Climate

Key Source Disputes Misleading NY Times Green Jobs Story: ‘It’s Like the Facts Were Misstated … to Put Forward an Agenda’

Shortly after the New York Times released an inaccurate piece on the growth of green jobs, Van Jones expressed anger that the writer used selective quotes from an hour-long interview to satisfy the predetermined conclusion of the article.

Now, one of the other key sources, SolFocus VP of Business Development Nancy Hartsoch, is speaking out about the reporter’s selective use of facts to paint an inaccurate picture of her company’s operations.  In an exclusive interview, she tells Climate Progress:

Honestly, I’ve never been involved in a story that got this screwed up. I was so surprised to read the story. It’s like the facts were misstated in order to put forward an agenda.

The NY Times author starts the story:

Flanked by a cadre of local political leaders, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose used a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a solar power company last week to talk up the promise of the green economy.

…But SolFocus assembles its solar panels in China, and the new San Jose headquarters employs just 90 people.

Hartsoch tells Climate Progress she was “shocked” when she read the story. Why? Because the reporter left out one very important fact: Sol Focus directly employs only four people in China and hires about 30 sub-contractors for manufacturing. So its U.S. operations are far larger than anything in China.

When factoring in all the sub-contractors in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan for production of components like glass and racking, the number of American jobs the company supports rises by dozens more, says Hartsoch.

She says she told all that to the reporter, who apparently had already decided his predetermined narrative was more important than fact-based reporting.

No, the company has not yet created a massive amount of jobs. But it’s scaling up at a moderate pace in response to demand for its unique concentrating photovoltaics technology (as opposed to the much-maligned solar company Solyndra, which tried to scale too quickly). And with a product that can potentially compete with low-cost Chinese producers, it’s the type of American-based company that could actually help the country succeed in solar manufacturing.

As Hartsoch says: “It makes sense for us to do the panel assembly and build the trackers near the end-use where we’re constructing projects.” So with a market here to support project development, a lot of the jobs will actually stay in the U.S., not China.

But the writer doesn’t mention any of this. Instead, he makes an even more misleading statement about SolFocus’ manufacturing operations:

A SolFocus spokeswoman, Nancy Hartsoch, said the company was willing to pay  work at the campus on Zanker Road, although the solar panels themselves will continue being made in China. Mayor Reed said he continued to hope that San Jose would attract manufacturing and assembly jobs, but Ms. Hartsoch said that was unlikely because “taxes and labor rates” were too high to merit investment in a factory in Northern California.

According to Hartsoch, the writer conveniently left out the fact that SolFocus is looking into building an assembly facility in southern California to be closer to where projects are being deployed. Instead, the reader gets the impression that SolFocus will be shipping all its jobs over to China just because it won’t likely build a facility in northern California.

Hartsoch explains her reaction to the story:

Honestly, I’ve never been involved in a story that got this screwed up. I was so surprised to read the story. It’s like the facts were misstated in order to put forward an agenda.

Things like this have legs that don’t stop. It gets picked up everywhere and gets skewed further and further. I don’t normally say anything about stories in the press, but the piece was inaccurate enough that I had to say something.

In this particular case, the writer misleadingly left out all the important details that would have given the facts context – and therefore would have challenged the predetermined conclusion of the article that clean energy jobs are a “pipe-dream.”

Of course, as Climate Progress reported, the author also completely ignored the “explosive growth” documented by a recent Brookings study in the clean energy jobs sector – even though the article cited the study!

Sadly, as Hartsoch points on, this widely debunked story lives on, cited again and again by right wing media and columnists like David Brooks.  Such are the fruits of bad journalism.

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15 Responses to Key Source Disputes Misleading NY Times Green Jobs Story: ‘It’s Like the Facts Were Misstated … to Put Forward an Agenda’

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    This is hardly a simple case of reporter error or carelessness with the facts. We’ve seen plenty of stories like this, including only last week, when the Times reporter said that the Arctic ice “may” be receding, “possibly” caused by global warming.

    The New York Times is no longer descended from its illustrious heritage, such as its Civil War coverage, which they’ve been running again lately.

    They have certainly been wrong on plenty of issues in the past- the Gulf War comes to mind- but at least there appeared to be a certain amount of discipline in adhering to the facts.

    This time, they faced a quandary: there is no factual or even ecoonomic justification for perpetuating the fossil fuel economy. Its proponents are, essentially, touts, willing to lie about anything whatsoever. The Times has thrown in with them, and the finger points at the Sulzbergers, since Keller is gone and they’ve gotten even worse.

    By cuddling up to the cash, the Times has disgraced itself, the newspaper industry, and our once great country. Throwing a bone to the evidence in an editorial should not be permitted to provide them cover. They have failed, and deserve to go broke. It’s time that that paper is replaced by an organization that only hires reporters with integrity. They can start by stealing Krugman and Blow.

