]]]]]]]]     Journalists and Others for Saving the Planet    [[[[[
                         By David Brooks,             (10/27/1989)
                      WSJ editorial writer
    [From The Wall Street Journal, 5 October 1989, p. A28:3]

            [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   At  a  recent   environmental  conference,  Charles  Alexander
declared, ``As  the science editor  at Time I  would freely admit
that  on  this  issue  we have  crossed  the  boundary  from news
reporting  to advocacy.''   After a  round  of applause  from the
gathered  journalists  and scientists,  NBC  correspondent Andrea
Mitchell told the audience that  ``clearly the networks have made
that decision now, where you'd have to call it advocacy.''
   At that point  Washington Post editor  Benjamin Bradlee chimed
in, saying ``I don't  think there's any danger  in doing what you
suggest.  There's a minor danger in  saying it because as soon as
you say,  `To hell  with the news.   I'm no  longer interested in
news,  I'm  interested  in  causes,'  you've  got  a  whole kooky
constituency to  respond to,  which you can  waste a  lot of time
   Mr. Bradlee is right.  Probably  a lot of ``kooks'' believe in
objective  journalism.  But  why  shouldn't reporters  lose their
self-discipline  when  discussing  the  environment?  Practically
everybody else has.
   Somehow the idea has gotten  around that the environment isn't
a normal  political issue, but  a quasi-religious  crusade.  As a
result, public  discussion of the  environment has  been about as
rigorous as one expects from a jihad.
   The shortcomings of advocacy were very much in evidence at the
recent [??-15  September] environmental  conference, sponsored by
the  Smithsonian  Institution.   Held   in  the  original  museum
buildings  that  celebrate  the  achievements  of  the Industrial
Revolution,  the  meeting  addressed   the  topic,  ``The  Global
Environment: Are We Overreacting?''  Every other time I have been
to  a conference  organized around  a  question, there  have been
speakers on both  sides.  But not this  time.  Through the entire
conference, not a single disagreement deflected the steady breeze
of alarmism.
   Perpetual apocalyptics such  as Lester Brown  and Paul Ehrlich
rattled off  their anthems of  doom (just as  Rolling Stones rock
trough the  tunes they  originated 20  years ago).   Speakers and
panels moved briskly on and off  the podium: an acid rain crisis,
a toxics crisis, a famine crisis, a population crisis. The result
was a smorgasbord of apocalypse.
   On  the  subject  of global  warming,  a  frisky environmental
policy analyst named Stephen H. Schneider presented the gloom and
doom side of  the global-warming debate.   A number of scientists
are  more  skeptical  about   global-warming,  such  as  Hugh  W.
Ellsaesser of the  Livermore National Laboratory,  Reid Bryson of
the University of Wisconsin, Richard  Lindzen of MIT, V. Ramathan
of the University of  Chicago and Andrew Solow  of the Woods Hole
Institute of Oceanography.  But they were not to be heard from.
   The  same sort  of  stage-managing prevailed  among journalist
speakers.  Barbara Pyle, who is the head of Turner Broadcasting's
International Documentary Unit, and who  lists herself in her bio
as  an  ``internationally  recognized  environmental  activist,''
appeared on  a panel.   Many reporters  do not  see the  rules of
objective journalism as  obstacles to social  progress.  But they
were not to be heard from.
   The conference  was co-chaired by  the CEOs of  ABC, NBC, CBS,
Turner Broadcasting, Time  Warner and the  Los Angeles Times, the
director of the New York Times and senior officers of other media
institutions (Dow Jones  [publishers of the  Wall Street Journal]
wasn't involved). Apparently none of these journalistic companies
insisted on diversity of opinion.
   Several of  the alarmist  presentations were  persuasive.  For
example, Susan  Solomon of  the National  Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration spoke intelligently on ozone depletion.  Edward O.
Wilson was  compelling on ``Biological  Diversity: The Extinction
Crisis.'' But enlightenment was  beside the point. The scientists
were limited to 10 minutes, enough  time to recite a few familiar
facts and  sum up  with a grandiloquent  plea for  action (if you
can't  stand   purple  prose,   don't  go   to  an  environmental
   Thomas  Lovejoy,  a  tropical  biologist  who  organized  this
conference, delivered a summary in which he eloquently encouraged
the idea that we are in a planetary crisis. ``The planet is about
to break  out with  fever, and indeed  it may  have already,'' he
said, ``and  we are  the disease.''   Mr. Lovejoy's  views are so
chic he is puffed in the current issue of GQ.
   What to do?  George Woodwell,  director of Woods Hole Research
Center, argued that  the world must  phase out the  use of fossil
fuels.  Ruth Patrick of the Academy of Natural Sciences said that
mankind must  do nothing less  than ``rethink our  way of life.''
Mr. Lovejoy suggested  that ``we should be  at war with ourselves
and with our life styles.''  The anti-growth contingent also made
its presence felt.  Mr. Ehrlich declared, ``We've already had too
much economic growth in the United States. ... Economic growth in
rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure.''
   These sorts of prescriptions made  me think I should have done
something  violent  to the  limos  that were  idling  outside the
conference dinner Friday night.   Other than that, the conference
offered no constructive prescriptions.   Not too many politicians
are going to  go before their  constituents and renounce economic
   A  number  of  the  people  in  attendance  have  in  the past
advocated  politically  realistic  environmental  proposals.  But
none  of them  rose  to challenge  the  radicals, not  even Sens.
Timothy Wirth (D.,  Colo.) and John  Heinz (R., Pa.),  who sat as
guardian lions at either end of the panels.
   Here  and elsewhere  in the  environmental  debate, a  form of
Gersham's  Law  prevails.    Apocalyptic  predictions  crowd  out
skeptical  appraisals.    Rabble-rousing  eloquence   crowds  out
measured discussion.  Politically absurd  cried for a Reformation
of Human Society intermingle with politically realistic ideas.
   The  reporters who  become advocates  seem  to think  they are
doing  the  environment a  favor,  but  it is  hard  to  see how.
Because  there  has   been  so  little   critical  scrutiny,  the
politically mainstream environmentalists  don't feel compelled to
separate  themselves from  the  Greens who  think  human progress
should have stopped in the 18th century.
   Nobody seems  to feel  compelled to  set some  priorities, and
declare that X environmental problem needs to be addressed before
Y.  Much of the political right feels spooked about environmental
issues because it perceives  all environmentalism to be corrupted
by socialist command and controllers.
   Just  when it  seems someone  is about  to get  somewhere with
intelligent environmentalism,  10 other people  mount podiums and
declare humanity a disease on the face of the earth.

