Coverage of Political ‘Field Briefing’ in L.A. — Boo

By January 11, 2008Global Warming

We wondered (in this post) whether the media covering yesterday’s Los Angeles “field briefing” by Chairman Senator Barbara Boxer of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee would buy into the media stunts, the over-the-top rhetoric and ridiculous one-sidedness of the affair.

We cannot speak to “the media,” but as far as the Los Angeles Times coverage goes, the answer is yes, sadly, they did, pretty much.

Senator Boxer successfully pushed the storyline that the EPA was obstructionist, hyping the agency failure to respond (inability) to her Dec. 20th request for documents by the Jan. 7th briefing.

Los Angeles Times, “U.S. denial of California emissions waiver criticized“:

Congressional critics launched an offensive against the Bush administration Thursday for denying California and other states the right to adopt strict curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she would consider issuing a subpoena for documents that might show White House interference in the Dec. 19 decision to deny California a waiver to enact its own rules under the Clean Air Act.

“This outrageous decision . . . is completely contrary to the law and science,” Boxer said in a briefing with state officials at Los Angeles City Hall. She held up an empty cardboard box as a symbol of the Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal so far to provide the hefty technical and legal backup that normally accompanies air pollution waiver decisions and are usually published in the Federal Register.

First of all, the Senator did not just request background materials that usually appear in the Federal Register. Read her December 20th letter to the EPA; she demanded thousands of records involving the waiver request, targeting communications between the White House (the vice president, the Office of Environmental Quality, the Office of Management and Budget, etc.) and the EPA. It’s what’s known in the business as a “fishing expedition.”

Also, the EPA did not refuse her request. Here’s part of the letter in response from Christopher Bliley, associate administrator of the EPA:

Your request is a top priority for the Agency and we are working hard to respond as quickly as possibly.

Bliley then outlines the extraordinary steps the agency is taking to respond to Boxer’s request expeditiously.

Boxer’s request was sent December 20th. She demanded the documents by January 7th. Fulfilling her demand would take hundreds of staff hours, right during the middle of the holiday break: Cancel your vacations, friends. Kids, Santa just couldn’t make it this year. Senator Boxer sent a letter.

Of course, making the request impossible to comply with in time for the hearing in California was the whole point. It’s what we call a “set-up.”

Trouble with the L.A. Times story — and we’ll look at some others during the day — is that the reporter covered the event as spot news: Transcribing a bunch of talking, lots of outlandish claims, table thumping, etc. without bothering to look into the substance of the claims. The Times didn’t even include the usual one paragraph statement from an EPA spokesman or outside expert providing any balance. One-sided. Misleading by omission. It’s the kind of reporting we call “lazy.”

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