Is it “conceivable” the media could report the news correctly? No, I’m afraid it is “unlikely.”
Today, in an extended set of remarks at a town hall meeting in Nashua New Hampshire, the President once again strongly endorsed a comprehensive bill that combines energy and climate policy — and sets a price on carbon:
The concept of incentivizing clean energy so that it’s the cheaper, more effective kind of energy is one that is proven to work and is actually a market-based approach.
In fact, he went on and on extolling the virtues of putting a price on sulfur trading in the Clean Air Act:
By the way, remember acid rain? That’s how that got solved, was basically what happened — the Clean Air Act slapped a price on sulfur emissions. And what ended up happening was all these companies who were saying this was going to be a jobs killer, et cetera, they figured it out. They figured it out a lot cheaper than anybody expected. And it turns out now that our trees are okay up here in New Hampshire. That’s a good thing. So we should take a lesson from the past and not be afraid of the future.
While in his professorial mode he did opine as to how some folks on the Hill want to split out the pricing mechanism and just do the energy:
And it’s conceivable that that’s where the Senate ends up.
But since the media very much wants to declare all of Obama’s major initiatives to be dead, dead, dead, that word “conceivable” morphed into this headline from TalkingPointsMemo of all places:
and that 3:39 pm headline morphed into their 3:42 pm front-page story as
Yes, “conceivable” becomes “likely” because drop-dead certainty.
Interestingly, the URL for TPM’s main story is http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/02/obama-hints-senate-unlikely-to-adopt-pollution-limits.php — so some TPM editor apparently felt the original overhyped headline didn’t do enough overselling to interest folks zinging around the Internet looking for the most sensational thing to read.
I guess a more accurate headline like
Obama hints Senate might not adopt pollution limits
wouldn’t actually qualify as news, let alone a fully accurate headline like:
Obama restates his strong support for pricing carbon, says it’s ‘conceivable’ that might not happen
It gets better, which is to say worse.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the same remarks — claiming the president said “We may be able to separate these things out. And it’s possible that that’s where the Senate ends up,” whereas the WH transcript says “conceivable.”
In any case, the WSJ had the benefit of the inevitable clarification of the President’s slightly ambiguous remarks:
A White House spokesman downplayed the president’s comments, saying Mr. Obama still favored a bill that would combine measures to encourage jobs in green-energy fields with the establishment of a trading mechanism for emissions.
But the WSJ still ran with the headline:
Obama Retreats From Goal of Cap-Trade Bill
We saw the same morbidly over-eager over-reaction last week to some ambiguous remarks by Sen. Lindsey Graham, which he immediately corrected (see Is there going to be a bipartisan climate, energy security, clean air and clean energy jobs bill this year? and Lindsey Graham: “The idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you’re not serious about energy independence. The odd thing is you’ll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you’ll never clean up the air until you price carbon”).
It may well be that the conventional wisdom is correct about the chances for getting a comprehensive bill that prices carbon and cuts pollution. Indeed, such media stories have a way of become self-fulfilling. But there is no excuse for this kind of headline writing.
Here are the President’s full remarks. I think you’ll agree that they are pretty much a lengthy endorsement of pricing carbon:
Well, let me respond by talking more broadly about energy. First of all, those are such good ideas I’ve already adopted them, although I didn’t know they came from you. (Laughter.)
Number one, we have to invest in innovation and new technologies. There’s no doubt about it. And by the way, we’ve got to upgrade some old technologies. I know it’s controversial in some quarters, but if you’re serious about dealing with climate change then you’ve got to take a serious look at the nuclear industry. If you are serious about climate change, you’ve got to figure out is there technology that can allow us to sequester coal and the emissions that are set out.
The reason for that is not just for the United States. China is building a coal-fired plant once a week, just about –India is doing the same — because coal is cheap. And unless we can come up with some energy alternatives that allow us to franchise that technology so that they are equipped to burn that coal cleanly, we’re going to have problems no matter what we do in this country when it comes to the environment. So technology is key. And, by the way, we can make significant profits and create huge jobs just upgrading traditional technologies. Then you’ve got the whole clean energy sector, which is ready to take off if we provide the kind of seed capital, the kind of R&D credits that are necessary.
