Elliptic articles leave us in dark:

Incomplete stories obscure more than they reveal, doing disservice to readers seeking bigger picture

June 16, 2002, Rocky Mountain News

by David Kopel

Ever read an article where the writer doesn't tell you what the story's about?

Consider the June 5 Associated Press article the News and the Post used to report primary results in seven states. The article said Alabama Democratic incumbent Rep. Earl Hilliard "was ahead of an aggressive primary opponent in a race improbably tinged by Mideast politics." But the article, as it appeared, didn't say how Mideast politics affected the race.

Hilliard is one of the leading congressional opponents of U.S. support for Israel, a position with which Hilliard's challenger strongly disagreed. During the primary, somebody put out a flier (which Hilliard disavowed) urging black Democrats to vote for Hilliard because Hilliard's challenger is supported by Jews. Hilliard led in the first round of the primary by 3 percent and faces a run-off on June 25 -- which suggests that his heavily black district is closely divided on the Israel issue -- a fact that one couldn't glean from the elliptic report.

Another article that revealed less than it obscured was the June 1 Associated Press report in the News on the previous day's events in Israel. Reporter Mohammed Daraghmeh wrote: "Just a few miles from Nablus, a Palestinian gunman was shot to death after infiltrating a Jewish settlement."

This was an amazingly antiseptic description of a very dramatic incident, as reported by the left-wing Israeli daily Ha'aretz (www.haaretzdaily.com ). On the morning of May 31, a man entered a kindergarten where classes were just beginning and opened fire with a machine gun and began throwing grenades. The man then began shooting through the open windows of neighborhood houses. A nearby grocery store owner grabbed a rifle and wounded the attacker twice. The killer hid, but the grocer pursued him and shot him dead.

Daraghmeh's version left out the attack on the schoolchildren and homes, the use of grenades and grocer's heroism. Just as the AP refuses to call Palestinian terrorists "terrorists," Daraghmeh describes the man who tried to murder kindergarteners with machine guns and grenades as an "infiltrator." The Denver media, of course, would never describe the Columbine murderers as "infiltrators."

The News should stop relying on its Mideast coverage from sources that hide the real story about homicidal attacks on schoolchildren.

Another story with the main facts pointedly omitted was the June 6 Scripps Howard News Service story by Joan Lowy about the Environmental Protection Agency's recent report claiming that global warming is real and is caused by human activity. According to Lowy, the Competitive Enterprise Institute "is circulating a letter criticizing the document." Although Lowy then wrote at length about how unhappy conservatives and industry are with the report, nowhere did she let readers know the substance of the letter's criticism.

In fact, CEI complains in the letter and in other filings that the EPA report used a "national assessment" prepared by the Clinton administration, which CEI contends is illegal because it violates the Federal Data Quality Act. For example, the assessment relies on demonstrably flawed computer models and ignores an explicit congressional directive to conduct proper regional climate analysis.

Last summer, in order to settle a lawsuit brought by three congressmen, the Bush administration promised to make no further use of the "national assessment." The EPA report violates that promise, CEI claims. (Disclosure: In 1998, CEI published a monograph I wrote about the Superfund statute.)

Global warming also was badly covered in a Washington Post article that the Denver Post reprinted on May 31. The article reported that the Inuit people of western Canada are seeing signs of local climate change -- such as the appearance of a robin. The Post pointed to government reports that western Arctic Canada has gotten about 2 1/2 degrees warmer in the last 30 years. Briefly, however, the story also acknowledged government data suggesting that the eastern Arctic has gotten cooler over the same period.

The Post then explained why global warming fears are supported both by evidence of warming and by evidence of cooling: "Global warming doesn't mean all areas will warm," said Tom Agnew, a senior meteorologist with the Meteorological Service of Canada. "Some will warm and some will cool a bit."

By relying on this sole expert, the Post made global warming irrefutable by any climate data, since temperature change in either direction proves global warming.

The story continued: "Some scientists predict a rise in sea levels leading to devastating floods, thinning ice and perhaps even an ice-free Arctic within 50 years." The Post didn't say who these scientists are, nor did it provide a balancing viewpoint from the many other scientists who consider these predictions implausible.

A balanced article would have provided a contrasting viewpoint from experts such as Ben Bloch and Harold Lyons, whose book Apocalypse Not: Science, Economics and Environmentalism argues that many environmental disaster predictions are nonsense.

Thanks to the Washington Post monitoring Web log (PostWatch.blogspot.com) for catching this story first.

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