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February 11, 2010
This was the week I had promised myself to be “Mr. Nice Guy,” after last week’s column concentrating on poor or at least questionable performances by public figures and the news media.
But then came such a flurry of such performances this past week that my “Nice Guy” intentions gave way to commenting on such performances as these:
Perhaps the most serious was the misrepresentation of the nature of growth of the taxpayer-subsidized American wind power energy industry in 2009.
The New York Times said that the American wind power industry “grew at a blistering pace in 2009, adding 39% more capacity.”
The World-Herald, consistent with its policy of editorials stressing the money that might be made if Nebraska develops its very considerable wind power potential, editorialized: “The wind industry is growing, even in the current recession,” according to the American Wind Energy Association. And growing fast…”
The rest of the story, as reported on an inside page in USA Today:
“Federal stimulus money rescued the U.S. wind power industry from what could have been a disastrous 2009, but it still lost sought-after manufacturing jobs, a trade group reported Tuesday.”
The USA Today story reported that the American Wind Energy Association had expected wind-powered development to drop 50% in 2009, “given the dearth of financing for wind-farm projects…but 2009 federal stimulus dollars, about $2.2 billion for dozens of wind projects and wind turbine-component manufacturers, softened the recession impact.”
The most recent news stories and editorial comments continued the pattern of rarely mentioning facts such as these:
There would be very little if any significant wind power development if it were not for federal tax-relief subsidies which increase the annual federal budget deficit and thus the national debt. The rationale for these subsidies is to reduce national reliance on coal-burning electricity-producing plants.
The rarely mentioned Federal objective is to reduce global warming, not to produce income for the owners of windmill sites and the developers who would put up the money to finance the projects.
Also largely ignored is the fact that renewable energy like wind power would not reduce the need for providing standby capacity at coal-fired plants, with the standby capacity going on line when the wind isn’t blowing or blowing hard enough to produce significant amounts of electricity, particularly in the summer, when demand for electricity is largest and wind power availability is smallest.
It doesn’t take an investigative reporter to find examples of journalistic malpractice in the opinion pages of The New York Times when commentators like Frank Rich are at large. Consider this quote from a Sunday column by Rich in support of the U.S. military’s move toward allowing homosexuals and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces:
“John McCain, commandeering the spotlight as usual, did fulminate against the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ But the press focused on McCain, the crazy man in Washington’s attic, was misleading. His yapping was an exception, not the rule.”
Language like that—“the crazy man in Washington’s attic”—is editorial comment at its lowest, and The Times should be ashamed for allowing it to appear on its pages.
Then there is the matter of headlines which don’t accurately reflect the facts of the story, like the one which said: “Obama seeks new Omaha VA hospital.”
The facts are, of course, that money for drawing plans for a new veterans hospital in Omaha was among the thousands of expenditures proposed, item-by-item, in the president’s budget for the next fiscal year.
There was no evidence that Obama had personally and specifically considered and endorsed the Omaha VA hospital proposal.
At significantly lower levels, some examples of cases where I think journalists could have done better:
A school-record crowd of 13,417 showed up to watch the University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey team beat Ohio State 6-5 in what was described as “an electric evening at the Qwest Center.”
Nine paragraphs into the story, the reader got a suggestion as to what had provided a good deal of the electricity. There was a reference to “UNO’s month long ‘Sell Out Ohio State Promotion.’” The reader could speculate that perhaps the promotion involved encouraging corporations to buy large blocks of tickets and give them away to employees or customers.
But the reader should not have had to speculate. Some details of the month long promotion were called for.
Incidentally, why doesn’t some reporter ask UNO officials whether they would seek permission to sell beer at hockey games if the proposed sports/convocation arena is built on the UNO campus?
The fact that beer is sold in the Qwest Center is generally accepted as one reason for the size of the boisterous crowds that the Mavericks attract—comparable to the belief that to some extent the availability of beer sales helps Creighton’s basketball team attract large crowds for Creighton’s games in the Qwest Center.
I asked a friend who likes to attend Maverick games whether the sale of beer is an attraction. His quick response: “Nobody would go if they couldn’t buy beer. Beer and hockey go together.”
