Exposing Media Hypocrisy

Eugene McCarthy, the gentle senator from Minnesota who ran a quixotic campaign for president in 1968, once said, "Reporters are like blackbirds on a wire. When one flies off, they all fly off." He was referring to journalists' propensity to all chase the same stories on the campaign trail, but it's true in a broader sense as well. Journalists tend to think, act, and talk alike -- especially when they get together. We saw this firsthand at a recent National Writers' Workshop co-sponsored by The Seattle Times and the Poynter Institute (a Florida-based group specializing in continuing education for media professionals). Held over Memorial Day weekend at the Doubletree Inn near Southcenter, it drew several hundred journalists from throughout the Pacific Northwest, with guest speakers from newspapers around the country. What we saw and heard there convinced us that McCarthy was right: Pack journalism prevails. Journalists operate under a set of shared assumptions so deeply ingrained that they're largely unquestioned by those very people whose job it is to ask questions. Many people believe there's a "liberal media conspiracy." We don't. They're not organized enough to conspire. But there is unquestionably a liberal media culture. No serious journalist even bothers to dispute that anymore. Most insist they can be fair even if they're not objective. But they don't consider anyone else in society -- Supreme Court nominees, for instance -- capable of such sagacity. The real problem goes far beyond ideology. Journalists are increasingly disconnected from the average Americans they supposedly serve, and citizens increasingly mistrust or dislike them for that. How bad is it? David Boardman, The Seattle Times' respected metropolitan editor, began one workshop session with these jokes: "What's the difference between a dead reporter and a dead skunk in the middle of the road? Skid marks in front of the skunk." "What's black and brown and looks good on a reporter? A Doberman pinscher." As Boardman noted, " We've even taken the place of lawyers in lawyer jokes. . . . Clearly we are different, and for the most part, people don't like us." How different? Boardman cited some figures from the latest Statistical Abstract of the United States: Average Americans are almost evenly split between the Democrat and Republican parties. Most (68 percent) are members of a church or synagogue. A large number (40 percent) are gun owners. Fewer than one-fourth (22 percent) have college degrees. Also, more Americans live in suburbs or small towns than in large cities. The journalists who cover them, however -- as a show-of-hands survey of the room demonstrated -- tend to lean left and vote Democrat. They don't belong to churches or synagogues. Very few own guns. Most have college degrees. They are urban-oriented, aspiring to work at big metropolitan newspapers or broadcast stations. They are yuppies and boomers, increasingly more affluent and elite than their readers and viewers. Every major recent national survey has shown that public esteem for journalism is low. A Roper Center survey in January 1997 found that only 2 percent of the public totally trusted newspaper reporters. A Harris survey in November 1996 found that 52 percent believe the news media abuse freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment, and 74 percent found political bias in news coverage. But do journalists know why they are so poorly regarded? We don't think so. They cite countless reasons for their own bad press. They blame television. They blame the tabloids. They blame politicians. They blame a lazy and uninformed public. They blame " right-wing" talk radio. They blame media critics. They blame everyone but themselves. When challenged, they point to the complexities of the job, the ethical dilemmas they face, the deadline pressure. They pontificate about why the practice of journalism is so much harder than it looks. All true. Journalism is difficult and challenging. But almost every profession is complex and laden with ethical ambiguities -- politics, business, education, science, sports, the arts. Professionals in these fields don't get a chance to explain the complications of their jobs when they're under fire or in the midst of a media maelstrom. Journalists shouldn't either. Journalists are notoriously thin-skinned. They constantly criticize, second-guess, cross-examine, and demand reform of other segments of society. But when someone deigns to criticize them, they get pouty and defensive. And we think that's too bad. They're missing an opportunity to learn something. Seeking deeper understanding of journalists and journalism, we went to the Times /Poynter workshop and attended as many of the nearly three dozen concurrent seminars as we could over two days. We went to all or parts of 12 seminars, and bought the audio cassette tapes so that we could make our own transcripts. We identified 10 shared assumptions -- let's call them "media mantras" -- that bind journalists together but separate them from those they serve. We suspect the same mantras would have prevailed at any of the seven similar regional workshops the Poynter Institute co-sponsored with other newspapers around the nation. We know our comments are broad generalizations; the truth about journalism is more tangled. Someone else who attended this conference might have written an article totally opposite to ours, one that portrayed journalists in a thoroughly positive light. Which proves our point: Reporters who cover events or issues tend to see them through their own subjective lenses. Their built-in world views affect