6. Alternative energy: All gain, no pain
Media myth: According to journalists, the only way out of high gas prices and global warming are expensive, impractical "green" fuels.
Rather than give an even-handed report on the oil supply situation, many journalists continued to push the "green" theme in 2008, calling alternative energies "a surefire way to cut fuel costs" and saying that a fuel other than gasoline would be "a welcome relief," despite the trillions of dollars and number of years that may take.
In June, CBS "Evening News" stacked a story against drilling on the very night a poll came out showing public support for increased drilling. Correspondent Bill Whitaker cited "bipartisan" opposition to offshore drilling "in California, which suffered a devastating oil spill from a rig off Santa Barbara in 1969." But he didn't balance his own story evenly with proponents and opponents; instead he promoted the "green" views of environmentalists and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
NBC "Nightly News" consulted CNBC's Erin Burnett on June 22. Burnett acknowledged the oil supply problem, saying "a lot of people want oil, and we don't seem to have enough." But she never mentioned increasing domestic supply by allowing offshore or ANWR oil exploration.
Instead, Burnett said, "We have to take our lumps, pay these prices and invest aggressively in alternative fuels that we can have right here in the United States of America. We get 15 percent of our power from right now from nuclear energy. We could dramatically increase that. We have other sources as well that are plentiful here at home like wind, like coal. We need to invest in those."
Burnett wasn't the first journalist to cheerlead for alternative energy development. "For anyone with a fresh idea, expensive oil is as good as a subsidy – with no political strings attached," Wired.com contributing editor Spencer Reiss wrote in December 2005. "And smile when you see a big black $3 or $4 out in front at the gas pump. Those innovators need all the encouragement they can get. Shale oil, uranium, sunlight – there's enough energy out there for a dozen planets."
Alternative forms of energy are less efficient and usually less attractive to an open market than oil and coal. [Click 'read more' to continue]
NBC's Anne Thompson noted on the March 12 "Nightly News" that higher energy prices would be good for alternative forms of energy like solar and wind power, which can cost two to four times as much as coal and oil.
Two scientific studies have suggested clearing land to produce biofuel ingredients will actually contribute more to "global warming" than simply sticking with fossil fuels. The shocking part is that someone in the media actually reported it!
The findings "could force policymakers in the United States and Europe to reevaluate incentives they have adopted to spur production of ethanol-based fuels," The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin reported February 8. "President Bush and many members of Congress have touted expanding biofuel use as an integral element of the nation's battle against climate change, but these studies suggest that this strategy will damage the planet rather than help protect it."
We're talking about big differences, too. One study out of Princeton found that "over 30 years, use of traditional corn-based ethanol would produce twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as regular gasoline" in part due to the removal of trees that help reduce carbon.
Researcher Tim Searchinger estimated "it would take 167 years before biofuels would stop contributing to climate change."