Media sympathy or the lack of natural, healthy skepticism (something all good journalists innately possess) toward environmental issues has resulted in several fake news narratives proliferating in Florida’s media over the past few years. At the same time, that same natural, healthy skepticism manifests itself in ever greater strength when it comes to companies, or government regulatory agencies under the control of conservative elected officials. It’s a provable case of media bias.
The most recent example involves the Tampa Bay Times, the state’s largest newspaper, pointing the finger at state regulators and The Mosaic Company for failing to foresee the sinkhole’s formation. The story was based on the conclusions of two hydrologists who later retracted their findings, thus undermining the premise of the Times’ story. While the Times did post a disclaimer at the top of their horribly misleading news item, the headline is still up:
Mosaic, state should have seen sinkhole forming, experts say
It took a full-court press from Mosaic and state experts to force the Times and it’s so-called experts to re-examine the data and admit they made a mistake. And other media outlets were right to rub the Times’ nose in the error. But the damage to Mosaic, as usual, has already been done. Environmental groups were behind the press conference that triggered the story in the first place, and newspaper outlets, like the liberal Tampa Bay Times, are all too quick to take environmentalists at their word.
If only it were an isolated case. Two years ago, Florida and national news outlets took another environmentalist claim at face value, reporting without fact-checking a letter released to the media, in which the Everglades Foundation claimed “207 members of the scientific community” signed a petition in favor of buying sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee. The false claim, regurgitated in the media as “207 scientists,” appeared in several news outlets, including the Miami Herald, public radio and television news outlet WLRN, and even in the national website Huffington Post.
At least they got the number of signatures right. Exactly 207 people did indeed sign the petition. But not all of them were “scientists,” or even “members of the scientific community,” as the Everglades Foundation and it’s allies in the media claimed. In fact, The Capitolist conducted its own research into the backround of the so-called “scientists,” and here is what we uncovered:
- 28 of the “scientists” were actually just graduate students, not professional scientists.
- 17 likely had an economic interest in seeing the policy change – including 9 “scientists” from one particular company.
- One of the “scientists” doesn’t appear to have environmental credentials, but is, to her credit, America’s foremost expert on house rabbits
- One cannot be verified as a “scientist” but is more likely a professional musician who also seems to have a soft spot in her heart homeless rabbits
- Another is likely the former manager at an Applebees, and The Capitolist could not find any scientific credentials for this individual
- One is likely not a scientist, but an artist who draws particularly nice pictures of flowers
Now, I could be wrong about a few of these folks, and that’s on me. The Everglades Foundation didn’t exactly make it easy for the media to verify all of the petition-signer’s “scientific” credentials. In 18 cases, no credentials whatsoever were offered by the Everglades Foundation – only their first and last names were provided.
Regardless of who is and who isn’t a scientist, it’s fair to say that environmental reporters who regurgitated the “207 scientists” talking point by the Everglades Foundation is guilty of publishing fake news. More importantly, it’s a disturbing trend where companies and conservative administrations don’t get the benefit of the doubt.