  2. Jeffrey Davis says:

    As I said elsewhere, Brooks is a clown. And, too often to be ignored, a pernicious one.

  3. Mike says:

    Hate to nitpick here, but this story was not written by a Times reporter. It was run by the Times but written by someone with Bay Citizen, which partners with the Times on SF Bay Area coverage. But apart from that I have no idea how closely they coordinate on these type of stories, or how closely the Times vets their pieces. That said, ultimately it’s the Times’ responsibility to make sure anything they publish is correct.

  4. Joan Savage says:

    The piece that the New York Times captioned as “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises” is by Aaron Glantz and was originally published by The Bay Citizen (San Francisco, CA), then republished by the New York Times. Lately the NYT has done a lot of republishing, including materials that have met with more favor. Clearly this example exposes the NYTs lack of an editor’s double checking research, or alternately its failure to put some caveat at the top of an externally-authored piece.
    The Bay Citizen’s original caption was “Green Jobs Predictions Proving a Pipe Dream /Clean tech isn’t turning out to be the economic engine politicians promised”
    Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/134bX)
    To me, the original caption and the intro sentence look like it was targeting local politicians. Solfocus got “used” in the process.
    This is a great reminder of several adages; it’s a small world, don’t make stuff up, and what goes around comes around.

  5. Robert Nagle says:

    Semi-related: the lead article on the American CNN.com site is this: http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/07/news/economy/oil_jobs/index.htm?iid=Lead&hpt=hp_t1 It really is shocking that MSM publishes this schlock without careful fact-checking….

  6. Michael Tucker says:

    Is this an example of bad journalism or is this a perfect example of the ongoing conservative propaganda machine? So the green economy does not really create jobs and if they do happen to create the odd employment opportunity that job would not be in the US…I think the journalist did a good job of purposeful lying to support the conservative anti-green job agenda. I am amazed that after all these years conservative business-as-usual still elicits shock.

  7. SecularAnimist says:

    SolFocus should sue the New York Times and/or the author of the article for knowingly publishing false statements that are damaging to the company’s reputation.

  8. catman306 says:

    I’ve never thought much of David Brooks’ opinions, whether spoken or written, and thought that maybe he’d be more qualified to sell cameras and electronics downstairs on 42nd Street.

  9. dick smith says:

    The response I got after complaining to the public editor at the NYT (when the story frist ran) was a copy of the author’s response prefaced with the NYT public editor’s comment indicating that the NYT was entirely satisfied with the author’s defense of his story.

  10. Mark Shapiro says:

    My current working hypothesis is that the NYT has knuckled under to the pressure. The fossil fuel PR flacks have plenty of “facts” to make a reporter’s job easier, and those advertising dollars sure come in handy.

    After all, it is a nice little paper they have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.

  11. Ken says:

    I got the same self satisfied response. I read Glantz’s “clarifications” carefully and it led me to see that Glantz determinantly was addressing political failure oblivious to the reality of developing commercial success; his evidence was mashalled in support of the theme. But this is a common approach in the NY Times since reports of policy failure sells many more newspapers than evidence of success.

  12. Dan Borroff says:

    At the same time The Bay Citizen was publishing its piece the Seattle PI published a piece with a nearly identical headline and smear of Seattle’s green push:
    Seattle’s ‘Green Jobs’ Program a Bust
    By VANESSA HO, SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF
    Published 10:07 p.m., Monday, August 15, 2011

    Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Seattle-s-green-jobs-program-a-bust-2031902.php#ixzz1XIUEnfCW

    This is no coincidence. Who’s behind this campaign to smear a vital emerging economic sector?

  13. Mark Shapiro says:

    I don’t know who’s behind the campaign to smear green energy, I only know that the coal oil and gas companies have the means, motive, and opportunity to do so (as a lawyer might say).

  14. Shirley Siluk says:

    Ugh, and just to show that Hartsoch was right when she said, “Things like this have legs that don’t stop. It gets picked up everywhere and gets skewed further and further” — the Sarasota Herald-Tribune did a roundup feature this week titled, “Green Economy Withers,” citing … wait for it … Glantz’s story and the Investor’s Business Daily report, among others, as “evidence”:

    http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20110907/ARCHIVES/109071012/-1/todayspaper?Title=Green-Economy-withers&tc=ar

  15. If anyone associated with gas, coal or oil is, in fact, attempting to undermine green energy, then clearly these are stupid and incompetent business people.

    If they had any business sense, they would be scrambling to invest in developing and deploying this technology to assure the longevity and profitability of their corporations.

    Basic question: which energy source enables longer term profits? Terrestrial oil reserves lasting, maybe, 50 years? Or solar energy from the sun lasting, say, 4 billion years? duh…