everything they write. That includes us. We are conservative media critics. The difference is: We admit our bias, they don't. Nonetheless, we're hopeful. Here's why: Remember McCarthy's blackbirds? Journalists are, above all else, trendy. Look at the fads that have swept journalism in recent decades -- advocacy journalism, investigative reporting, independent ombudsmen, civic journalism, public journalism, readers' panels, advisory boards. Every newspaper in the country initially belittled USA Today; now they're all imitating it. One newspaper does an innovative story, and within months papers nationwide have done the same story with a local twist. Journalists are inveterate plagiarists; they constantly rewrite each others' work. So if enough journalists get serious about reforming their profession, maybe they'll all fly off the wire. Some signs are promising. Media criticism in this country has grown from a trickle to a torrent. Reporters and editors are critiquing themselves more than ever at journalism conferences (though seldom in public). Publishers and advertising executives watch newspaper circulation stagnate as population grows. Perhaps it's time for a little less defensiveness, a lot more introspection, and a willingness to listen. To that end, we offer our observations -- admittedly broad, sweeping, and oversimplified (hey, we're journalists) -- on the state of journalism today. We invite comments and criticism from readers -- especially journalists. A healthy public debate on this topic would be good for democracy, for America, and for journalism. 1. We know what the truth is, and we're here to impart it to you.Journalists genuinely believe that they are capable of determining and disseminating the "truth." They believe they are an anointed group, protected by the First Amendment, armed to go forth and right wrongs, reveal evil, expose scandal, unmask scoundrels, and save the world. What this workshop really needed was a mandatory showing of Rashomon, the classic Akira Kurosawa film about the elusive nature of truth, in which several people saw the same event in completely different ways. "What Is the Truth? Seeking Clarity for Readers Bombarded by Spin" was the title of a seminar led by Byron Acohido, The Seattle Times' aerospace reporter who just won a Pulitzer Prize (and a half-dozen other national and regional journalism awards) for his series on the Boeing 737, "Safety at Issue." Acohido began his remarks by drawing an analogy between journalism and theology. "What is truth?" was the biblical question faced by Pontius Pilate, Acohido said. "As journalists, we often find ourselves thrown into the middle of similarly complex issues, and we often face the same challenge Pilate did of determining what is truth. This is a high responsibility that we dare not take lightly. . . . I believe, as I know many of you do, that our core franchise is as purveyors of truth." Is Acohido really comparing the who, what, when, where, and why of aviation-safety issues to Pilate's theological dilemma about the nature of religious revelation? Pretty heady stuff. Acohido said that it's getting harder for journalists to do their job because of "an ever-expanding array of interest groups out to obscure truth, using ever more sophisticated technologies and strategies. Yet it remains our job to sort out these varying agendas, to filter information, and to write accessible, cogent stories that help our readers answer the question 'What is truth?' for themselves." But who appointed journalists to the judgment seat regarding truth? Acohido said journalists are " purveyors" (i.e., distributors, dispensers) of truth, yet readers must find truth "for themselves." So which is it? If it's the former, journalists will decide and tell us. If the latter, journalists will lay out all the possibilities in a fair, balanced, and objective way and let us decide for ourselves. In listing a set of "principles we need to embrace every day," Acohido sai********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************n of TWA Flight 800. "Push it out front. . . . What happens when you push and advance stuff that you know, that you have a strong sense, because you've done the work, that it's pointed maybe outside the narrow frame but toward what the truth is, is that it invariably breaks other stuff free. And that's what has happened throughout my career since 1988 on these aviation stories -- you advance something and you get a call from another source or you get tipped off to another piece of data that is related, that you otherwise would never have seen if you hadn't advanced the story." This may be an accepted journalistic practice, but it's another reason why the public distrusts the media. If you or your company happens to be the subject of a story that a reporter believes could be waiting to be told, you're in the hot seat, while the reporter hopes to shake your detractors out of the woodwork. If the story doesn't pan out, who unrings that bell? Consider the apple orchardists in this state who were devastated by early alarmist reporting.2. Business, profits, and the free market are bad, even if we're a little fuzzy on how it all works.Journalists are often (and rightly) accused of a liberal bias, but even worse is their near-universal disdain for corporate America, which they see as rife with greedy executives, mercenary stockholders, and unconscionable profits. This incubates a comradeship among journalists, as they accept, with no apparent sense of irony, their corporate-profit-generated paychecks. It creates a bond of anti-business bias that is not only accepted but seemingly