Posted by: JohnnyRook | July 22, 2008

Gore Ignored: The Dead-Tree Media’s Dereliction of Duty

…Gore seems clearly to be trying to deceive, and the consequence of the success of his deception is likely to give him immense power over other people’s lives. Syndicated Columnist Tibor Machan

…two things about this proposal merit attention. It points a country that uses too much energy down the right path. And Gore is showing that being environmentally responsible is economically sensible. WaPo columnist E.J. Dionne

The polar-opposite quotes above are examples of what was actually a very meager editorial response in American newspapers to Al Gore’s recent “Challenge to America” speech. As I listened to the speech, (full video and text here) I wondered how much attention Gore’s message would get in the press and what newspapers around the country would say about it, so I decided to do some research. This post is about what I learned.

I should say at the outset that this is an impressionistic study. It is not scientific in any way. I used three guidelines in selecting newspapers. I wanted to look at a large number of states (I didn’t have time to look at them all), I wanted to try to include every region of the country, which, with the exception of Hawaii, I think I did, and I wanted to compare big city, metropolitan newspapers with those in smaller cities and towns.

In order to do this I used a web site with links to papers, state by state. I know the site’s lists are not exhaustive, but they were sufficient to find a sample of papers to examine. I usually looked at all the major metropolitan papers in the state. The smaller ones I chose randomly, usually either because I knew of the city or town, or I liked its name or I liked the paper’s name. I did no cherry picking. The only papers that I looked at but am not reporting on were ones that did not have search engines on their web sites (there were perhaps two of these).

I do not know if the articles that I found were published in the print version of the paper or appeared only on the paper’s web site. I assume that in most cases they appeared in both places. At each paper’s web site I did a search for the word Gore between July 17th and July 20th.

I looked at a total of 163 newspapers from 21 states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin)and Washington DC. One of the papers I checked, USA Today, is a national paper. Of those 163 papers, 40 were major metropolitan newspapers while 123 were from smaller cities and towns.

Of the 40 metro papers, 28 reported on Gore’s speech for 70%. Of the small city and town papers 23 out of 123 reported for 19%. In other words very large numbers of papers said nothing about the speech. I found the result for the big-city newspapers particularly shocking.

The following is a list of the major metropolitan papers that had neither a news story or an editorial about Gore’s daring proposal to wean ourselves off fossil fuels within 10 years: Orange County Register, San Francisco Examiner, Miami Herald, St. Petersburg Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, New York Post, Greensboro New-Record, Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express News, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In terms of editorials written, the smaller papers equaled the metropolitan papers, with 5% of each group (2/40 for the big-city papers and 6/123 for the smaller city and town papers) offering editorial comments, on Gore’s proposal. Libertarian columnist, Tibor Machan’s negative commentary appeared in the Yuma Sun and the Barstow Desert Dispatch, while the New York Time’s John Tierny, another libertarian, also gave Gore’s speech a negative review. The Fresno Bee ran 2 negative press releases and 1 positive one. The Washington Post and the Denver Post published a positive column by E.J. Dione. (Andy Revkin of the New York Times also offered commentary on the speech, but it’s hard to classify it as either positive or negative, partly because of his practice of publishing denialist deception without comment. This is actually deserving of a separate diary. You can read his analysis and reader comments here.)

Three small Vermont papers, The Brattleboro Reformer, The Bennington Banner, and Rutland Herald stole the show and set the standard for the rest of the nation. Each of them ran highly positive editorials penned by their own editorial staff. The Burlington Free Press also ran coverage of the speech but did not publish an editorial. In Vermont, it appears, democracy and critical thinking are still alive and well. Selections from most of the opinion pieces, positive and negative, appear below.

Just as a point of reference, I also took a look at how well the speech was reported on by Spanish newspapers. One hundred percent of the 5 big-city Spanish papers that I examined (Madrid’s El País, ABC, and El Mundo, Barcelona’s La Vanguargia and Seville’s Diario de Sevilla) reported on the speech. Even among the smaller city and town newspapers, the speech attracted attention: 4 out of 7 reported on it(57%). Apparently, the speech was taken more seriously in Spain than here at home, at least outside of Vermont.