[update 1/7/1990:]
      [The following is not part of the original article.]

From TIME, 18  Dec 1989, at the  end of the letters-to-the-editor

   ``We've received more than  3,400 identically worded postcards
[from subscribers to  Accuracy In Media  (AIM)] referring to this
quote in the Wall Street  Journal from TIME senior editor Charles
Alexander: ``On this issue [the  environment] we have crossed the
boundary from news reporting  to advocacy.''  The postcards said,
``Tell your readers about this.''
   ``We are happy to.  In all  our coverage we try to be balanced
and fair in  our presentation of  the facts and  in reporting the
range of differing views  on the issues posed  by the facts.  But
from  the beginning  of  TIME over  66  years ago,  we  have also
undertaken  --  and  made no  secret  of  it --  to  add  our own
judgments on subjects  that truly mattered,  from civil rights to
arms control.  We do not believe this will be news to our regular
readers.   Indeed,  because  they so  often  eloquently  agree or
disagree with us in  these columns, it may  be part of the reason
they  value  TIME.  We  hope  so, because  we  believe considered
journalistic  judgments  are  an  important  contribution  to  an
informed society.  And, yes,  our stand on the  planet is that we
support its survival.''  (TIME, 18 December 1989)

That the source of the cards are AIM's subscribers comes from AIM
Report, December-B  1989, published  by Accuracy  In Media, Inc.,
1275  K  Street,  N.W.,   Suite  1150,  Washington,  D.C.  20005.
Telephone: 202-371-6710.

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