required. Case in point was the workshop itself, at which almost three dozen seminars covered writing about science, environment, sports, education, government, diversity -- but not business. Many workshop speakers scored points with their audiences by offhandedly denigrating businesspeople. Richard Aregood, the Pulitzer Prize winning editorial page editor of The Star-Ledger in Newark, commented, "There's nothing wrong with profit [but] it requires character on the part of businesspeople, which in its own way is a kind of oxymoron." Even the kinder, gentler Leslie Brown, now a land-use reporter for The News Tribune, effortlessly referred to "Boeing flacks" -- a pejorative term for public relations people -- who were "just horrified when I [as the new Boeing reporter] looked out at the tarmac [at a 747] and asked, 'So what kind of plane is that?'" Are they all "flacks"? And was it unreasonable for them to think their new beat reporter would have done at least enough homework to recognize the world's most recognizable airplane before showing up on the job? Even when negative stereotypes turned to near-slander, there was no objection. Acohido, the Times' aerospace reporter, responded this way to a suggestion that airlines put inert gas in empty fuel tanks on 747s to help prevent explosions: "They're not gonna do it because of the economics. It would cost a couple million bucks per plane to put it in there, and these are 25-year-old aircraft that are five years past their design life, that are completely depreciated, that you put a pilot on them and passengers, you make gobs of money, so why would they, you know? And they want to use them as long as they can until the nose breaks off or somebody forces them to ground it, because they're making money on all these flights." Even for a journalist, that's breathtaking cynicism: seemingly declaring that Boeing and its customer airlines would risk killing passengers to make money. Acohido's series on the Boeing 737 was a flat-out indictment of the company and its employees. But Acohido told his colleagues: "I don't consider what I do critical stories. I consider what I do stories to get at the truth. . . . That's my motive, to serve my readers, it's not to criticize Boeing." Most Boeing employees -- who are also Times readers -- would scoff at that statement. 3. We are not -- not, not, not! -- racist.The keystone of purity for journalists is race, as seminar after seminar, speaker after speaker, and question after question proved. If these people are afraid of anything, it's that someone will discover, lurking deep inside them, a vestige of racism, their own personal Fuzzy Zoeller waiting to pop out at a particularly dreadful time, like some victim of a Tourette's Syndrome of insensitivity. From "Changing Dynamics: The Meaning of Mainstream When Minorities Are the Majority" to "Wading in the New Mainstream: Covering the Community of Difference" to "The Ethics of Language: Powerful Words and Political Correctness," diversity was the most fervently discussed and least honestly debated topic at the conference. Particularly poignant was watching the decent Dave Boardman, Times metro editor, who led "The Ethics of Language" seminar, stand before his audience and, it seemed to us, apologize for being white, for being male, for being heterosexual, for being the root of all that's wrong with America today. "In choosing our words," Boardman began, "we must balance sensitivity and clarity, inclusiveness and incisiveness. Sensitivity is important, I don't want anybody to have the idea that here's this white guy telling us not to be sensitive, not by any means. For many decades American newspapers and broadcast programs have been written from a white male heterosexual perspective, with white male language, supporting a white-male-dominated status quo. . . ." Having dutifully discounted his own authority to speak to these issues, Boardman went on to lead a sensitive, clear, inclusive, and incisive discussion of them. It included a rehash of the big debate inside the Times newsroom over whether to use the word "nigger" in a front-page story about racism, and a thoughtful debate on how political correctness may have gone too far in banning terms such as "birth defects," "Dutch treat," and "New World." Boardman noted, "Many newspapers these days, their circulation stagnant and their readers surly, appear to be pathetically afraid of hurting anybody's feelings." Not bad for a white guy. 4. We are ethical, compassionate, and sensitive, and our motives are pure.From Acohido's truth dispensing to Boardman's hypersensitivity, journalists believe in their hearts that they are a special breed. "I mean, we're here to serve the community basically. I mean, we're all fairly idealistic or we wouldn't be in this business. We think we can make a difference," said Steve Kelley, Times sports columnist. Credibility accrues to those lucky enough to be similarly pure of motive, as revealed by Business Week senior editor Paul Raeburn: "In general, people who work for government have a little bit in common with people who work for newspapers. They've chosen the work because they want to do that kind of work, and they're getting paid less. . . . But they're doing it because they want to do it and there's a certain kind of idealism connected with that that makes them a little bit more trustworthy sometimes." 