Tea Party derails green projects, calling them U.N. plots, and exposes NYT journalism failings in the process

Remember how, a few weeks ago, the Public Editor of the New York Times, Arthur Brisbane, wrote a column inexplicably asking if it should be the job of journalists to be “truth vigilantes,” as though there were other legitimate options to be weighed in this highly-politicized, post-reality world in which we find ourselves today? Well, I just stumbled across a good example of this kind of… let’s not question the absurdities of the right, as, god-forbid, we might be perceived as being less than “fair and balanced”… pseudo-journalism in the paper, and thought that I’d pass it along. Here’s a clip from the New York Times article in question, which is on the subject of tea party “activists”, and their fight against green projects, which they perceive as U.N. plots, followed by a rather level-headed assessment from an individuals on Metafilter calling himself gompa. Here’s some of what the New York Times had to say.

…In Maine, the Tea Party-backed Republican governor canceled a project to ease congestion along the Route 1 corridor after protesters complained it was part of the United Nations plot. Similar opposition helped doom a high-speed train line in Florida. And more than a dozen cities, towns and counties, under new pressure, have cut off financing for a program that offers expertise on how to measure and cut carbon emissions.

“It sounds a little on the weird side, but we’ve found we ignore it at our own peril,” said George Homewood, a vice president of the American Planning Association’s chapter in Virginia.

The protests date to 1992 when the United Nations passed a sweeping, but nonbinding, 100-plus-page resolution called Agenda 21 that was designed to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas. They have gained momentum in the past two years because of the emergence of the Tea Party movement, harnessing its suspicion about government power and belief that man-made global warming is a hoax.

In January, the Republican Party adopted its own resolution against what it called “the destructive and insidious nature” of Agenda 21. And Newt Gingrich took aim at it during a Republican debate in November.

Tom DeWeese, the founder of the American Policy Center, a Warrenton, Va.-based foundation that advocates limited government, says he has been a leader in the opposition to Agenda 21 since 1992. Until a few years ago, he had few followers beyond a handful of farmers and ranchers in rural areas. Now, he is a regular speaker at Tea Party events.

Membership is rising, Mr. DeWeese said, because what he sees as tangible Agenda 21-inspired controls on water and energy use are intruding into everyday life. “People may be acting out at some of these meetings, and I do not condone that. But their elected representatives are not listening and they are frustrated”…

Notice that they quote someone as saying that the conspiracy theories of the Tea Party set are, “a little on the weird side,” but they don’t really point out that said theories are complete bullshit. Here, with more on that, is that Metafilter response from gompa that I promised. [note: It begins with a quote from another Metafilterite, by the name of benito.strauss.]

“Interesting choice of the word ‘activist’ in the title. Of course it’s technically true — they are actively opposing certain actions — but by the same logic that guy yelling at the Canadian geese to stop reading his mind is an anti-avian migration activist.”

Yeah, as a journalist, I’m particularly galled by the breach of professional responsibility here. This whole piece reeks of the false balance and misconstrued objectivity that has allowed the news media to become half-witting tools of radical, anti-scientific, fact-deficient zealots (and led the Times into a looking-glass world where it actually asks whether it should be a “truth vigilante” without any apparent awareness of the ridiculousness of the question).

Far from challenging the tinfoil hattery at play here – which would actually be good journalism – this piece legitimizes it. Instead of disputing the most outlandish statements and factchecking the paranoid delusions, our ever-vigilant Times reporters simply quote someone describing them as “a little on the weird side.” Switching to a neolithic diet is a little on the weird side; calling bike lanes a UN plot is dangerously unhinged.

If as a reporter you are going to quote a Fox demagogue saying smart growth measures sound “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one world order,” then it’s your job to make this your next sentence: “There is not a shred of evidence that the simple nonbinding guidelines in Agenda 21, which are broadly shared and independently advocated for by a wide range of professional urban planning associations and municipal planning departments across the nation, could possibly be used as a pretext for the kind of thing this Fox News ideologue is describing.”