By the way, 5 of the states I chose had no reporting on the speech in the newspapers that I examined: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Maine and Wisconsin. In Michigan the only reporting that I found was in the small Pontiac Oakland Press.

One, interesting additional note: Of the newspapers that reported on the story 42 out of 51 used AP as one of their, or in most cases, their only source. A few used the New York Times version or or the one distributed by Cox. This of course brings up another problem. Not only is there a comparative dearth of reporting on Climaticide in the Dead-Tree press, much of what one does read is the work of a single wire service: AP.

The corporate stranglehold on the press in the United States is one of the key reasons that we read (or see, or hear) so little serious discussion of Climaticide in the Traditional Media. Major newspapers are often subsidiaries of large conglomertes, and even when they’re not, they depend on them for advertising, hence their unwillingness to tell the truth about global warming. Combine fear of loss of advertising revenue with “cost-cutting measures” an euphemism for firing journalists and cutting back on independent investigative reporting, and throw in the fossil fuel energy disinformation campaigns and you can easily see why Americans have such a poor understanding of the urgent dangers that Climaticide poses.

Below you can read excerpts of the few editorials and columns that I did find.

CRITICAL VIEWS

The Fresno Bee ran the AP news article on Gore’s speech and a press release from Gore’s We Campaign. It also ran two critical views: one from T. Boone Pickens and another from an industry group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). Picken’s proposals mostly look like a sub-category of Gore’s ideas, so it’s odd that he’s so insistent on distinguishing himself from Gore. Perhaps it’s because Picken’s is interested in energy independence and making money, not in stopping greenhouse gas emissions and Climaticide. See Joe Romm’s take on Pickens’s plan. Perhaps he’s fearful that if he’s associated with Gore, people won’t take him seriously. After all, how could an “idealist” ever make any money?

Pickens first:

“Today, former Vice President Al Gore put forward a framework of a plan that is focused on global warming and climate issues. My plan is aimed squarely at breaking the stranglehold that foreign oil has on our country and the $700 billion annual impact it has on our economy. We import 70% of our oil and that number is growing larger every year. Vice President Gore’s plan does not address this enormous problem, it is clear that he and I have two different objectives and our plans should be viewed with that in mind.”

“I believe that elements of any realistic plan to reduce our deadly addiction to foreign oil should encompass the following:

— Will it slash oil imports by at least 30% in 10 years?

— Does it rely 100% on domestic energy resources?

— Does it rely on existing and proven technologies?

— Can it be on line within 10 years?

— Can it be done by private investment?

Unveiled on July 8th, the Pickens Plan will reduce the amount of foreign oil imported by more than one third within the next decade, or $300 billion annually. It focuses on our abundant domestic renewable resources available and would harness extensive use of wind power, a resource the Department of Energy this year recognized can generate more than 20 percent of our electricity needs. This wind energy can replace the natural gas currently being used to operate power plants around the country, and the released natural gas can be redirected and used as a cleaner, more cost effective fuel in our transportation system. Pickens believes the infrastructure can be built by private enterprise within the next 10 years.

“It’s time for us to take responsibility for the problem we’ve created and act now. The Federal Government should provide the leadership to clear the way for action and private enterprise should build the infrastructure to get it done. Only in that way can we recapture our energy destiny.

Here is the ACCCE response to the speech.

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) Vice President Joe Lucas today issued this statement in response to former Vice President Al Gore’s speech on climate change:

“However, even a cursory review of the policy applications he endorses shows he is not in the mainstream regarding what policy makers in the U.S. and around the world believe is necessary and achievable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to climate change concerns.

“In his speech, former Vice President Gore suggested that the U.S. end its reliance on fossil fuels within the next 10 years.

