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August 31, 2010
Media's slipshod coverage of oil spill
National Review's Lou Dolinar tracks the history of media coverage of the oil spill and contrasts what they were saying with what scientists were discovering:
Writing of the "plume of oil" that the media clung to in order to define the extent of the spill, Dolinar writes:
The most recent vehicle for plume mania was the first peer-reviewed study of the spill, published on August 19 in Science by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which confirmed the existence of underwater oil plumes "the size of Manhattan" and also suggested, less definitively, that bacteria weren't eating them. The press wallowed in exaggeration, with many reports implying that the Woods Hole study both justified the media's paranoia about the plumes and also put the government in its place. Some examples: "Major Study Proves Oil Plume That's Not Going Away" (AP); "Oil Plume from Spill Persists, Data Show" (Wall Street Journal), "Oil Plume Is Not Breaking Down Fast, Study Says" (New York Times).A scientifically ignorant press was attempting to explain a scientific problem to the people and failed miserably. Instead, the media went for sensationalism which might sell a lot of advertising but did nothing to inform the public.
In fact, that's not what it said, according to Woods Hole. In an op-ed piece on the CNN website, one of the study's authors, Christopher Reddy, gave the media a thorough spanking, writing:
Even though my colleagues and I repeatedly avoided contrasting our results with previous NOAA estimates that some 75 percent of the spilled oil was already gone from the Gulf, much of last week's coverage of our work made that a prominent part of the story.
For example, The Washington Post reported, "Academic scientists are challenging the Obama administration's assertion that most of BP's oil in the Gulf of Mexico is either gone or rapidly disappearing - with one group Thursday announcing the discovery of a 22-mile ‘plume' of oil that shows little sign of vanishing."
Another case of media malpractice.
Hat Tip: Ed Lasky