On the Beat

Celebrity assassination

Cake enough mud on the messenger and no one will be able to make out the message. That's long been a strategy favored by those who wish to deny the extent of human responsibility for global warming, species extinction, and the many other varieties of environmental degradation. Ad hominem attacks of hypocrisy, insanity, and delusion have all been leveled at popular figures who to one degree or another have used their celebrity to try to promote environmental causes.

The archetypical example, of course, is Al Gore, who has been pilloried time and again by voices on the right as well as in more mainstream media outlets for his supposed failure to live a green lifestyle. This blog has already addressed a few of the many weaknesses in this kind of reporting, but it comes down to this basic point: Pointing out Gore's carbon footprint or Leonardo DiCaprio's heating bill does nothing to refute their arguments. In fact, that kind of reporting only makes it harder to determine how bad the problem is and what can be done to help.

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Who's afraid of ELF?

Novelists, directors, playwrights, and journalists know that nothing spices up a story like a good villain. But only one of those groups is professionally prohibited from creating their evildoers out of thin air.

Yet that's exactly what some reports on the destruction this week of three luxury homes outside Seattle are doing, jumping to conclusions in order to give the story a boogeyman that simply isn't there.

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Connecting cocaine and the environment

Eco journalism is a unique beat with its own challenges and approaches, but it doesn't always have to exist separate from the rest of the day's news in "environment" sections visited only by committed activists.

The green beat will naturally tend to ooze out into all sorts of areas, because to a greater or lesser extent, the environment affects everything in it. It's generally good that reporters and editors encourage that sort of subject sprawl because it can help make otherwise abstract concerns more real to readers and open up new insight on otherwise tired topics. Even stories that appear unrelated at first – this year's Olympic Games in Beijing, for instance – can turn out to have a green angle to them.

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Rethinking the great green hope

The honeymoon is officially over for biofuels, once hailed in some quarters as among the most promising of alternative energy sources. Sure, observers have been raising questions about their greenness for some time, but on balance, the mainstream press coverage has been as glowing as that given to new rock bands and presidential pets. Lately, though, journalists seem to have wholly rethought these plant and animal-derived fuels.

Last month, the London Times reported on a finding by the British Royal Society that such alternative energy sources could actually cause more ecological damage than they prevented if not created and used properly. Likewise, reporters and scientists have begun sounding the alarm about the effect that biofuel crops will have on deforestation and the world's food supply. "We're rushing into biofuels, and we need to be very careful," an economist told the Los Angeles Times in an article entitled "Biofuel crops increase carbon emissions." On NPR this month, scientists debated whether biofuels were helpful or harmful to the environment.

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Death! Dismemberment! Exclusive footage of Japan's shocking whale hunt!

This week the Australian government released video of Japanese whalers harpooning an adult minke whale and its calf in the Antarctic Ocean as part of the country's annual whaling operation, which it has always insisted is for legitimate scientific purposes. That aside, the footage isn't something you'd want to watch before getting sushi: It includes images of a whale bleeding to death as it struggles against a taut harpoon cable and the bodies of the mother and calf being dragged by their tails aboard the whaling vessel.


The story played big in the local media, particularly the (Sydney) Daily Telegraph, which in a fit of old-fashioned public crusading was already in the midst of organizing a 100,000-people-strong campaign against the whaling fleet. The paper posted the footage to its website, complete with bloody photographs and prose that made little claim to journalistic objectivity ("Scientists say this baby minke looks to be at suckling age—an easy target for a cowardly harpoonist").

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Issue 25

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