Column: What color is the sky in your world?

Feb. 24, 2014 @ 08:35 AM

You could say that my brother and I don’t agree on politics, but the email I received about 6:30 p.m. Thursday still left me spinning.

“So what about obama varies from soviet russia? Control of industry through epa, control of our lives and choices through obamacare and control of the media to ensure ‘critical news coverage.’

“Give me a break. Socialist facist agenda.”

My brother also can’t spell as well I can.

I didn’t point out that socialism and fascism are, by definition, at odds; you can’t be both. I did eventually find out what Internet rumor had excited him. As described by my brother, it is a Federal Communications Commission “program” to require media outlets to provide “critical” information to the public as “determined by the administration, or politburo, as it used to be called.”

That would indeed be worrisome.

But as described in a column two weeks ago in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch and has opinion pages as conservative as Murdoch’s Fox News, it sounds like a classic egghead exercise -- a three-year study of how news organizations make decisions about what to cover, after which there will be a report and then … another three-year study. Even in the Journal opinion piece, which expressed worry that the study itself would make news managers feel pressured into changing their decisions, there was no discussion of the government issuing directives.

I’m much less worried about an endless academic study of newsroom behavior (which, believe me, is more seat-of-the-pants than anyone on the right or left would like to believe) than I am the complete separation between the reality I live in and the one that some others live in.

Such as John Skvarla, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Energy and Natural Resources, who said at a news conference on Wednesday that requiring Duke Energy to move its coal ash – the toxic remains of burned coal piling up at power plants – from unlined ponds in the ground to lined and covered landfills might be worse than leaving them alone.

“There are environmental scientists who say that is the worst thing that can happen to the environment. The answer is, nobody knows at this point in time,” Skvarla said.

The problem with that statement is it’s pure fantasy. The coal ash ponds are leaking poison into the ground, where it reaches the water, and underground water migrates. No one disputes this. The only question is how quickly the poisoned water will move to where it enters someone’s water supply or a river or lake. Skvarla’s DENR could not provide any scientific backing for his statement, Raleigh TV station WRAL reported, and a scientist at Duke University who is considered an expert on coal ash responded incredulously and told WRAL that there has never been a published study – anywhere, ever, by anyone – that casts doubt on whether moving coal ash out of leaky landfills is best for the environment.

“You don’t need to be Joe Chemist to figure that out,” the scientist, Avner Vengosh, told WRAL.

Maybe not, but you need to live in a reality where there are objective facts that exist independent of politics. No one’s always right, no one’s always wrong, and few people have truly sinister motives, no matter how wrongheaded you might think those people are. That so many people believe otherwise is the reality that really worries me.