Why So Poor Reporting?

| Mon Aug. 1, 2005 3:45 PM EDT

This is getting ridiculous. From Media Matters:

In a July 29 article, New York Times reporter Carl Hulse reported that supporters of the energy bill recently approved by the House of Representatives describe the bill as "a step toward reducing American dependence on foreign oil," but Hulse omitted the contrary view, held by energy analysts and even some conservative Republicans, that the bill won't reduce U.S. oil imports.

Crikey. Not only should the Times have quoted those "energy analysts" who know what they're talking about, but Carl Hulse shouldn't have even included the line about reducing dependence, regardless of whether Republicans believe it or not. This isn't a "he said, she said" affair. The recently-passed energy bill simply won't reduce American dependence on foreign oil. It just won't. ANWR has a relatively tiny amount of oil, and tapping its reserves might slow the increase in consumption of foreign oil, but won't come close to reducing total consumption. The Republican party line on this issue isn't "one side of the story," it's not a "point of view," it's not anything but an inability to grasp how the world works. Or it's a flat lie. No matter what, it doesn't belong in any newspaper.

But let's not pick on Carl Hulse; this sort of thing happens a lot: government press releases that are plainly false sneak their way into newspaper coverage all the time. But why? One theory might be that political reporters, at the Times and elsewhere, view the passage of legislation such as the energy bill as a political event, rather than a concrete law that will actually have an effect on millions of people and alter the economic landscape for years to come. Treating a bill's passage as a political event, of course, entails getting quotes from the supporters of the bill who want to release it to great fanfare and make pretty speeches whose meaning matters less than the tone of triumphalism ("This bill is a step towards..."). It also ensures that media coverage will treat the energy bill as an occasion for partisan debate and political spin, rather than as an entity that actually does something. Now by any sensible measure, what a law does matters far more than how it came about or who's bickering over it, but so long as political reporters don't see things that way, they'll very likely continue to omit key points like the fact that the recently-passed energy bill doesn't reduce American dependence on foreign oil. Perhaps that's the problem. Perhaps there's some other explanation. Either way, it's pretty clearly unacceptable.