Speaking of Creighton basketball, a recent headline read: “Bluejays’ stock up when the shots fall.” Really? I’d never have guessed that.
Elsewhere on the sports pages: The story of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln women’s basketball team winning it’s 21st victory stressed that the Lady Huskers succeeded very well in working the ball inside against an aggressive Texas A&M defense.
You had to go to the agate-type figures following the story to learn the most interesting—and significant—feature of the game. Texas A&M had the opportunity to shoot exactly two free throws. No, that’s not a typographical error. Exactly two free throws, of which one was good. The Lady Huskers shots 21 free throws, of which 16 were good.
That 15-point margin in free throws provided all of the Huskers’ 11-point margin in their 71-60 victory.
* * *
Before I lose all touch with my original “Mr. Nice Guy” intentions, some praise for journalistic performance:
In the torrent of Nebraska wind power stories and editorials, I saw one outstanding example of reasonable restraint. It was an editorial in the Kearney Hub, reprinted in The World-Herald.
The Hub said in part: “Won’t be long now before we can turn off those nasty nuclear and coal plants and enjoy the benefits of ‘free and clean’ wind power, right?
“Not so fast.
“The best sites in our windy state will, at best, drive turbines 40% of the time,” according to Stan Clouse, account manager for Nebraska Public Power District in Kearney. “Some turbines in the state generate electricity less than 20% of the time…
“Reality check: Wind energy is supplemental energy at best. Once technology provides a way to store wind-generated electricity, it will never supplant reliable and cheap coal or nuclear-generated power.
“Another big problem with wind power is the cost of building transmission lines to the often-remote areas where the large turbine farms are most favorably located.
“And speaking of the environment, while wind proponents often criticize coal-generated power and its peripheral impact, a prairie sea of giant windmills is not aesthetically benign.”
And another praiseworthy performance, this by a former Puliter Price-winning New York Times reporter, Les Gelb, former chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, willing to say in print what so many Americans believe. The following comments by Gelb appeared on The Wall Street Journal Opinion page:
“President Obama warns against ‘extremism.’ Former Vice President Dick Cheney declaims against ‘terrorists.’ But they hardly ever bark the essential word, the almost always absent critical adjective: Muslim. Almost all the terrorist and extremist violence in the world today is committed by Muslims—and in most instances, the victims are Muslims themselves.
“What’s afoot here is Muslim extremism—despite the fact that the great majority of Muslims aren’t radicals and condemn terrorism.
“President Obama got somewhat more specific in his press appearance Thursday regarding the Christmas bombing attempt. He said that the United States was ‘at war against al Qaeda.’
“Indeed, we are, and al Qaeda is surely the main Muslim terrorist organization we are fighting. But it is not the only one. Many of the Muslim terrorist groups around the world are their own bosses, particularly in Asia and also the Middle East. Nonetheless, he still avoided the Muslim nature of the problem.
“The omission of the word ‘Muslim’ usually stems from political correctness, the desire not to offend. On most occasions, this gloss does no great harm and can be overlooked. But the failure to nail the problem squarely by name causes grave difficulties: It impedes the process of finding realistic solutions.
“Specifically, it leads Washington to think of American solutions to terrorism more so than Muslim ones. It puts the greatest onus on American resources and actions, on our values and our philosophies—rather than on the great majority of moderate Muslims, their values, their religion, their culture, their concrete actions, and their getting involved at the ground level in the mud and muck.
“If the battle against Muslim terrorism is to be won, moderate Muslims will have to do the heavy lifting, and explain to us how we can best help them. If Americans and Westerners continue to take the lead, it will remain an ‘us vs. them’ war.”
* * *
We had a divided household when it came to last Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Marian was for New Orleans. I was for Indianapolis.
I told Marian that, like so many other people, I greatly admire Payton Manning, the Indianapolis quarterback. And I don’t think a city deserves a Super Bowl victory just because it has suffered a hurricane.
More seriously, anyone who lives in a state filled with football fans as emotionally involved as the fans who follow the Nebraska Cornhuskers can hardly begrudge the people of New Orleans their ecstatic enjoyment of the Saints’ victory.
But I wouldn’t go so far as the NBC commentator who called the Saints “the nation’s team” or the New Orleans resident who described the Saints as “our saviors after Katrina.”
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