5. In getting the story, the ends justify the means because we represent the "public interest."Eric Nalder, chief investigative reporter at The Seattle Times and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, gave a seminar titled "Loosening Lips: The Art of the Interview." His treatise of the same name is used in newsrooms worldwide. Introducing Nalder, Times reporter-cum-editorialist Casey Corr said, "To his targets, Eric is not Barney the friendly dinosaur. He is more like a raptor of Jurassic Park. He does not let niceties stand in the way of getting a story. He shows up without an appointment, opens closed doors, rifles through files, demands answers." Journalists will point out that getting people to talk on the record is one of the toughest and most essential tasks they face, and it is fraught with ethical dilemmas. Too many reporters take the easy way out and just allow sources to remain anonymous without a compelling reason, such as fear of job loss or other retribution. Nalder's tips will indeed loosen lips -- it's part of the reason he's won two Pulitzers -- and Americans are capable of understanding why such tactics are sometimes necessary. What they can't understand and don't like is the obvious glee reporters take in this game of "gotcha." Here's a sampling of Nalder's tips. "Within minutes I was in the living room with the kids on my lap . . . just because I approached him with this look on my face that was so innocent and so open and so kind and gentle and so happy-to-be-here." "Once I'm in . . . it's hard to move me, it's discourteous to move me, and we're gonna chat a lot." "I work myself up into a sort of positive frenzy -- which works every time. . . . It's sort of a thing that what my face says is, 'Aren't you glad I'm here, and I bet you're wondering why it took so long for me to get here, and finally The Seattle Times is going to be interested in exposing your wrongdoing. And aren't you lucky it's gonna be me' -- I actually told a guy this once -- 'because I'm really good at it.'" "A good interview is both a gentle conversation and a manipulation. . . . That's what this is all about. Not a dishonest manipulation, it's an honest manipulation. There's always this tug-of-war between your manipulation and the conversation. . . . I want all the honesty I can have. I manipulate people, but I don't lie." Later in the seminar he said, "Part of my building up an attitude about talking to people is my belief that . . . almost like there's a law that says you have to talk to me. It's a requirement. It's a rule. And it really works, that attitude. It works. It worked with this PR person. I just told her it was a rule that she had to go and get the senator. So she went and got the senator for me." Another example of " manipulation" Nalder-style: "I usually say to people, it's no big deal, everybody's talking on the record. You will, too. Don't worry about it. And that really does work. I simply at some point talk over them and get going again. I find 65 percent of the time that works. . . ." Investigative reporters are the fighter pilots of journalism -- the hard-charging, in-your-face attack dogs whose goal is to shoot someone out of the sky: send them to jail, force them to resign in disgrace, or just humiliate them publicly. Sometimes that's justified; there are plenty of crooks and rascals around. But to the extent that such investigative zealotry permeates journalism and creates an "us vs. them" mentality in newsrooms, and as young journalists try to emulate the most aggressive investigative reporters, it can be insidious and destructive. Even Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, the hero of modern investigative reporting whose work with Carl Bernstein brought down Richard Nixon, worries that we've gone too far. On the 25th anniversary of the Watergate break-in this month, he told National Public Radio: "I think a sense of proportion has gone out [of journalism]. There is a rush to get the information, a rush to nail somebody." 6. We ensure the "people's right to know" and slay giants to do it -- even if the people don't understand or appreciate that.Is there anything more pathetic than a journalist who's feeling unappreciated? Here he or she is, fighting the good fight, tilting at windmills, earning lousy bucks, and for what? For the good of the lowly reader, of course. "I work for those $1-a-day, or whatever it is, 50-cents-a-day, stockholders who buy our newspaper," Nalder demurred. "I don't even work for my editor, I work for them. And they need that name, they want that name." Richard Aregood ( The Star-Ledger ) kept the people's right to know in mind, but was pretty grumpy about it: "If we're not gonna sort through this crap for people, who is? They're not willing to do it. You don't see a whole lot of citizens at the sewer board meeting, critical as it is to them." Would we see Aregood and company there if they didn't get paid to go? Business Week's Raeburn summed up journalists' ambivalence toward the "people" best of all. He noted testily, "There are actually people who have these diseases and conditions, and for all the times they call you and complain about stuff in the paper or write in angry letters about how awful reporters are and all the abuse we take from the public about how irresponsible we are, what's the first thing that happens when you write a medical article in the paper? They clip the damn thing out, they go in to their doctor, and their doctor says, 'That's not good for you.' And they say, 'It says right here in the paper that it is good for me.' Right? So after all the crap they've given us about how rotten we are, they believe us more than their doctor!" Sad but true. Which makes fulfilling the people's right to know an enormous responsibility -- worthy, perhaps, of a little less lip service and a lot more respect. 