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The Arrogance of "Nonpartisan" Greens

A most annoying form of arrogance erupts in the way liberals formulate their positions as representative of the public interest, making those who disagree simply reflect evil. They form groups with names like "The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids." What are we going to do? Start the Campaign for Getting Kids Puffing by First Grade?

This moral exhibitionism hits a fever pitch when the subject is environmentalism. Liberals know it's politically risky, if not fatal, to enter the debate declaring their power-grabbing desires: "Everyone will please leave their cars behind and live in houses made of old tires." Instead, they come as the Defenders of Clean Air for Children and Bunnies and suggest that only those self-interested cads who value profits over humanity are playing politics.

Yet the "environmentalist" agenda is political to the core. Regulation and bureaucracy reign at the center of their proposals, and unfettered socialism is their ideological mission. At the recent climate conference in Kyoto, Japan, environmental groups proposed the U.S. cut its emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels, representing a drastic, government-supervised - that is, U.N.- supervised - suppression of American energy output. Whether it's broad-based energy taxes to combat global warming or the overruling of property rights to protect "wetlands" or "endangered species," free enterprise is the enemy and government is the answer.

It's expected for liberals, with their intellectually bankrupt arguments, to strike nonpartisan poses. It's far more intellectually dishonest when the liberal media promote the same "objective" line. In an urgent, very ideological battle over taxation and regulation, the media are caricaturing it as Green vs. Mean. Forget the appropriate term, "radical." When was the last time you saw environmental groups classified in news stories simply as "liberal"?

News reporters are making it a practice to drain the ideology out of one-half of the environmental debate, casting it as "environmentalists" vs. industry (or better yet, "corporate interests"). Look at every news story in three major newspapers (The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post) throughout 1995 and 1996 that dealt with ten top left-wing environmental groups. Out of 1,089 news stories mentioning these organizations, how many would you guess called them "liberal"? Try...five. Yes, a grand total of five "liberal" labels in almost 1100 stories.

It doesn't matter how outrageously ideological the group is. Greenpeace is perhaps the best-known environmental group for its radical tactics, like interrupting nuclear tests and hanging banners from smokestacks. But you'll not see that militant approach come through in newspaper stories. In 178 articles, it never once attracted a liberal label. Not once.

The nonpartisan approach is most inaccurate with the League of Conservation Voters, which spent $1.5 million on ads, mass mailings, and door-to-door campaigns trying to defeat GOP candidates. That activism earned this group one label in 62 stories. This (mis)labeling chicanery has another effect. By placing LCV in the "nonpartisan" political center, any opposition to its leftist agenda becomes extremist by definition. Thus, the April 22, 1995 Washington Post noted "On a scorecard compiled by the [LCV] to measure the environmental sensitivity displayed by House members during the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, 61 incoming GOP freshmen scored rock-bottom ratings."

The Sierra Club spent $7.5 million in 1996 to defeat Republican candidates through an independent-expenditure campaign, including ads calling Republicans "eco-thugs." But they were tagged as liberal only three times in 325 stories. The Natural Resources Defense Council only attracted one liberal label in 211 stories, despite running ads claiming Republicans aspired to "block programs to protect our drinking water from deadly parasites, arsenic, and radioactivity."

By contrast, the largest "free-market environmentalist" think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute drew eight "conservative" labels in 29 stories (28 percent). And if they weren't labeled "conservative," they were described as "anti-regulatory," "pro-business," "favoring limited government," or "promoting private solutions over government action." Those are all accurate. So why aren't their liberal adversaries ever described as the reverse: "pro-regulatory," "anti-business," "opposing limited government," or "promoting government action over private solutions"?

Go the furthest extreme on the left. The militant group Earth First! has advocated the practice of spiking trees to cause serious, if not fatal, harm to loggers, and its literature reportedly inspired the Unabomber's selection of bombing targets. That extremism earned it nine "radical" labels in 25 stories (36 percent). For the reporters filing the other 64 percent of those stories which found nothing radical about Earth First!, their agenda falls within the limits of proper political discourse.

Remember that the next time you read a story about "environmentalism."