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Why The Mainstream Media Is Failing

My colleague at the Heartland Institute, James Taylor, was quoted recently in the Virginian Pilot newspaper  in Hampton Roads, Va. as a global-warming skeptic in an article otherwise devoted to alarms about the rise in global temperatures.

James, who testified last year at the local city council on the dangers of global warming alarmism, was so upset by the obvious bias in the article that he asked to be allowed to respond with an oped or a letter to the editor.

He wrote a typically insightful article, but after rejecting the idea of an oped, the Virginian-Pilot has been silent about whether the letter to the editor will run - a reliable indicator that the article was spiked.

Here's the full text of James' article:

Virginian-Pilot Deceives Readers on Ocean Acidification

By James M. Taylor

The old-fashioned news media are bleeding revenue, jobs, and influence, and media insiders claim they cannot figure out why. I can help: One major reason is reader frustration with a lack of balanced reporting.

A good illustration is a March 11 Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot article on the public showing of a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) movie on alleged ocean acidification.

The Virginian-Pilot article, "Seas' acidity threatens life, livelihoods, film says," presented arguments made by NRDC-an environmental activist group-in its movie Acid Test, but the article did not mention the substantial scientific evidence that contradicts NRDC's alarmism.

The article parroted, without any critical examination, NRDC claims that the oceans are becoming "more acidic" as a result of higher carbon dioxide content. The oceans, however, are not acidic. The pH balance of water is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. Water with a pH of 7 is neutral. Water with a pH below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline. The pH of the world's oceans is 8.1, which is alkaline.

The article reported as fact the film's claim that ocean acidity has increased 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution. However, a 2005 study in the peer-reviewed journal Nature reported ocean pH was between 8.1 and 8.2 at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and has decreased by less than 0.1 since then.

acidification1The Virginian-Pilot article also presented NRDC claims that ocean acidification is harming marine life. This is contradicted by recent studies published in peer-reviewed journals such as Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, Biogeosciences, Global Change Biology, and Journal of Geophysical Research. All found that marine life is either unaffected by or significantly benefits from higher carbon dioxide content and lower pH.

Finally, and egregiously, the article never mentioned that the film was by made by an environmental activist group. Instead, the piece was written in a manner designed to fool readers into believing the movie's ridiculous claims were presented by objective scientists. The fact that the film was made by an environmental activist group should have been prominently mentioned in the article, especially considering no countervailing science was presented.

After reading the article, I contacted the Virginian-Pilot editorial department and asked for an opportunity to present some facts to provide balance and put the NRDC movie in perspective. The Virginian-Pilot outright refused to consider an oped on the subject and has since declined to publish a cordial letter to the editor I sent pointing out the above facts. Instead, they have chosen to let a propaganda article stand as their "balanced" report on ocean acidification.

whale_rainbowThe American public understands the news media will often present issues with a certain degree of explicit or implicit editorializing. If this editorializing is done within reasonable bounds, people are willing to accept it without significant objection. The Virginian-Pilot coverage of the NRDC movie and the ocean acidification issue, however, is a perfect illustration of how the media has overstepped these bounds and violated the public trust, and why it is losing readers.

When a "news" publication presents only one side of an argument, does so in a way that deceives readers regarding the source of the one-sided "facts" presented in the article, and refuses to publish a reader's letter providing some context and balance, it is little wonder why traditional media outlets continue to lose credibility, marketability, and relevance.


James M. Taylor (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) is senior fellow of environment policy at The Heartland Institute.

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