7. We're smarter than you; we can become experts in any subject.There's no question that the toughest part of news writing is being a generalist reporter whose work will be read by specialists. Many young journalists at the conference asked good questions about how to handle that situation. "I'm a medical reporter and I'm inundated with pharmaceutical information. . . . Where do you find those people to open up the frame, when you don't know enough about it yourself?" Marla Cone, environmental writer for the Los Angeles Times, acknowledged the problem: "So many times in environmental reporting, [reporters] don't ask those follow-up questions, because they don't think they'll understand it." But journalists are human, and fear of getting it wrong too often evolves into a thin-skinned bravado. "Science is no more complicated than anything else we do; it has its own sets of rules," soothed Raeburn of Business Week in his workshop "Making Sense of Science." Wrong. Science is not only more complicated than most other beats, it has its own precise language that most journalists instinctively dread: mathematics. Pretending that complex issues aren't is a feel-good strategy that can only lead to bad reporting. Worse yet is when the reporter starts to believe his own press -- that he really is an expert in a field that requires years of training and experience. "I interviewed the captain and the crew, that was very important," intoned Seattle Times chief investigative reporter Eric Nalder, describing his voyage on an Arco oil tanker in the Gulf of Alaska. "I also . . . learned how to operate every piece of machinery, had these guys teach me to do that. Because only when you know how to operate a machine can you really make poetry out of it." The "we're smarter than you" syndrome seems to worsen with time and experience, until finally a world-weary cynicism sets in. "Scientists, like many of us, will be happy to give you their opinion on just about anything under the sun, including all kinds of science about which they know nothing," said Raeburn. "They don't know more about it than we know. They know what they know from reading the paper. If it wasn't for us, they wouldn't know anything about it!" 8. We are storytellers -- the new literati.This conference was a "National Writers' Workshop." It began with a session on how to bring poetry to journalism and ended with a session that used music to inspire good writing. In between were seminars on "Finding Your Voice as a Writer," "Writing to the Hole," "X-ray Writing," "Writing Difficult Stories," "Description and Emotion in Newswriting," and "Writing and Editing with Visuals in Mind." One seminar was described as "The Writer's Fight: Battling Inner Demons, Dumb-ass Editors, and Comfort-food Metaphors to Craft Sweet Copy." Another was "Can You Sing This Story?: Jump-starting Your Own Creative Process." And, "She Looked Like a Ripe Cantaloupe: Describing People and Place." How they tell the story, the art of writing, the right turn of phrase, the lyrical grace of their prose -- is for many journalists seemingly more important than any other component of their profession. "I mean, this is art," said Richard Aregood of Newark's Star-Ledger. "You know, it's hack work, but it's art." In another seminar, Leslie Brown of The News Tribune described an emotional and moving story she'd written about a cougar hunter -- which ran on the last day of legal cougar hunting in this state after it was banned by passage of a ballot initiative. Listen to Brown: "Readers just respond to stories like this. I got so many responses from various people on this cougar-hunting story, and I never got a phone call or a response when I wrote about the initiative, when I quoted all sides of the debate." Great. Brown feels good because readers responded to an emotional story. Why didn't she write it before the vote? Could it have made a difference in the outcome, or at least given voters a deeper understanding? It's nice for journalists to get a touchy-feely reaction -- but is that their main responsibility to readers, or just an exercise in self-gratification? Times sports columnist Steve Kelley said, "To me, the joy in this job comes from the writing, it comes from . . . the mining of facts and getting them out, and being the guy that's telling people what's going on." 9. We are members of an enlightened profession that transcends labels such as "liberal" or "politically correct," unlike our right-wing Neanderthal Nazi critics.Journalists object to using labels on themselves or their friends in government, labor, or special-interest groups -- but they don't hesitate to slap derogatory labels on those they dislike or disagree with. Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer compared a career in jou********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************e" the story? Speaking about liberalism in his profession, Richard Aregood reflected, "We're all very complicated creatures." But in the same session, he said, "The only editorial pages that are really out there are those contemptible Nazis at The Wall Street Journal and the right-wing ideologues at the Detroit News. " 10. Everyone has an agenda and can't be trusted -- except journalists.Journalists always contend that everyone else in society has an ax to grind and an agenda to advance -- and it's up to the media to see through their duplicity. Acohido on Boeing: "I mean, it has a clear mission, its shareholders' interests, and you know, they're gonna do everything a big corporation will do to protect its liability exposure, maximize shareholder interests, you know, whether you believe that's ethical or not, or where they cross