Monday, April 4, 2011

Who creates and pays for news stories

Vancouver Sun last week published a report aimed at diluting public concern over the dangers of nuclear power. Science must bring reality to debate on nuclear-power safety was written by public relations operative Pamela Groberman, whose company serves a diverse list of corporations and institutions. Her article included this,
"Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, may seem like a strange bedfellow to advocate for nuclear energy. Agree or disagree, he is one of the few trying to bring some sense of reality to the "fissionable" debate.

" 'The situation in Fukushima has been grossly overblown,' he said in a recent interview. 'It appears that no one has died from radiation at Fukushima... This is not even close to a Chernobyl accident...'

"...Patrick Moore is the author of Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist. It is an informative read about Moore's years as an activist and about why he left Greenpeace to pursue a more science-based approach to environmentalism."
Pamela Groberman is not a professional news reporter, she is a flack planting a story for commercial reasons. Is Patrick Moore a reliable, unbiased news commentator? Is he an environmentalist? Did he bring independent perspective, professional knowledge and qualification making him a worthy source for the Vancouver Sun's story? No, because Moore is a paid spokesman of the  nuclear energy industry who trades on his youthful involvement at the beginnings of a now international organization of environmental activists. Why Moore left Greenpeace is in dispute but not disputed is that he left twenty-five years ago and since then, Greenpeace has evolved extensively. Because he regularly trades on that long gone association, Greenpeace issued a statement that begins,
"Patrick Moore often misrepresents himself in the media as an environmental “expert” or even an “environmentalist,” while offering anti-environmental opinions on a wide range of issues and taking a distinctly anti-environmental stance. He also exploits long-gone ties with Greenpeace to sell himself as a speaker and pro-corporate spokesperson, usually taking positions that Greenpeace opposes.

"While it is true that Patrick Moore was a member of Greenpeace in the 1970s, in 1986 he abruptly turned his back on the very issues he once passionately defended. He claims he "saw the light" but what Moore really saw was an opportunity for financial gain. Since then he has gone from defender of the planet to a paid representative of corporate polluters."
The Vancouver Sun presented opinions not of scientists but of paid flacks. There is no better recipe for bias and the editors failed to make appropriate disclosure. They also failed to correct the error when it was called into question. This contravenes accepted standards. In 2009, Kathy English, Public Editor of the Toronto Star examined the willingness of North American newspapers to "unpublish" articles after legitimate complaints are raised. Two-thirds of editors thought content should be pulled from websites if it is inaccurate or unfair. This was the most popular justification for unpublishing, ranking ahead of defamation, privacy, attribution and other issues. In other words, accuracy and fairness are the gold standards for newspapers. The Vancouver Sun's failure to meet the standard is despite its publisher's claimed commitment.

President and publisher of the company that published the Vancouver Sun and Province, Kevin Bent, distributed a memo to staff in 2008. It began,
"Every day approximately half a million British Columbians turn to the pages of The Vancouver Sun to be their reliable source for community, provincial, national and international news.

"It’s a reputation that has been earned over the past century of journalistic excellence and steadfast commitment to fairness, balance and accuracy. The integrity that our journalists put into their craft has been recognized numerous times at the local, provincial and national level. Their hard work has been instrumental in creating a climate of community trust."
The statement was part of an effort to justify the company's strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) taken against critics who had parodied the Sun. Of course, Bent's remarks were self serving and hypocritical because that newspaper in particular has taken the opposite path in journalism. Pamela Groberman's Sun article defending the nuclear industry is one single example of a large pool of similar items which are advertorials not identified as such. The newspaper takes a position that big business and industry can do no wrong and its news coverage constantly reflects that falsehood.

Despite valid complaints about accuracy, fairness and undisclosed bias, the Vancouver Sun declined to unpublish Groberman's discourse. It did publish a response by letter to the editor written by Stephanie Goodwin B.C. director Greenpeace. It savaged Groberman's write-up. The text:
Re: Science must bring reality to debate on nuclear-power safety, March 26

There is a noticeable omission regarding Patrick Moore's credentials whose opinion bolsters the main argument that the dangers from the Fukushima disaster are "remote."

The Toronto Star, March 25, described Moore as "the paid chairman of a coalition sponsored by the nuclear industry." This is clearly relevant to readers assessing his opinion.

Moore's assertion that: "This is not even close to a Chernobyl accident" is disputed by a just-released Greenpeace report by nuclear safety expert Dr. Helmut Hirsch showing that Japan's nuclear crisis has already released enough radioactivity to be ranked at Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the scale's highest level, and equal to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Note, Dr. Hirsch is a bona fide nuclear expert, not a spokesman for the nuclear industry.

