Flat Earth Environmental Reporting
by L. Brent Bozell III
July 10, 1997
Here we go again. The network news is taking another complex
environmental issue and molding it, for public consumption, into the only
formula it seems to understand - noble activists concerned about health vs.
greedy capitalists and economists worried about money. Rather than examine the
policy, the focus is only on the politics, a formula that always works to the
Clinton administration's advantage.
The issue this time around is the Clinton administration's
attempt to impose radically stringent new air-pollution standards. After
ignoring the entire issue for months - when the policy, the science, could be
analyzed - reporters are now focusing on the fierce political debate, even
within the White House, over the economic costs of the standards. They've
chosen to ignore the equally fierce debate, also within the White House, over
the very scientific basis for the new rules. Instead the networks are simply
accepting whatever "science" liberal environmentalists choose to
"On one side, the Environmental Protection Agency is
pushing implementation of tougher air quality standards," reported John
Roberts on the June 15 CBS Evening News. "On the other side, economic
officials argue the new limits would be a burden on business." Roberts'
analysis was typical. According to ABC's Bob Zelnick, on the June 16 Good
Morning America, the new standards are part of EPA's "battle against
asthma and other sometimes fatal respiratory diseases," but at the same
time big city officials "fear tough new standards will drive existing
On the June 25 CBS Evening News, correspondent Rita Braver
followed the same formula, contending that "the president acted despite a
multi-million dollar campaign against the new regulations by utilities, the
oil industry, auto manufacturers and other businesses" and reported
uncritically the highly debatable administration claims that the new rules
would save 15,000 lives every year and improve the health of 125 million
Americans. ABC's Anderson Cooper, in a fawning June 22 World News Tonight
interview with Adam Werbach of the Sierra Club, failed to once challenge
Werbach on the questionable science behind the standards, and didn't even
flinch when Werbach made the preposterous statement that the new rules would
increase worker productivity.
And over at NBC, on the June 25 Nightly News, Brian Williams
announced that "President Clinton today took on the atmosphere and picked
a fight with some American industries in the process." Then correspondent
David Bloom reported that the new rules would be aimed "at tiny soot
particles which scientists blame for a rise in childhood asthma and for
respiratory infections among the elderly."
So what's wrong with all this? The working assumption is
that scientific evidence points to the necessity of the new air standards when
nothing of the sort is true. Michael Fumento, writing in the Weekly Standard,
reports that the Environmental Protection Agency's own Clean Air Scientific
Advisory Committee "said there was no scientific basis for choosing a new
[ozone] standard" and that, regarding particulates, only six of the 21
committee members agreed with EPA's proposal. Fumento quotes Rosina Bierbaum
of the White House Office of Science and Technology: "Current data do not
support clear associations of [premature mortality] effects with either fine
particles (PM2.5), inhalable particles PM10 or PM15." Fumento also quotes
Robert Phalen, a biomedical scientist who directs the Air Pollution Health
Effects Laboratories at the University of California, Irvine: "It's a
cruel hoax to lead parents to believe their children will be protected from
having asthma if only the EPA clamps down on outdoor air pollution."
Ouch. One supposes that responsible journalists would be
thoroughly embarrassed to learn that the environmental emperor wears no close.
But these reporters are so driven by ideological zeal that facts, and truth,
are irrelevant. Back in 1995, for instance, they were just sure the new
Republican Congress was bent on destroying the world. Peter Jennings
introduced a series of reports about the environment "which will tell you
precisely what the new Congress has in mind: the most frontal assault on the
environment in 25 years. Is this what the country wants?" NBC was equally
alarmist. "Safe food, safe water, safe air, safe transportation. You have
this protection now, but you might be about to lose it," declared one
promo spot. And Bryant Gumbel, after lamenting that "Republicans are
looking to gut the Clean Water Act and also the Safe Drinking Water Act"
wondered: "Are we now forced to boil water because bottled water is not
an economically feasible option for a lot of people."
When even the EPA's own scientists and some White House
officials are questioning the validity of environmental activists' so-called
science, is it too much to ask that network reporters be just a bit skeptical,
too? Apparently, yes.
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