the line, where they draw the line, it's normal for corporate behavior in America, the way they act." Acohido on the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board: "The watchdog agencies, the FAA and the NTSB, are in a unique situation of being almost entirely co-opted by industry. So . . . there is no watchdog." Raeburn on the Environmental Protection Agency: "It's true that the EPA is trying to maximize its budget, and you have to be aware of that, but the science and the direction -- it's hard to know at the EPA what angle they're pushing. . . . Do they want more regulations or fewer regulations? You see what they do, and it's hard to tell which direction they're -- you know, they're not going in any direction. That's part of the problem: You can't see what the agenda is there." Can't journalists recognize life is more complicated than that, and almost every organization has more than one agenda, or different agendas at different times, or various people pushing conflicting agendas? That would be too complex; journalists prefer simplicity. With a little introspection, they might realize that they have agendas, too. Most journalists deny that their goal is to sell more newspapers; they disdain the business side of journalism. But what about such goals as getting a byline on page one, having your work discussed all over town, provoking reactions from people in power, helping set the public-policy agenda, writing "the first rough draft of history," earning praise from peers, winning journalism prizes, getting a better job on a bigger newspaper, and sending your clips home to Mom? Are they really that much purer or enlightened than anyone else in any other profession? We all want to feel a sense of accomplishment and recognition. It's journalists' nobler-than-thou attitude that really hacks people off -- and deservedly so. Why should anyone care about all this? Because what journalists do is important. Good journalism is critical to a democracy. They can -- and should -- do their jobs better. This conference ended with Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar and writing coach at the Poynter Institute, playing Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin songs to his ardent acolytes. But their soul-searching must go much deeper than that: If journalists indeed seek the truth, they must start with the truth about themselves.SidebarFending Off Gang Green Sometimes there is hope where you least expect it. In the Seattle Times /Poynter National Writers' Workshop, we found hope in the environmental journalism seminars. We saw clear signs that the pendulum was swinging back toward responsible reporting. Marla Cone, environmental writer for the Los Angeles Times , admitted that "there was a lot of exaggeration and hype of environmental stories in the '80s, especially." Yes, and there were a few changes behind the Iron Curtain. Just how bad was it? Reporters cast aside the traditional tools of their trade -- questioning, skepticism, objectivity -- and took up the new megaphone of the media: crusaders for Planet Earth. They were being duped by environmental leaders, but they didn't care. Although the seminar leaders clearly leaned green, they urged their audiences to be as cautious of environmentalists as they are of industry. "You have to be extremely skeptical of any industry-sponsored science," warned Business Week's Paul Raeburn, but added, "You have to be extremely skeptical of any science sponsored by interest groups of any sort, environmentalists, anybody involved." Even more encouraging were the flat-out assertions from several audience members -- the young, new Gen-Xers aspiring to professionalism -- that they were appalled at the state of environmental journalism today. One reporter from Alaska said, "There is a real scary trend of . . . environmental reporters being environmental activists. . . . I was stunned by the number of [reporters] that had declared a membership in environmental groups." Best of all was a response to Raeburn by Ross Anderson, a Seattle Times veteran who's leaving the editorial page and moving back to the news side to cover regional and natural-resource issues. Raeburn had just finished telling his audience that government scientists are more trustworthy than industry or interest-group scientists, because they, like journalists, are underpaid idealists. Anderson politely but pointedly nailed Raeburn: "I would add that while with EPA and other government scientists . . . you don't have the same kind of economic incentives at work there, you have what is potentially an even more powerful one, in that . . . the direction of the science may well direct budgets and the size of the bureaucracy and tenure and how many jobs can be created. . . . Superfund is the classic example of that, when there is a huge incentive to declare a Superfund site because it creates jobs. . . . When you're dealing with a science bureaucracy . . . there's the potential for much the same set of incentives that you find dealing with the American Chemical Society." John Hamer and Mariana Parks write the biweekly Watchdogs column in Eastsideweek. They are editors of CounterPoint, a monthly media-critique newsletter published by the CounterPoint Center for Remediation, and are media consultants to corporations, politicians, and organizations. Hamer is former associate editorial-page editor for The Seattle Times . Parks is former speechwriter and deputy state director for Sen. Slade Gorton. Call them at 938-6300, fax them at 938-6313, or e-mail them at jhamer@wips.org and mparks @wips.org.


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