Death by Conservation
May 1, 2001
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The lead, front-page news article in today's New York Times reports on America's energy policy. The article describes a report "to be released later this week" by "the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy." The report, the Times says, "estimates that raising the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks by what it calls a modest amount could do far more to reduce reliance on imported oil than drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
The Times goes on about this report for four paragraphs, including one that is a subtle dig at the vice president: "Mr. Cheney did not discuss the merits of raising government-mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards in his address today. But he strongly defended the administration's proposal to allow drilling for oil and gas in the Alaskan refuge."
Nowhere does the Times disclose to its readers that this American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is funded partly by utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Boston Edison and Southern California Edison. The council is also partly funded by companies with an interest in promoting solar energy. And the Council's board of directors includes representatives of those companies. Raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars probably would reduce reliance on imported oil, but it would also probably increase reliance on electricity produced by those utilities and used to charge electric cars. The Times also doesn't mention that increased fuel efficiency standards probably mean lighter, smaller cars -- and more highway deaths in car crashes as a result.
It's no more responsible of the Times to report on this study by the "American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy" without mentioning the financial interests of the study's funders than it would be for the Times to report on medical research funded by drug companies without mentioning that the drug companies are funding the research. Far be it from Smartertimes.com to suggest that studies partly funded by private industry are any less credible than those funded solely by tax dollars or by universities. But disclosing the source of the funding would at least allow readers to weigh such issues for themselves. As it is, the typical New York Times reader, without the benefit of Smartertimes.com, would have no idea that this study by the "American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy" was partly funded by utilities.
Cellular Confusion: An article in the metro section of today's New York Times reports on the scene at a club called "Doubles." The article says, "A young guest waiting at the bar became momentarily frustrated when her mobile phone was unable to connect with its appointed satellite." Well, the fact may have escaped the technological wizards over on the Times metro desk, but mobile phones don't work via satellites. They transmit and receive signals via ground-based antennae. If the guest at the bar was toting a satellite phone it would be worth noting in the article because they are rare and expensive.
Most Compelling: Here's a line looking back on the 2000 presidential election, from an op-ed piece in today's New York Times. "The most compelling figure in the race, according to many voters, was John McCain, who epitomized a style of politics thoroughly at odds with that of Mr. Bush." If Mr. McCain was the most compelling figure in the race, why didn't he win?
Undocumented: An article in the national section of this morning's New York Times runs under the headline, "Undocumented Immigrants Scramble to Get Through a Small Window of Opportunity." The article twice refers to "undocumented" immigrants. This is a violation of the Times's own style; the stylebook entry says "undocumented" is "a euphemism in references to people who have entered a country in violation of the law." The Times stylebook says "illegal immigrant" is the preferred term.
Can't Win: A dispatch from Cincinnati in the national section of today's Times reports that some black leaders there are demanding that the city's schools restore vocational training. The Times reports that the city "dismantled vocational training two decades ago for lack of money." Well, lack of money may well have been the reason that vocational schools were dismantled in Cincinnati, but in a lot of other places it was dismantled because black leaders and white liberals complained that it was segregating minority students and preventing them from getting a liberal arts education. If Cincinnati does in fact restore vocational education, such complaints are likely to resurface.
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