“While we seriously question the feasibility of such a proposal and shudder to consider its costs to the American people, world leaders and key policymakers here in the U.S. do not share Mr. Gore’s notion that such a goal is necessary or achievable.

“Recognizing the ongoing role that coal will play in meeting world energy needs, the leaders of the G-8 nations in their recent statement on the environment, strongly supported launching ’20 large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects globally by 2010, taking into account various national circumstances, with a view to beginning broad deployment of CCS by 2020′.

“In the end, we do agree with Mr. Gore on one key point: meeting the climate challenge is going to require the commitment of government, business, and individual citizens. However, we believe we can and will meet the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale and still enjoy the benefits of affordable, reliable energy from domestic energy resources — especially our most abundant domestic fuel, coal.”

From Libertarian writer, Tibor Machan, in the Yuma Sun and the Barstow Desert Dispatch:

So I just don’t buy it that Al Gore is merely misinformed about the nature of politics versus morality. No. He is evidently trying to deliberately mislead us into thinking that he isn’t advocating anything that would coerce us to do one thing or another but merely giving us moral or spiritual advice.

And once this is clear, how can Gore be trusted about the rest of what he is advocating? It is far more credible that what he is after is power over our lives, power to dictate to us to behave as he judges fit.

Exactly why, that is not something I am privy to. Why do dictators want to be dictators? Why do tyrants want to be tyrants? That is a vital question, but here what is crucial is that Gore seems clearly to be trying to deceive, and the consequence of the success of his deception is likely to give him immense power over other people’s lives.

And that is something to be resisted by us all.

From Libertarian columnist, John Tierney, at the New York Times

Can anyone explain why Mr. Gore keeps hurting his own cause with junk science? Andy gives him a deserved smackdown for saying there “seem to be more tornadoes than in living memory.” I can understand why Mr. Gore felt he needed this sort of hype in the past. But after “Inconvenient Truth” and the Nobel, he knows he can count on attention. He knows the public is concerned about the problem. He also knows that his exaggerations have generated bad publicity (and a formal ruling by a British judge about his scientific errors). So why, even though there’s no good evidence that global warming has increased tornadoes, would he try to suggest they’re increasing — and this in a year in which there’s been global cooling?

Machan and Tierney have to attack Gore for ideological reasons. They’re opposed to the “big government” that they fear the climate crisis implies. Machan is a denier. Tierney is a delayer.

FAVORABLE VIEWS

From Vermont’s Brattlebore Reformer:

When a Nobel Prize-winning environmental advocate and one of the most successful oil men in the world are on the same page, you know times are changing. But it’s going to take an unprecedented commitment of money and political will to transform the American energy portfolio into something cleaner, greener and more sustainable.

That’s why Gore laid down the 10-year challenge. “A political promise to do something 40 years from now is universally ignored because everyone knows that’s meaningless,” he said on Thursday. “Ten years is about the maximum time that we as a nation can hold a steady aim and hit the target.”

It took less than a decade for this nation to put a man on the moon. It took about 20 years to build the bulk of the Interstate Highway System, and about that long to create the modern Internet. During World War II, this nation went from civilian production to building tanks, planes and ships in amazing numbers at amazing speed in less than two years.

When we have a goal and the will to reach it, this nation has done amazing things. Now it’s time for the biggest challenge of all — to save our planet and our economy by creating a post-oil energy future. Let’s get to work.

From Vermont’s Bennington Banner:

Once again, Al Gore is showing us why he won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election. He is saying what ex-oil man George W. Bush will never say (well, we can’t imagine that happening) about the dire need for alternative fuel sources.

Mr. Gore, the former vice president, this week urged a “man to the moon” style effort to shift all U.S. electricity production to wind, solar and other carbon-free sources within 10 years. The dramatic change, he said, would reduce the threat of global warming and curb our dangerous reliance on foreign oil, which threatens both our economy and national security.

This, of course, is the bold initiative the president should have launched at the beginning of the decade, but perhaps it is not too late for the next president to act. There is a good chance a President Obama will heed the call for an all-out effort many people see as essential for the survival of the human race, never mind the United States.

