Editorial: Hypocritical newspapers also get their facts wrong

Published: April 29, 2005

A MARCH 19 editorial in the Salinas Californian, in justifying the paper’s hope that the coastal commission “will put a stop” to plans for new development in Del Monte Forest, complained that the Pebble Beach Company’s proposed new golf course, hotel rooms and employee housing had been “fast-tracked” through the county permit process.

A few weeks later, a British newspaper reported that the Monterey pine is a “rare” species that grows in “very few places on the planet.”

And at about the same time, USA Today unquestioningly quoted a Sierra Club rep’s opinion that what the P.B. Co. wants to do with a small portion of its undeveloped land amounts to the “largest project” proposed for the California coast “in decades.”

These blatantly erroneous assertions — and dozens more like them — have been represented as the gospel truth in newspapers across the country and around the world during the last few weeks.

Reporters and editors, it seems, are outraged at the idea of removing 100 acres of trees to make way for a golf course. Their umbrage has been expressed in editorials and news stories so similarly indignant it’s hard to tell which is which.

As a threshold question, one might ask whether these presumably experienced journalists can actually be unaware that their beloved industry — printing newspapers — is one of the biggest tree-killers in history. The slaughter of old-growth trees to produce millions of copies of stimulating features (“Your Daily Horoscope”), can’t-miss news items (“Special pullout on the NFL draft”), and highly detailed descriptions of weekend discounts at the local retailer (“Kmart will be open ‘til midnight!”), has been going on for decades and continues today. And the people who benefit most from the worldwide logging that makes their livelihoods possible blithely pretend that only a scoundrel would cut down a Monterey pine.

So certain are they that it’s a bad idea to clear a small forest to make way for fairways and sandtraps, they see no need to get their facts straight as they condemn the idea. In some cases, they didn’t even bother to make their stories internally consistent:

- On the Californian’s website, right next to the paper’s complaint that the P.B. Co.’s latest plan has been “fast-tracked,” a caption below a photo showing Clint Eastwood announcing the plan almost five years ago describes it as “one of the Peninsula’s longest running land-use battles.” Huh?

- In USA Today, just a few paragraphs below the Sierra Club spokesman’s description of the plan as “the biggest in decades,” another recent project was detailed: In 1999, the paper reported, the coastal commission approved 3,400 homes on 1,600 acres of “undeveloped wetlands and coastal mesas in Orange County.” Isn’t that just a smidgen bigger than what the Pebble Beach Company is up to?

The British newspaper’s story at least didn’t contradict itself. But if the reporter had no idea the Monterey pine not only isn’t rare, it’s one of the most common trees in the world, he at least could have done a wee bit of investigating and discovered that Clint Eastwood doesn’t live in Carmel; there is no water rationing in Carmel Valley every summer, and David Dilworth doesn’t represent a group. He just represents himself.

Almost all these stories make the mistake of exaggerating opposition to the Pebble Beach project. Not having taken the time to get familiar with local circumstances, the reporters invoked a journalistic cliché: “Developers” try to ruin things; “environmentalists” and “the public” try to thwart them.

But in this case, a majority of the people of the Monterey Peninsula clearly support what the P.B. Co. is doing. The November 2000 vote on Measure A showed this, and so has public testimony at numerous hearings in the years since. In fact, most people around here actually appreciate the drastic reduction in potential development and the vast increase in protected open space the P.B. project represents.

We urge the coastal commission to take due notice of these facts and approve the P.B. plan with minimal changes. No matter what all those other newspapers say.