At Least They Didn’t Mention His Grandfather

Environmental groups and supporters of a larger, more intrusive regulatory state have made a vice presidential staffer, Chase Hutto, their bete noire, beating him up for questioning the wisdom and efficiency of expanded government authority over the economy. Hutto is apparently being talked about as an assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Department of Energy, alarming the usual suspects.

Seen in the abstract, it’s sort of funny that groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists are devoting so much effort to attacking a fellow who would fill a modest agency post in the waning days of a lameduck Administration. The groups went to Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post and managed to elicit a 1,260-word story (that’s really long) on A2 yesterday, “Anti-Regulation Aide to Cheney Is Up for Energy Post.” The attack is spelled out in the lead, Hutto’s appointment being “a promotion that would put one of the administration’s most ardent opponents of environmental regulation in charge of forming department policies on climate change.”

But it’s certainly not to funny to Mr. Hutto to be the target of anonymous attacks because of his political philosophy, and the story represents the kind of clear message sending to those who oppose the extremism of the environmental activists.

Anonymous attacks? Yes, despite the Post’s supposed diligence and ethical standards, its reporters are still allowed to repeat anonymous statements impugning a person’s reputation.

“He’s got an incredible amount of authority and a portfolio seemingly without end,” said a source familiar with policy discussions involving Hutto. “He’s got his fingers in everything.”

Some attribution. Is that an Administration source? Someone from the environmentalist groups who dislikes his policies? “He’s got his fingers in everything.” Why do Washington Post editors allow this kind of anonymous sourcing on what is, after all, a story about policy?

The subjective standard of sourcing appeared in Eilperin’s previous story that mentioned Hutto, the July 11 piece, “EPA Won’t Act on Emissions This Year,” which also included this very informative bit of news that Hutto’s “grandfather patented at least seven piston inventions for the Ford Motor Company.”

The article ends with the restatement of the implicit thesis from an activist who, we would guess, started this line of criticism.

Francesca Grifo — who directs the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group — said that if Hutto takes the helm of the Energy Department’s climate policy office, the impact could last well beyond Bush’s term in office.

“It’s not surprising that the Bush administration is considering a candidate who has a track record of putting politics ahead of science. Over and over again, appointments like this one have damaged the government’s ability to protect the environment and public health,” Grifo said, adding that in the coming months, Hutto could make policy decisions that the next administration would find difficult to reverse quickly.

Putting politics ahead of science? Cripes, that could be the Union of Concerned Scientists’ motto. But don’t imagine you’ll see a lengthy story in the Post about that group’s modus operandi. They’re too good of a source, someone familiar with their operations told us.

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