This past recession almost killed a lot of our homegrown clean energy sectors. And the industry will tell you. You talk to the wind industry or the solar industry, if we hadn’t passed the Recovery Act and all the support for clean energy, a lot of them would have completely gone under and we would have been ceding leadership as we already have, unfortunately, to a lot of countries like Spain and Germany and Japan that are doing a lot more work on it. So this is a huge engine for job creation, and we’ve got to make those investments.
The third thing you said, energy efficiency. We are one of the least efficient advanced economies when it comes to energy usage. And it’s estimated that we could probably lop off 30 percent of our energy consumption just on efficiency without changing our lifestyles significantly. I say “significantly” because you’d have to start buying LED batteries or LED light bulbs. But it’s still a light bulb. You don’t have to sit in the dark. You don’t have to use gas lanterns. You just have to make the investment. And one of the things that a company like ARC Energy is doing is trying to bring down the unit cost for each of those light bulbs.
A school building like this, guarantee you that we could make this school probably 10-15-20 percent more energy efficient. But the problem is school budgets a lot of times don’t have the money to put the capital up front to make it more energy efficient. So are there ways we can help universities and schools and other institutions — more efficient? We could retrofit every building in this country that was built over the last 50 years and get huge increases in energy, huge decreases in greenhouse gas emissions. But it requires some seed money. It requires some work. And that’s why part of our jobs package is actually — it’s a very simple concept: Hire people to weatherize homes that will save those homeowners’ heating bills, or cooling bills, and at the same time put people back to work and train them in things like insulation and heating systems. So there’s a lot of opportunity there.
Now, here’s the only thing I would say. The most controversial aspects of the energy debate that we’ve been having — the House passed an energy bill and people complained about, well, there’s this cap and trade thing. And you just mentioned, let’s do the fun stuff before we do the hard stuff. The only thing I would say about it is this: We may be able to separate these things out. And it’s conceivable that that’s where the Senate ends up. But the concept of incentivizing clean energy so that it’s the cheaper, more effective kind of energy is one that is proven to work and is actually a market-based approach. A lot of times, people just respond to incentives. And no matter how good the technology is, the fact of the matter is if you’re not factoring in the soot that’s being put in the atmosphere, coal is going to be cheaper for a very long time. For the average industry, the average company, we can make huge progress on solar, we can make huge progress on wind, but the unit costs — energy costs that you get from those technologies relative to coal are still going to be pretty substantial. They’re going to get better, but it might take 20-30-40 years of technology to get better.
And so the question then is: Does it make sense for us to start pricing in the fact that this thing is really bad for the environment? And if we do, then can we do it in a way that doesn’t involve some big bureaucracy in a control and command system, but just says, look, we’re just going to — there’s going to be a price to pollution. And then everybody can adapt and decide which are the — which are the best energies. And that’s — that’s, by the way, remember acid rain? That’s how that got solved, was basically what happened — the Clean Air Act slapped a price on sulfur emissions. And what ended up happening was all these companies who were saying this was going to be a jobs killer, et cetera, they figured it out. They figured it out a lot cheaper than anybody expected. And it turns out now that our trees are okay up here in New Hampshire. That’s a good thing. So we should take a lesson from the past and not be afraid of the future. (Applause.)
The desperate desire to retain readers through sensational headlines that simply don’t match up with the content of their stories — coupled with a morbid desire to declare dead all things Obama — is yet another sign of the actual, certified, attending-physician-called-it-so-get-out-of-the-ER-please death of the traditional media. Stick a friggin’ fork in it, already!
Memo to TPM: Please don’t fall prey to this old media syndrome and thereby risk becoming like the pigs at the end of Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” indistinguishable from the humans they once overthrew….