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Monday, September 22, 2008

When Facts DON'T Speak for Themselves

Posted By on Mon, Sep 22, 2008 at 9:22 AM

Maybe it was just yesterday's shitty performance of the Steelers offensive line, but I found myself in a foul mood when I sat down to read the Post-Gazette forum section last night. Seeing the P-G's op-ed section swallow a GOP talking point hook, line, and sinker did nothing to help my mood. 

The P-G's Sunday section includes a regular feature called "Enough Said," which offers a surprising set of statistics or a graphic that reflects "facts that speak for themselves." This week, though, it parroted a bit of GOP propaganda instead.

This week's graphic was about drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve. The graphic purported to show what a small "footprint" drilling would occupy in the 19-million-acre wilderness reserve. Supporters of oil exploration in the area, like GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, assert that drilling facilities would require only require 2,000 acres. The P-G helpfully illustrated this concept with a roughly one-and-a-half-inch circle that represents the ANWR, and a tiny pencil-point dot that supposedly represents the drilling. 

But this picture is one-sided at best, utter bullshit as worse. 

That tiny dot makes it look like all the drilling would take place on just one site. But it ain't so. Politifact, a fact-checking site operated by Congressional Quarterly, points out that "oil is not concentrated in a single area but is instead spread throughout the refuge. ... And, between those acres would have to be a network of roads and pipelines connecting them." Environmental groups note that on Alaska's North Slope, a 12,000 acre drilling site actually disrupts a space five times as large -- roughly 1,000 square miles -- when you account for airstrips, roads, and other supporting infrastructure. It's precisely because the impact of drilling is so large that it hasn't already taken place.

But it's no surprise the P-G graphic doesn't reflect any of that controversy. After all, the sources cited for it are the Heritage Foundation and the Institute for Energy Research. Heritage, of course, is a well-known conservative/libertarian think tank backed by Tribune-Review publisher Richard Mellon Scaife. As for the Institute for Energy Research, it readily admits to believing "freely-functioning energy markets provide the most efficient and effective solutions to today’s global energy and environmental challenges." And its financial backers include -- go ahead and take a wild guess -- ExxonMobil.

Yes, that's right: The "facts that speak for themselves" are actually being touted by a mouthpiece for the petroleum industry.  According to documents dug up in a Greenpeace investigation (click on page 4 for the relevant info), ExxonMobil Foundation gave IER some $65,000 in 2006 alone -- an amount consistent with previous years' five-digit gifts. 

So way to go, Post-Gazette. Amidst a hotly-contested presidential campaign where domestic oil drilling is a big issue, you just composed a slide for a GOP Powerpoint presentation.

In fairness, you made up for it with an editorial questioning the "drill baby drill" mindset today, so I'm not even going to go into how the "Enough Said" graphic was accompanied with loaded language describing the areas proposed for drilling as "otherwise barren acerage." But I will note an amusing inclusion in this week's "Cutting Edge" -- a weekly wrap-up of "new ideas" and "sharp opinions" from the blogosphere.

This week's installment discusses a blog post by local economics guru Harold Miller, who explains Pittsburgh's disproportionately low median income rates are partly skewed by the city's "far higher proportion of college students and ... seniors." Fascinating stuff, but didn't you guys notice that Miller already made that point in an op-ed you published a week ago? How "cutting edge" is a column that touts stuff its own op-ed page has published days before? If you don't want to look into the source for your graphics, OK. But don't you at least read your own op-ed section? 

Sheesh.

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