Eco-Activist: Children Amplify Emotional Effect of Alarmist Claims

     If you want to get people on your side of an issue, scare them by suggesting something is going to hurt their children.


     That’s the environmentalists’ strategy, according to Philip Shabecoff, the former 14-year chief environmental correspondent for The New York Times, and his wife, Alice Shabecoff, the former executive director of the National Consumers League.


     On September 18, the couple told an audience at Politics & Prose, a bookstore in Washington, D.C., the idea behind their new book. They said “Poisoned Profits” was designed to scare parents into siding with environmentalists by suggesting kids are at high risk from environmental problems.


     “It’s a very difficult question, perhaps the most difficult question, which is why we wrote about children,” Philip Shabecoff said when asked how he and his wife would raise awareness for their cause. “Because, if you’re a parent or a grandparent, you really just throw up your hands and say, ‘This is too much. I can’t do anything about it.’ Or, you do whatever you can because it’s your child’s future. It’s your grandchild’s future. It’s your own posterity that’s at stake and for the nation as a whole when you talk about children – that’s the future of America.”


     The Shabecoffs said they patterned their book like “Law & Order” to villainize certain corporations.


     “We sort of cast our book as a crime story with our children as victims and the companies that put out these poisons as perpetrators,” Shabecoff said. “We do name companies – not necessarily the worst, but the biggest because there are now public records about their deeds and misdeeds and we have a lot of stories about individual kids are affected by these companies.”


     A review of the book in the September 7 Washington Post accused the Shabecoffs of “alarmism” over the harm of what they considered to be “toxic” chemicals.


     But at the bookstore appearance, Shabecoff blamed the free market and the lack of heavy-handed regulation vis-à-vis the federal government.


     “We also identify what we call co-conspirators and that is government,” Shabecoff said. “Under our free-market system, which is – if the market is self-correcting, which has always struck us as faith-based economics – companies, as we’ve demonstrated are free to do whatever they want. And the only thing that can do anything – the only entity that has power to deal with these mega-corporations is government. And government has abrogated its responsibilities in recent years.”


     The authors drew links between the content of their book full of anecdotal material and the current banking crisis plaguing Wall Street.


     “We’ve been looking at the meltdown of our financial system in recent days because government has turned its back on the shenanigans that have been going on and let it go ahead until the bubble collapsed,” Shabecoff said. “Well, that applies to almost everything else the private sector is doing. It certainly applies to what we are talking about. The government has not been regulating the poisons that have been coming into the environment. It has not even been enforcing the laws and rules that are on the books.”


     Shabecoff, who said the book encouraged change through political activism, set his sights on former President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush.


     “It started with Reagan and has gotten increasingly worse,” Shabecoff said. “It has reached absolute rock-bottom under the current administration.”


     Shabecoff quit working for the Times after he was reassigned from environmental reporting in 1991 for being too “pro-environment” and “ignoring the costs of environmental protection,” according to columnist Steven Milloy.


     The former Times reporter also wrote in a 1995 newsletter for the Society of Environmental Journalists that environmental journalists’ role was to play cheerleader for the “green” movement. “Our role is to probe beneath the veneer placed over our continuing environmental ills by industrial political and ideological propaganda,” not “feel-good fluff,” Shabecoff wrote.


     Shabecoff has a documented history of being anti-business and advocating that approach in reporting. He said his big worry was a “corporate culture in the media that looks askance at environmental reporting.”


     In his 1993 book “A Fierce Green Fire,” Shabecoff cited the “valuable role” professional activists play in environmental journalism as “intermediaries between the scientific community and reporters.”