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Memo to Politico: Don’t Repeat Right-Wing Lies in Your Headline

By Joe Romm and Climate Guest Contributor on September 29, 2011 at 9:57 am

"Memo to Politico: Don’t Repeat Right-Wing Lies in Your Headline"

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EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Capitol Hill. | AP Photo

Ironic Politico Caption:  “The blogosphere has proven a fertile ground for anti-EPA rumors and accusations.”

So there is another nonsensical falsehood being pushed by the Denier Industrial Complex.  As Media Matters writes:

“EPA explained in a court brief that by phasing in greenhouse gas regulations and focusing on large sources of emissions, the agency avoids a scenario in which 230,000 new workers would be required. Somehow, the Daily Caller‘s Matthew Boyle concluded from this that “The EPA is asking taxpayers to fund up to 230,000 new government workers.” Other conservative media outlets, including Fox News, repeated Boyle’s false report.”

It is notoriously hard to debunk such lies because  the very act of repeating the lie makes it more likely people will remember it, according to much social science research, which I discuss here.  As but one example,  “when people find a claim familiar because of prior exposure but do not recall the original context or source of the claim, they tend to think that the claim is true,” according to a 2005 journal article, “How Warnings about False Claims Become Recommendations,” which concluded

Telling people that a consumer claim is false can make them misremember it as true.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to debunk lies.  But you have to be very careful about how you do it.

One thing you should obviously never do is simply repeat the lie in your headline as if it might possible be true, which is what the Politico did with this story:

Rumors of EPA’s $21B expansion sets Web ablaze

The problem with the repetition of the lie in the headline is two-fold.  First, even in a print newspaper, the majority of people probably don’t get past the headline.  On the internet, I estimate headlines are probably seen by at least 10 to 20 times as many people as read even half the story — through retweets of the headline and FaceBook likes (where FB reposts part of the headline and the opening graf or so) and content farms that just grab the headline.

Second, there isn’t even a negation.  What major media outlet puts a rumor it knows to be false in the headline?  And yes, the Politico knows the story to be false, for those who actually get to the second paragraph in this fast-surfing age:

It’s a story too good to be true for the anti-Obama and anti-regulation crowd: The hated Environmental Protection Agency is looking to spend $21 billion per year to hire an additional 230,000 people to enforce greenhouse gas regulations.

One problem: It’s not true.

Duh.

What follows is the full debunking by Media Matters:

 

No, EPA Is Not Hiring 230,000 Workers To Implement Climate Rules

EPA explained in a court brief that by phasing in greenhouse gas regulations and focusing on large sources of emissions, the agency avoids a scenario in which 230,000 new workers would be required. Somehow, the Daily Caller’s Matthew Boyle concluded from this that “The EPA is asking taxpayers to fund up to 230,000 new government workers.” Other conservative media outlets, including Fox News, repeated Boyle’s false report.

EPA Said It Avoided Scenario In Which 230,000 New Workers Would Be Necessary

May 2010 EPA Rule Narrowed Application Of Greenhouse Gas Regulations To Focus On Large Sources. In May 2010, Greenwire reported that EPA issued its “tailoring” rule to specify that greenhouse gas regulations “would cover power plants, refineries and other large industrial plants while exempting smaller sources like farms, restaurants, schools and other facilities.” Greenwire added:

The Clean Air Act’s current thresholds for regulating “conventional pollutants” like lead, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are 100 or 250 tons a year. But while those thresholds are appropriate for those pollutants, EPA says, they are not feasible for greenhouse gases, which are emitted in much larger quantities.

Without the tailoring rule, EPA air chief Gina McCarthy said today, about 6 million facilities could need permits when EPA’s greenhouse gas standards for automobiles kick in next January, making greenhouse gases officially “subject to regulation” under the Clean Air Act.

[...]

