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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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July 1997


Networks Assume Science Supports EPA Regulations, Ignore Contrary Evidence
Flat Earth Environmental Reporting

Network television reporters seem to have only one formula for reporting environmental news: noble activists concerned about health vs. greedy capitalists concerned about money. If an environmental story doesn't fit into this formula, reporters simply mangle it until it does.

Last month, MediaNomics reported that during the first five months of this year, the networks ignored the EPA's radically stringent attempts to impose new air-pollution standards, even though the policy was controversial among Democrats. Since then, the networks have begun reporting on the issue, but only within the parameters of their stock formula. Reporters are simply assuming that science supports the Clinton Administration's call for new regulations, despite strong evidence to the contrary. The result: the public is hearing about this debate only in terms of health vs. money.

John Roberts' report on the June 15 CBS Evening News was typical. "On one side, the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing implementation of tougher air quality standards," Roberts said. "On the other side, economic officials argue the new limits would be a burden on business." 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 businesses away."

On the June 25 CBS Evening News, correspondent Rita Braver followed the same pattern, 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 reporting 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 Tonightinterview 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."

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?


Rich Noyes


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