If you quote some random Tea Party wingnut saying “The real job of smart meters is to spy on you and control you,” it’s your job as a reporter either to quote an official from a smart meter manufacturer or installer or advocate saying, “What she just said is utterly delusional,” or else to simply state the same thing yourself. (If you insist on po-faced objectivity, you could phrase it like this: “‘The real job of smart meters is to spy on you and control you,’ said some random woman at a meeting, citing no evidence whatsoever because none exists.”)

The insidious thing is that the Times legitimizes tinfoil-hat argurments by giving them such a prominent and even-handed forum. I write and speak on sustainable growth and smart meters and green design and such for a living (for example at the conferences of professional associations like jimmythefish’s), and stuff like really does enter the mainstream conversation this way. “Hey, I read in the Times that smart meters could be used to control my life without my consent and sprawl control is a tool of UN hegemony, could you address that?”

Dear Times journalists: Simply quoting deranged Tea Partiers is not journalism, it’s public relations. It’s your job to actually determine where their arguments come from and whether they hold any water. And if they don’t, it’s your job to say so.

[Today’s post is brought to you by Tea Party favorite, Newt Gingrich, who believes that public transportation is for “elitists”.]

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  1. Demetrius
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I read this article yesterday and had much the same thought — but decided (perhaps charitably) that the NYT was simply trusting that its readers were intelligent and sophisticated enough that such paranoid ignorance didn’t need to be refuted, point-by-point.

  2. Citizen w/ Cane
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Demetrius: one could argue that intelligence and sophistication are more of a problem, at the moment, than Tea Partiers.

  3. Edward
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Hilarious, Citizen with Cane. I’m sure that’s not what Demetrius meant, but it’s hilarious just the same.

    As for Tea Party insanity, I suggest that everyone listen to Thayrone’s program on WAAM radio (1600 AM). He’s constantly going off about traffic circles, of all things. He’s says that it’s a sign that the United Nations and Van Jones are taking the country over. It’s incredibly bizarre. The truly terrifying thing is that people call in and agree with him.

  4. Dan
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    I got agenda 21 related comments when I was talking to a neighbor about bike lanes on west cross street. She was later won over after the neighborhood meeting with city staff though.

  5. Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Thayrone would do an interview for this site… Maybe I’ll write him a letter tonight.

  6. LisaD
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I never thought to associate the traffic circle outside my window with Van Jones and the United Nations. Of course, I’m fan of both, so I guess I should go out and give the traffic circle a high five….

  7. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    I love the traffic circles and Van too…I managed to even negotiate the one at Lee Rd & 23, with the help of my 80 yr old mother-n-law as guide, LOL!

  8. Thom Elliott
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    But sprawl control is just part of the anti-business, anti-American exceptionalism ideology of International Communism, who will use this green-scare, global climate change myth to stand in the way of the absolute freedom gifted to me by the one true God, my Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ, to turn every available space into a concrete factory, KFC, or stripclub, in His name. Amen. Why can’t you homosexuals get with it? We don’t care about your whiney bullshit, you should just shut the fuck up and keep the steak and coke coming, served to me by a stripper, while I pay attention to nothing but my fantesy football stats. God bless the US, go to hell vegetable eating, tree hugging faggots.

  9. Eel
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I need to tune into Thayrone X’s show this afternoon to see what he has to say about the proposed $100 million waste water treatment plant being discussed in Ann Arbor. Surely it’s some kind of plot. Our founding fathers, after all, didn’t have waste water treatment plants. And I don’t remember anything in the constitution about them.


  10. Brainless
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    NYT is just as big a piece of shit paper as the rest of them these days. It’s USA Hooray in black & white.

    I never cease to be amazed at how folks are even politicizing roundabouts. What’s next? Vaccines? Oh.

  11. Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I wrote to Hoekstra through his site and insulted him.

    He wrote me back to thank me.

    I wrote him and insulted him again.

  12. Eel
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Wrong thread, Peter, but I like the thought of you berating him, and him thanking you for it. You’re like him dominatrix.

  13. Robert
    Posted May 9, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    The Tea Party defeated Senator Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican Primary yesterday. It’s likely they’ve cost the Republican party the seat in November.

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