Times Blinded By Hazy View of Reality
Dramatically cleaner air downplayed in a story about threats to Clean Air Act because troubles remain.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote that East is East, and West is West, and
never the twain shall meet. To Los Angeles readers of The New York
Times Aug. 3 story on air pollution, that divide was as clear as a
smog-free L.A. afternoon.
The Times front page article California Air Is Cleaner, but Troubles Remain focused on the downside of efforts to clean the L.A. air. However, even the Times own choice of comparison photos from 1953 and 2005 made it obvious how much the air has improved. (The photos can be found here.)
The Felicity Barringer article was part of a new series called Beyond The Haze: The Clean Air Struggle. The article mentioned possible changes to the Clean Air Act as perhaps the best place to measure what the Clean Air Act has accomplished - and what remains undone. However, Barringer hid the fact that federal actions have had little impact on Los Angeles until the end of the story.
Barringer discussed possible changes to the act in a bit more detail at the very end of the 2,700-word article, then included this: The changes are likely to have most impact east of the Mississippi River and a limited effect in California, largely because of the state's regulatory independence.
Some of the many other problems of the article include:
- Glass half
empty: According to the EPA: between 1970 and 2004, gross
domestic product increased 187 percent, vehicle miles traveled
increased 171 percent, energy consumption increased 47 percent,
and U.S. population grew by 40 percent. During the same time
period, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants
dropped by 54 percent. Yet, at the NYT, troubles remain.
- Better or worse?:
According to Barringer, the region remains one of the worst
three in the nation. That sounds horrible, but ignores the EPA
assessment that overall air quality has improved across the
- Only regulation
works: Barringer claimed that regulation was the only reason
air quality has improved. Much of what Los Angeles has achieved
has been accomplished by strict state regulations in tandem with
the federal mandates of the Clean Air Act of 1970. That claim
ignored any aspect of technological progress that has occurred in
35 years, including cleaner and more efficient use of energy.
- Favored by the
left: Barringer did a classic comparison saying the four
counties usually visible from the ocean-hugging slopes above Santa
Monica have been to the clean air struggle what the Deep South was
to the civil rights movement. She also criticized the ravenous
American appetite for cheap Asian goods and regaled readers with
stories about bureaucracies that were the foot soldiers of the
clean air struggle. But who said the Times is left-leaning?
- Who you gonna
call?: If a reporter was doing an anti-business environmental
story, he or she would cite the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The notoriously left-wing group is a media favorite and has
cropped up more than 40 times on the pages of The New York Times
in just the last six months. In this case, NRDC sued one of the
businesses at the L.A. port acting on the homeowners behalf.
Barringer didnt explain anything about the NRDC, a group that has
a long history of scaremongering and was behind the misreporting
of the dangers of Alar in apples, which cost that industry
millions in lost sales.
- Labels left
behind: Barringer cited numerous scientists, leaving out the
sources of their funding. However, she did mention scientists
financed by the auto industry. Financing only mattered when the
scientists disagreed with the point she had to make.
- Industry doing
its job: Buried deep in the article is a quote from T. L.
Garrett, the vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping
Association in Long Beach, about the environmental work done by
businesses at the Los Angeles port. In the absence of a
regulatory framework, he said, the industry has stepped forward
to reduce emissions beyond what they are required to.
- Got to love
those regulators: The article praised an expanding
bureaucracy measuring, monitoring and regulating emissions from
nearly every corner of daily life, including backyard
incinerators, oil-based paints, street sweepers, dry cleaners and
barbecue lighter fluid. That was followed by a quote reminiscent
of description of Italian dictator Mussolini, who made the trains
run on time. This time, the efficient bureaucrat was the chairman
of the South Coast district, William Burke. According to Burke,
We've always been pushing the limits to find out where we can
go. He added, Does that aggravate people? Yes. Does it get
things done? Yes.