigan governor and president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and you’ll hear that the price of the leading legislation — cosponsored by Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) — will be far too steep. “It would be like every month having a press conference announcing that you were closing another 1,000-person plant,” Engler says. “I think you end up with a lose-lose proposition for the American worker and the environment.”
Then listen to Nathaniel Keohane and Peter Goldmark of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and you’ll hear that the cost to the economy would be barely noticeable. After looking at scenarios done by five respected economic-modeling groups in government and academia, the EDF pair note that the median projected impact on annual growth of slowing greenhouse gas emissions is three-hundredths of a percentage point. Instead of reaching a GDP of about $23 trillion in January 2030 without greenhouse gas limits, Keohane and Goldmark say, the United States would get there in April of the same year if it took the greener path.
But look beyond this sharp, albeit predictable, divide between industrialists and environmentalists.
In a word: argh. How can anyone whose job it is to educate the public write this? How can a Washington Post editor allow it into the piece?
To point out the obvious: Engler is a lobbyist for dirty industries. The NAM study of climate costs was an absurd hack job that was disavowed, in a footnote in the report itself, by the agency that was hired to do it.
What Keohane and Goldmark did is take scenarios from five respected groups of economists and average their results. The result they produced is not from “environmentalists.” It is from the most respected economists in the field.
So what you have is not a “predictable” squabble between “industrialists and environmentalists.” What you have is the professional economics community on one side and the dirty energy lobby on the other (which really is predictable). Another way of saying this is: climate legislation isn’t going to cost all that much, and the dirty energy lobby is full of shit.
That’s the reality. But how many WaPo readers are going to squint between the lines to suss this conclusion out? Why should they have to approach articles in the WaPo like word puzzles to be decoded? Why can’t Mufson just state the facts as they are, without this absurd attempt at “balance”? Argh.
As it happens, the rest of the piece is pretty good, and the online chat with Mufson is good too. He obviously knows what he’s talking about. He just can’t say it straight in the newspaper for which he writes.