How Journalists Skew Discussions

On PBS’s The News Hour some months ago, the guests included a man from industry speaking in favor of real time pricing of electricity, charging companies different prices for electricity, depending on the costs to produce electricity in real time. Speaking against this idea were several self-declared environmentalists/representatives of the public. There was no way for a listener to ascertain that the “industry” solution is actually the policy solution recommended by experts in economics and energy policy. PBS was able to influence the way the message was heard by labeling mainstream thinking as “industry”.

This seems to be the pattern for discussions on nuclear power. PBS obtained an “expert” on nuclear power from The Economist; he spoke rapidly, articulately, and erroneously. Representing nuclear power were two people from industry, no one from academia or energy policy. Occasionally one of the industry people would break in and correct what the journalist was saying, but it is difficult to correct people who get so much information wrong in such a short time.

I was struck in earlier decades by the journalistic technique of interviewing an extreme right winger and an extreme left winger so as to get “both sides”. The practice today too often includes an interview with someone knowledgeable paid by the industry, and someone unknowledgeable from outside the field.

And jeez, when are journalists going to stop saying, “some scientists believe that greenhouse gases cause climate change”. Uh, that’s not in doubt. There is some doubt as to how much damage climate change will cause, with the bulk of scientists saying it looks bad, and a small number, make that a tiny number, who advocate addressing climate change slowly, just in case the overwhelming majority is overstating the possible consequences.

Comments that go beyond nays and praise Bob supplemented his comment to a post on biofuels with another comment to the previous post. His point is important to talk about: does focusing on technology take energy away from changing behavior?

For people who may have forgotten how much we need to cut back on carbon emissions, we’re talking 65 – 85% in the next few decades, even as population and per capita consumption continue to rise. For climate justice, so that people in Cambodia can some day emit carbon while Americans begin to emit only their share, cutbacks would have to be much more than 90% in the first world, and even larger in the US.

Your thinking on the policy changes vs technology changes vs voluntary simplicity even without policy changes?

One Response to “How Journalists Skew Discussions”

  1. Hi Karen,

    Wonderful blog you’ve got here. You’re right, we’ve got to reduce CO2 by 95% in the next few decades, while at the same time increasing economic output and standard of living around the world. In a nutshell, here’s the problems with the “solutions”:

    Coal: too dirty and lethal, too much CO2
    Natural gas: too expensive and hard to transport
    Petroleum: too little and too geographically concentrated.
    Solar and wind: too diffuse and capital intensive per megawatt
    Geothermal: too geographically isolated.
    Fusion: too hard (nuclei tend to scatter rather than fuse)
    Conventional nuclear: too little U-235, too capital intensive, too much waste
    Fast breeders: too easy to make bombs, and good ones too.

    Thorium breeders: too hard to reprocess, fuel too radioactive
    Fluid-fueled thorium breeders: easy to reprocess, no fuel fabrication, no weapons connection, deep inherent safety.

    Fluid-fueled thorium breeders are the best answer I’ve found for how to get off CO2 and do it quickly. We developed this technology in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It lost out to fast breeders because it wasn’t good for weapons. We need to resurrect it.

    Learn more at