Mr. Gore did not paint a rose-colored picture but freely admitted the hard work and hard currency involved in such a major shift of priorities. In 2005, coal generation supplied about half the 3.7 billion kilowatt hours of electricity we used, nuclear power 21 percent and natural gas 15 percent.

Renewable sources like wind and solar produced 8.6 percent.

Mr. Gore asked Americans to undertake a decade-long crusade. The next question to ask is whether we are still the same nation that had what it took to go to the moon — and back.

This is my personal favorite.

From Vermont’s Rutland Herald

Gore succinctly summed up our dilemma: “We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change.”

Gore used his speech to issue a historic challenge. The nation should completely abandon the use of fossil fuels in the production of electricity within the next 10 years. He likened this challenge to the race to the moon. It would entail an enormous, wrenching transformation of the U.S. economy. Travel through the Midwest, and you’ll get a glimpse of the endless trains of rail cars hauling coal to power plants, where coal is stocked in mountains for power production.

The innovative technologies needed to effect this change already exist, and a push for change would speed their improvement. Vast wind farms are going up in Texas. Massive solar installations are contemplated for the deserts of the West. Even Central Vermont Public Service plans a solar installation at its Rutland Town facility.

Two visions of the future present themselves to us. In one, we seek to wring every last drop of oil and lump of coal from the ground, leaving behind a despoiled world in which we have laid waste to the pristine wilderness of Alaska, the coasts of Florida and California, the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky, and mire ourselves in endless wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. In the end the oil and coal are gone, the atmosphere is full of carbon dioxide, and the changing climate has initiated hardship and dislocation around the world.

The other vision is one where we embrace innovation and develop the technology that will allow us to leave behind obsolete, dirty fuels. It could be an exciting new era where the American people once again feel the hope and promise of the future.

Which will it be?

From E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post, republished in the Denver Post.

On the issue of gasoline prices, Republicans think they have a winner in their call for new drilling and Democrats are playing defense. Democrats need — this is a technical term — a lot more oomph. Al Gore wants to help them.

In a speech here on Thursday and in an interview, Gore played his usual role as unpaid party visionary by arguing that we can ease the climate crisis, the economic crisis and the crisis of dependence on foreign energy all at once.

“We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet,” Gore said in his speech.

“Every bit of that’s got to change.” He urges a 10-year goal for getting 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources and clean, rather than carbon-based, fuels.

It sounds like a typical, idealistic Al Gore idea. But two things about this proposal merit attention. It points a country that uses too much energy down the right path. And Gore is showing that being environmentally responsible is economically sensible.

Democrats should be concerned about where they are on the gas-price issue right now, and the party’s own strategists are worried that its response so far is inadequate.

According to the International Energy Agency, Americans use nearly twice as many tons of oil equivalent per person as do the Japanese and the Germans, and more than double that of the Swiss. Yes, our vast country may inevitably use more energy than more compact nations, but surely we can do better.

Voters say they hate gimmicks and insist they want bold solutions.

Well, Gore is testing that proposition. He says he wants to “expand the political space” for those actually running for office. Will they take the opening?

As an example of just how pitifully poor American reporting on Climaticide truly is this article appeared about as often as ones covering Gore’s speech. Frequently, papers that had no coverage at all of the speech did have this important news item:

PAMPLONA, Spain — A packed running of the bulls left one daredevil gored and two others slightly injured Saturday at Pamplona’s annual San Fermin festival, officials said.

Six massive fighting bulls slipped on morning dew-dampened cobblestones and tossed people aside as they ran with them on the half-mile course through the narrow city streets to the bull ring.

The Navarra government said one person was taken to Virgen del Camino hospital with a gored buttock, one runner suffered a broken nose and another had an injured ear.

Minutes before the run began, police cleared the streets of about a half-dozen animal rights protesters. [my emphasis]

Crossposted at Daily Kos

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