The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

March 26, 2014

Geoff Caldwell, columnist: To serve narrative instead of man

JOPLIN, Mo. — “You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Twilight Zone.”

— Rod Serling, season two opening narrative for “The Twilight Zone”

Imagine now the line between newsroom reporting and opinion replaced by a journalistic journey not into the truth, but rather that wondrous land where reporters’ boundaries are limited only by their imagination and devotion to cause.

Now imagine a newspaper flag as that signpost up ahead and you’ve just entered the latest “Twilight Zone” episode of “not quite so truthful, but it advances the narrative” reporting from one of this nation’s once most trusted newspapers, The Washington Post.

At 11:59 a.m. last Thursday, a story went up on the Post’s Wonkblog section devoted to economic and domestic policy with the headline: “The biggest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers.”

If you’re in the oil business, the headline elicits an “OK, so what?”

But if you’re in the business of demonizing the oil business — and Charles and David Koch specifically — the headline elicits a “See, I told you! Those Koch brothers were up to no good. I told you Keystone was all about those greedy SOBs making billions while destroying the planet.”

All fine and good until you realize that the headline tops a story that relies more on Twilight Zone imagination than it does old-fashioned factual reporting. (The story’s main claim is based upon one chart by the far-left environmental group International Forum on Globalization.)

Within hours of the story’s posting, Minnesota attorney John Hinderaker posted on “Powerline” an evisceration of the Post story. Jonathan Adler, writing on “The Volokh Conspiracy,” a Washington Post blog, noted that the two reporters, Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, backed off the central claim of their initial post.

Hinderaker asks, “Why is the Post indulging the left-wing fantasy that the Keystone Pipeline is all about Koch?” and then offers a partial answer with “Who is Post reporter Juliet Eilperin? Among other things, she is married to Andrew Light, who writes on climate policy for the Center for American Progress. The Center for American Progress is an Obama administration front group headed by John Podesta, who is a ‘special advisor’ to the Obama administration. CAP’s website, ‘Think Progress,’ has carried out a years-long vendetta against the Koch brothers that has focused largely on the environment.”

That conflict of interest aside, Mufson and Eilperin reveal an even larger problem in their reply to Hinderaker:

“The ‘Powerline’ article itself, and its tone, is strong evidence that issues surrounding the Koch brothers’ political and business interests will stir and inflame public debate in this election year. That’s why we wrote the piece.”

Two news reporters for an iconic newspaper justify their misleading work because it will “stir and inflame.” And to make matters worse, I have seen no statement from the Post disavowing such an attitude.

It’s hard to believe that the paper that brought down a presidency now defines news reporting as stirring and inflaming, but that’s what’s posted.

Forget the facts, forget the objectivity, forget the “news is news” and “opinion belongs on the editorial page” rules.

Geoff Caldwell writes on national and international affairs. He lives in Joplin. Contact him at gc@caldwellscorner.com.

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