No sources that emit less than 50,000 tons per year will be subject to permitting requirements until at least April 30, 2016, according to the rule. [Greenwire, 5/13/10]

EPA Issued “Tailoring Rule” To Avoid Having To Hire 230,000 New Workers. Conservative media are distorting a September 16 court filing, which explains why EPA issued the “tailoring rule” in May 2010 and asks the court to throw out an industry challenge to the rule. EPA stated in the brief that in the absence of the “tailoring rule,”

Sources needing operating permits would jump from 14,700 to 6.1 million as a result of application of Title V to greenhouse gases, a 400-fold increase. … Hiring the 230,000 full-time employees necessary to produce the 1.4 billion work hours required to address the actual increase in permitting functions would result in an increase in the Title V administration costs of $21 billion per year.

Based on this analysis, EPA found that applying the literal statutory thresholds (100/250 tpy [tons per year]) on January 2, 2011, would ‘overwhelm[] the resources of permitting authorities and severely impair[] the functioning of the programs …’ After considerable study and receipt of public comment, EPA determined that by phasing in the statutory thresholds, it could almost immediately achieve most of the emission benefits that would result from strict adherence to the literal 100/250 tpy threshold while avoiding the permit gridlock that unquestionably would result from the immediate application of that threshold. This phase-in process would also allow EPA time to develop streamlining measures that could eventually ease administration at the statutory thresholds. Thus, EPA promulgated the Tailoring Rule to ‘phase[] in the applicability of these programs to GHG sources, starting with the largest GHG emitters.’” [EPA brief, 9/16/11]

EPA Currently Employs 17,000 People. The fact that EPA does not plan to hire 230,000 employees at a cost of $21 billion per year should be obvious considering that the entire agency employs around 17,000 people and its fiscal year 2011 budget is only $8.7 billion. [Environmental Protection Agency, accessed 9/27/11]

Industry Groups Are Challenging The Tailoring Rule. A January 5 National Journal report explains why industry groups are challenging the “tailoring” rule even though the rule serves to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses:

Seventeen states and dozens of industry and fossil-fuel groups have filed suit attacking EPA’s legal authority to regulate carbon pollution. It’s a tough case to make, however: Legal experts say that the agency is on firm ground, citing a 2007 Supreme Court ruling ordering the environmental agency to determine whether global-warming emissions pose a danger to human health. EPA’s 2009 decision that they do based on a solid and growing foundation of peer-reviewed science triggered a requirement that the agency regulate the pollutant under the 40-year-old Clean Air Act.

“The legal challenges are quite weak,” said David Doniger, climate-policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several environmental groups that are fighting in court to uphold the rules. “They are a lot of work for the Justice Department and for me and my lawyer colleagues. But I’m not losing any sleep worrying that we’re going to lose the court cases. The court cases are just fashion accessories to dress up the political argument. You can’t go to Congress and ask them to shoulder the burden of legislating unless you’ve already done what you can legally.”

Privately, some industry groups concede that this is true and that they don’t expect to win a legal fight that would require the overturning of a Supreme Court decision. So instead, industry lawyers are homing in on a narrow part of the EPA ruling, which, if overturned, could put the administration in an impossible position. The problem with regulating carbon dioxide is that, unlike most pollutants, CO2 is ubiquitous: An estimated 6 million stationary sources, from enormous coal-fired power plants to schools, homes, churches, and farms, emit it. To avoid the specter of all that new government regulation, EPA issued a “tailoring” rule that would limit its regulation to the 15,000 biggest industrial polluters giant power plants, oil refineries, and factories.

