NYTimes Editorial: Journalistically Compromised?

The NYTimes published an editorial on Sunday April 3 2011, urging the rejection of a pipeline from Canada and the Northern US States to the US Midwest and Gulf Coast. Of all things,  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have the final say on this pipeline approval because the pipeline crosses the border between the US and Canada. Given the US dependence on shaky foreign oil providers in the Mideast and Venezuela  plus the chance to move fast growing North Dakota oil [20-25% of the lines usage] to refining capacity and markets, the first blush is “hunh???”


There has been significant push back from Canadian business and press. This is to be expected because 75% of the oil will come from Canadian Tar Sands and  Canada’s Trans Canada Pipeline is the lead vendor. The Financial Post article is typical:

The rapid response of both TransCanada Corp. and the oil industry to Sunday’s hatchet-job editorial in The New York Times — which strongly opposed approval of TransCanada Corp.’s 3,200-kilometre Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf coast — is good to see. The editorial read as if dictated by the line’s radical environmentalist opponents, who have a long history of being economical with the truth.

The thrust of Peter Fosters’ arguments in the Financial Post is that the NYTimes is dredging up old, environmentally red-herring arguments. Unfortunately, Peter betrays an anti-environment mentality on Global Warming that a)is only marginally applicable in this case and b)puts Peter on very thin ice especially across all of Northern Canada.

This is a classic test of policymaking coverage.
Ye Editor has been arguing for the past 2 years that there are so many wicked problems confronting policy makers throughout the World and so little time to get to “good” solutions, the press owes double allegiance to high journalistic standards in order to help the public and policymakers get right the  key issues and options on some very complex problem and policy choices. Unfortunately the NYTimes falls  notably  short in this case – and just to prove that its not beyond reproach – so does the Financial Post. This is regrettable, because the NYTimes has been doing a series of excellent Room for Debate articles looking at a variety of policy positions on ongoing issues. Clearly this “opinion” piece had all the “winning characteristics” of a Fox News/Opinion.

The NYTimes fell short on 4 major criteria that even Wikipedia would not allow. First as is the NYTimes practice on Editorials, no lead writer is cited – just the Editors. Who was lead writer  and what consensus was reached among the editors is clearly missing. This has the shadowy character of the much maligned financial derivatives markets. Second, there are no references or web links to any of the assertions being made. Very weak indeed but just to prove that it could do as badly, none were provided in the Financial Post article either. This is sloppy and intolerable where fact based argumentation and ready reader confirmation of arguments  is  so vital to policy debates.

Third,  there was great omissions on the current situation. For example, Canadian Tar Sands Oil  makes up already 20% of US oil supplies – is the NYTimes getting belated second thoughts on the environmental purity of that oil?  Likewise in a US economy looking for infrastructure projects – no mention is made of the tens of billions of $ spending  and tens of thousands of jobs the  pipeline would create. In short, the NYTimes Editors chose only to array the Cons and none of the Pros. But credit the Financial Post with equally spurious omissions. There is no attempt to address the Bitumen transmission  problems [which maybe the key to the whole dispute]. Also notably missing, the NYTimes asserts there is no need or markets for this oil – but again does not provide any set of links confirming that argument. Fourth and finally, the NYTimes article failed to provide a  summary with ranked costs benefit trade-offs, one has to take  their conclusions on Faith in the NYTimes” Fit To Print” standard.

At a  time when the NYTimes is seeking to charge its Web readers for access to the articles and opinions, the publication appears notably cavalier in its own Editorial Opinions. This is journalistic compromise  one might expect of Fox News – but hardly the NYTimes. Is the Editorial board exempt from the same journalistic standards imposed on its staffers in general?  Is this the invidious definition of “the liberal viewpoint” – not subject to the same constraints as ordinary writers and journalists in general? For example, see all the links and references in this Frank Rich article in the NYTimes versus  none in the Editorial Opinion pieces.  Thus, when the country desperately needs good analysis and debate divorced from partisanship and information manipulation, is the Editorial Board at the NYTimes doing the nation any favors here?

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