Finally, The Vancouver Sun has this headline March 26; "Japanese officials record soaring radiation in sea water by stricken nuclear plant." (Web only.) Caution on assessing Fukushima, the Greenpeace approach, is the appropriate approach.
Caution on assessing Fukushima or any environmentally risky operation is not part of a shill's playbook. To demonstrate that shill is not too strong a word for Pamela Groberman's expert, read this from Philanthropy Daily, a journal of important issues, persons, and ideas in the non-profit world.
"Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy.org), formed in 2006, purports to be “a large national grassroots coalition of allies” which champions “minorities in nuclear energy,” “jobs,” and solutions to global warming. The Coalition’s co-chair and most public spokesperson, Patrick Moore, is presented in local and national conferences, news stories, and planted opinion pieces as either a “co-founder of Greenpeace” or an “environmentalist.” A recent Vancouver Sun article–directed at Vancouver-area “hysterical doomsayers” and written by PR consultant Pamela Groberman provides an example.

"But CASEnergy is not a nonprofit — it is the creation of the international PR firm Hill & Knowlton and the polling firm Penn Schoen & Berland. And Patrick Moore is not a nonprofit co-founder—he is a paid nuclear industry spokesperson who has spent more time working as a PR consultant to the logging, mining, and nuclear industry than he did as an environmental activist (1971-1986). His current charge is to increase public support at the very local level for nuclear plant siting and licensing.

"CASEnergy’s nonprofit cloak not only persuades the press. I recently called the contact number to inquire about the Coalition’s tax-exempt status. The receptionist told me twice during the conversation that CASEnergy was a “nonprofit.” I followed up with an e-mail and received the following formal reply:

"The CASEnergy Coalition is not an organization under the 501(c) provision and does not claim any tax-exempt status. As such, we do not file a Form 990 with the IRS. The coalition receives its funding from the Nuclear Energy Institute.

"Perhaps CASEnergy’s receptionist misled me in our initial conversation, but this was not my impression. She seemed genuine in her belief that she worked for a nonprofit organization.

"Industry has learned that when their own identity — the Nuclear Energy Institute in this case — fails to garner significant public support, they can borrow the plumes of nonprofit organizations that have often been traditional bulwarks of independent thinking and action. A beneficent-sounding name, public-interest language, and persistence with the press and local groups may indeed turn around the nuclear industry’s precarious future and bring about a nuclear 'renaissance.' "
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5 comments:

  1. Norm, good catch. The Sun routinely publishes op-eds by lobbyists without disclosing their interests contrary to generally accepted journalistic ethics.

    PS. speaking of ethics I loved your clip from the Bill Good show. It sounds like a bit from the Colbert Report, albeit unintended. Do you think Good is just a performance artist in disguise?

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  2. I only turned on radio shortly before noon to catch the news. I barely listen to the man's show but I still manage to get outraged weekly.

    It was really funny listening to the quote slowed down to transcribe, the female in particular sounded inebriated. Instead of merely printing the words, I decided it had to be done by audio clip.

    I'm expecting a lawyer's letter any time.

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  3. John Horgan made a joke the other day about how Bill Good only invites the NDP on his show every few years so he can tell them how bad they are. Good response from the debate audience to that.

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  4. Bill Good had "Dr. Moore" (as he repeatedly referred to him) on his show a few weeks back. The words "Green Peace" and "environmentalist" were used frequently, as the good doctor downplayed the dangers of nuclear energy in general and the current situation in Japan in particular.

    I'll admit I was caught up to a certain extent and began questioning whether we were all over-reacting. I do not recall at any time during that interview being informed of Dr. Moore's current affiliation with the nuclear power industry.

    A couple of days later, I caught the tail end of a speech by Dr. Helen Caldicott on CJSF. It provided a stark contrast to the remarks I had heard on NW a couple of days earlier.

    If I had known of Patrick Moore's connection to CASEnergy while listening to him, I would have called in and asked Mr. Good if he was aware that he was interviewing a paid spokesperson for the nuclear industry and, if so, why he neglected to inform his listeners of that fact.

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  5. It would surprise most of us if we knew how many guests on Bill Good's radio show are paid flacks or people selling products or ideas on behalf of themselves or their clients.

    Next Friday, ask Vaughn Palmer how much he was rewarded during 2010 in speaker fees and other rewards, apart from his payment by Postmedia. I hear most of us would be envious. In my view, the information should be freely disclosed if it involves payments by organizations interested in the shape of Palmer and Vancouver Sun's political coverage.

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