But if industry lawyers, who will likely give oral arguments in late spring or early fall, succeed in legally undoing that tailoring rule, it will force EPA back into the politically and practically untenable position of regulating all those millions of entities, a scenario that lends itself perfectly to Republican attack ads against an overreaching, over-regulating federal government. [National Journal, 1/6/11, via Nexis, emphasis added]

Led By Daily Caller, Conservative Media Claim EPA Plans To Hire 230,000 Workers

Daily Caller Completely Misreads EPA Court Filing. Citing EPA’s September 16 court brief, Matthew Boyle of the Daily Caller falsely reported that “The EPA is asking taxpayers to fund up to 230,000 new government workers to process all the extra paperwork, at an estimated cost of $21 billion.” Getting EPA’s argument backwards, Boyle claimed that “If the EPA wins its court battle and fully rolls out the greenhouse gas regulations, the number of businesses forced into this regulatory regime would grow tremendously — from approximately 14,000 now to as many as 6.1 million.” [Daily Caller, 9/26/11]

Fox Nation: “EPA: Regulations Would Require 230,000 New Employees.” Fox Nation promoted the Daily Caller post with the following headline:

Fox Nation headline: EPA: Regulations Would Require 230,000 New Employees[Fox Nation, 9/26/11]

Hot Air Quotes Daily Caller Post. A Hot Air post stated:

The president has found a way to add jobs, after all — 230,000 of ‘em, all within the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s the number of new bureaucrats the federal government will need to hire to implement new proposed greenhouse gas regulations, according to a report by The Daily Caller: [Hot Air, 9/26/11]

National Review Online: “Obamanomics: 230,000 New Bureaucrats for the EPA.” A National Review Online post quoted from the Daily Caller article, which NRO said came “Via Sen. Inhofe’s office.” [National Review Online, 9/26/11]

Fox News: EPA Is “Now Going To Hire 230,000 New Employees.” From the September 27 edition of Fox & Friends:

GRETCHEN CARLSON: And now, you’re looking at the EPA and guess what? They’re actually hiring, well some people argue that they’re destroying jobs in the private sector. They’re now going to hire 230,000 new employees to keep up with all the paperwork from all of these additional and new regulations.

BRIAN KILMEADE: So they kind of admit that it’s so overwhelming that we’re not equipped to enforce our own rules? Here’s an excerpt from the EPA brief. To read that is voice-over specialist Steve Doocy.

STEVE DOOCY: Thank you very much, Mr. Kilmeade. “While EPA acknowledges that come 2016, the administrative burdens may still be so great, the compliance may still be absurd or impossible to administer at the time.” And what they’re talking about is how the EPA wants to somehow go ahead and regulate greenhouse gases. So to do that, they’re going to have to hire 230,000 more employees at a cost of $21 billion. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/27/11]

The excerpt that Doocy read and that Fox aired on-screen isn’t even a full sentence:

Fox EPA excerpt

  • The placement of the ellipsis is the same in the Daily Caller article. The EPA brief actually stated: “While EPA acknowledges that come 2016, the administrative burdens may be so great that compliance at the 100/250 tpy level may still be absurd or impossible to administer at that time, that does not mean that the Agency is not moving toward the statutory thresholds.” This statement underscores the burden of implementing greenhouse gas regulations without the “tailoring” rule, which allows EPA to phase in compliance, starting at the 75,000-100,000 tpy level. [EPA brief, 9/16/11, emphasis added]

— J.K.F. & Z.P. for Media Matters

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3 Responses to Memo to Politico: Don’t Repeat Right-Wing Lies in Your Headline

  1. Joan Savage says:

    So important!

    It takes far more work to correct than to get it right the first time.

    An insight from someone in military communications comes to mind. In giving commands to soldiers in the din of battle, and not assuming high IQ either, the command has to always be expressed in the positive.
    E.g. “Stay put” is a lot clearer than “Don’t go over the hill,” particularly when listeners might only hear, “.. go over the hill.”

    In this case, the “avoid” got ignored like the word “don’t.”

    Had the statement said, “By focusing on large sources of emissions, the EPA keeps its own regulatory workforce requirements small,” that is harder for media to misunderstand.

  2. W Scott Lincoln says:

    When you have an agenda, it’s always easier to jump to what you think you hear than to what something actual says when you read it.

  3. Lisa Hymas says:

    As if all this weren’t bad enough, the headline also lacks subject-verb agreement: “Rumors … sets Web ablaze”