Placeholder Banner

TIME Magazine's Journalism Scam

April 8, 2008
Or How TIME Eliminated Fairness In Reporting

As a former reporter and scientist I read Michael Grunwald's recent story in TIME, The Clean Energy Scam with a certain amount of dismay. The New York Times calls Michael Grunwald, "a talented Washington Post reporter." However talented Mr. Grunwald may be, in this story he has broken one of the key tenets of journalism -- tell the whole story, not just the part you like. For when you only tell part of the story, your audience can no longer trust you.

I went hunting around on the Internet for reporting guidelines and found the guidelines used by WGBH's show Frontline. They have a section on fairness in which they say,

"Specifically, fairness means that producers:

  1. will approach stories with an open and skeptical mind and a determination, through extensive research, to acquaint themselves with a wide range of viewpoints;

  2. will try to keep personal bias and opinion from influencing their pursuit of a story;

  3. will carefully examine contrary information;

  4. will exercise care in checking the accuracy and credibility of all information they receive, especially as it may relate to accusations of wrongdoing;

  5. will give individuals or entities who are the subject of attack the opportunity to respond to those attacks;

  6. will represent fairly the words and actions of the people portrayed;

  7. will inform individuals who are the subject of an investigative interview of the general areas of questioning in advance and, if important for accuracy, will give those individuals an opportunity to check their records;

  8. will try to present the significant facts a viewer would need to understand what he or she is seeing, including appropriate information to frame the program; and,

  9. will always be prepared to assist in correcting errors."

Mr. Grunwald's piece reads less like the cover story of a prominent weekly news magazine and more like an opinion column on the editorial pages of a newspaper. Mr. Grunwald talks to four scientists about biofuels, all of whom had comments that support his doom and gloom thesis. He did not speak to anyone who had an opposing viewpoint. When he mentions Tim Searchinger's study published in Science, he refers to it as, "groundbreaking." Last time I checked it was scientists whom determined what was groundbreaking.

Let's see, so far Mr. Grunwald has broken rules 1, 2, and 3.

Well who else could Mr. Grunwald have spoken with. Well, the National Corn Growers Association seems to have an opinion on this issue -- in fact they make it crystal clear on their homepage. He also could have called the American Lung Association of the Upper MidWest, or any number of other groups or scientists.

Mr. Grunwald closes with, "Advocates are always careful to point out that biofuels are only part of the solution to global warming, that the world also needs more energy-efficient lightbulbs and homes and factories and lifestyles. And the world does need all those things. But the world is still going to be fighting an uphill battle until it realizes that right now, biofuels aren't part of the solution at all. They're part of the problem."

Who are these advocates? It reminds me a bit of the "some people say," criticism of Fox news (see video below).


Could it be that Mr. Grunwald is inserting his own opinion?