By Ernest A. Canning on 5/3/2010, 6:21pm PT  

Guest editorial by Ernest A. Canning

In a May 3 New York Times editorial, "Drilling, Disaster, Denial," Paul Krugman points to a Gallup poll which found: "Americans are now less worried about a series of environmental problems than at any time in the past 20 years" --- a finding mirrored by surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center which revealed that the percentage of Americans who believe "there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades," had dropped from 71% in April 2008 to 57% in September/October 2009.

After pointing to the catastrophic events --- the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and the fire atop a polluted Cuyahoga River --- which gave rise to the first Earth Day in 1970, the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, Krugman suggested that the success alleviating "visible pollution" that was involved in these "photogenic crises" led to reduction in public concern for the less visible impact "of pollution that's invisible, and whose effects unfold over decades rather than days" --- an invisibility which opened the way for hard-right, denialist, anti-environmental propagandists like Rush Limbaugh to succeed.

While there is empirical data supporting Krugman's suggestion of an adverse impact of anti-environmental propaganda, often funded by the likes of Exxon-Mobil and others in or connected to the fossil fuel industry, Krugman's analysis falls short because he fails to examine the role of the mainstream corporate media, especially television, in fostering the invisibility he decries...

As revealed by Media Channel's Danny Schechter in When News Lies: Media Complicity and the Iraq War, both the invisibility of issues like global warming and a collective amnesia about decades-old environmental disasters are driven by the fast-paced, substance-deprived format of what has become known as "infotainment." (Schechter referred to the coverage of the initiation of the Iraq War as "militainment"):

Lurching from event to event, a substance deficit disorder hyperactively drives the news agenda. No sooner are we focused on one major story, than another intrudes to change the subject and insure that there is no time for follow-up, much less thoughtful processing. The pace of coverage tends to insure that little will be remembered, much less understood.

The corporate media may decry the numerous safety violations and dangers to the lives of coal miners, but the broader context --- the looming ecological disaster fostered by mountaintop removal; the number of citizens who lose their lives each year due to the burning of coal go unmentioned --- though, NBC's Brian Williams should be commended for his rare, against-the-grain moment in referring to "clean coal" as an "oxymoron."

As revealed by Brad Friedman and Desi Doyen in their Green News Report, a bi-weekly six minute audio segment and compendium of links which packs more useful environmental news in a single segment than corporate television provides over the span of a year, the extensive coverage of recent mining protests has adversely overshadowed the World People's Conference on Climate Change, an event which received extensive live coverage from such alternative media sites as Democracy Now, but little or no mention, let alone coverage by a disinterested corporate media.

It is easy to see the hypocrisy of the hard-right in referring to the BP spill as "Obama's Katrina." After all, this is the same crowd whose obscene "Drill Baby, Drill" has been exposed as "Spill Baby, Spill." But where are the stories in the corporate-owned media about the fact that Katrina, itself, caused 124 oil spills?

The corporate media could not avoid covering a disaster like Katrina precisely because it is so enormous, but it can and does avoid discussing the fact that the devastation was aggravated by a failure to address environmental concerns before the hurricane struck, e.g., the elimination [PDF] of much of the protection from Louisiana's wetlands due to the financial interests of New Orleans' developers, who chose to build on wetlands and marshes.

An effective media would not wait for disaster to strike before addressing environmental issues. The ideal time to again run footage of the Exxon Valdez and Santa Barbara oil spills would have been the moment the Obama administration announced lifting the moratorium on off-shore drilling --- an action which has now been "shelved" in light of the latest disaster.

It would indeed be refreshing, in the wake of the administration's announcement that it was looking to nuclear power plants as an alternative source of energy, if someone in the corporate media had at least made a passing reference to the Chernobyl disaster or to the still-unresolved issue of nuclear waste disposal.

And, when there is a disaster like an oil platform or mine explosion, what would be especially refreshing is to hear someone in the mainstream corporate media observe, as Brad Friedman did on April 29 when he served as a guest host on the Mike Malloy Show, and before that during the April 22 edition of his Green News Report on the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day: When was the last time you heard about such a disaster occurring at a wind farm or at a location where solar panels are being installed?

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).