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"He said, she said" Reporting

Obama to announce controversial emissions limit on power plants. Coal-state lawmakers rally against power plant emissions crackdown. Fox News' prominent reporting of this major issue, unfortunately, falls short.

"The Environmental Protection Agency will ask existing plants to cut pollution by 30 percent by 2030". Major changes to power plants is a big deal, which could affect our use of power and the economy. But Fox News reports on it poorly. (In fairness, I don't think their major competitors do better.)

The first problem is visible in the headlines. Obama's attack on the free market is not objectionable only to people living in coal-states. It will hurt everyone. Fox News incorrectly treats opposition to Big Government as a special interest group issue only affecting the particular market segment under attack. (It's an "attack" because it's ultimately backed by government guns if disobeyed.)

It may be true that Coal-state lawmakers are rallying. However, plenty of other people are concerned too. By framing the issue in terms of a single biased group, Fox News discredits the opposition to Obama's expansion of government regulation.

Obama claims his policies will benefit everyone. "We don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children". He's lying and we all know it. His policies will at least be bad for the coal industry. He's trying to sacrifice some to benefit others. Fox News reinforces Obama's approach by giving the more realistic claims Obama doesn't want to personally admit to. Fox News is helping spread the idea that there is a conflict between the coal special interest group, and everyone else, and that Obama's policies could sacrifice a few to benefit the many.

Fox News fails to point out that this is not an issue of favored or disfavored groups. We aren't dealing with a special interest group. Coal accounted for 39% of US electricity production in 2013. We all need power, and coal is providing power to the country. Without coal, there would be a massive electricity shortfall and we would all suffer.

There are bigger problems with Fox News' reporting than shoddy thinking that plays into Obama's storytelling. Fox News presents the issue as a "he said, she said" debate. This treats which side you take as arbitrary (or perhaps chosen by class interest). It leaves readers confused, without knowing how to objectively evaluate the issue. Treating issues in this way always helps the people who do not have the truth on their side.

Fox News reports:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the rule will kill jobs and close power plants across the country.

The group is releasing a study that finds the rule will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
[Obama said] “As president and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”
Among the plants that have to comply will be hundreds of coal-burning plants, which has resulted in strong opposition from the energy industry, big business and congressional Democrats and Republicans, who argue Obama’s green-energy agenda is tantamount to a “War on Coal.”
Coal-state lawmakers, accusing President Obama of using a back door to impose strict emissions limits on power plants, are rallying to slam that door shut -- claiming the plan would cost jobs and jack up electric bills.
(Note again the implications that opposition to this regulation is biased by being part of the energy industry or big business.)
"We have a moral obligation to act," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, in announcing the plan Monday morning.
"We will introduce bipartisan legislation that will prevent these disastrous new rules from wreaking havoc on our economy in West Virginia," Rahall said in a statement.
On Saturday, Obama tried to bolster public support for the new rule by arguing that carbon-dioxide emissions are a national health crisis -- beyond hurting the economy and causing global warming.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, called it a "dagger in the heart of the American middle class" -- and predicted higher power costs and less reliable energy as a result.
The Obama administration claimed the changes would produce jobs, cut electricity bills and save thousands of lives thanks to cleaner air.
Can you tell what's true from these contradictory assertions? I can't. It's a mess. Fox News simply lets people claim whatever they want, and then repeats it if they're prestigious enough. Fox News should investigate the issues and provide some useful research or context to help readers understand the actual facts.

By presenting a "he said, she said" debate and implying that respected Americans take sides according to bias, Fox News is doing a disservice to the truth.

Imagine for a moment, hypothetically, that the claims on one side of this issue are largely true, and the claims on the other side are largely false. That'd be important, right? And useful writing on the topic would help readers learn about that and make intelligent judgments. And when Fox News discourages rationally considering the issues, and promotes acting on bias, then it would be betraying the side which is speaking the truth, and aiding the side which is in the wrong.

Instead, Fox News repeats assertions without investigating whether they are true. It even does this with factual assertions, which is inexcusable. And if Fox News doesn't want to take sides or do research, it could at least hint that maybe its readers should. Does Fox News have no respect for the human mind?

This is not just the fault of Fox News. Everyone quoted could have made better statements. No one is attempting to guide the public to use rational thinking methods to find the truth of this issue. No one is bringing up the key philosophical issues which allow a person to correctly work out arguments like this. In part 2, Applying Philosophy to Politics, I use philosophical methods to sort out the confusing mess of competing claims. In part 3, I discuss philosophy, progress and coal.

Elliot Temple on June 2, 2014


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