If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Until It Is

The news media’s only job is to find the truth, 100 percent of the time. Even when it’s not the truth they find most interesting, writes Ron Lamberty of the American Coalition for Ethanol.
By Ron Lamberty | March 12, 2015

I’m conflicted over the sturm und drang that has resulted from revelations that some of the story-telling of NBC News’ anchorman, Brian Williams, was, in fact, the kind usually introduced with a disclaimer saying “based on a true story.” On one hand, if I were in the second helicopter in a formation of four flying in—or even near—a war zone, and any one of those four got fired at, I think I would probably tell people that someone fired at “us.” And if I were making $10 million a year for telling colorful stories about what I saw during hurricanes, near-hurricanes, and wars, I would look pretty hard for an entertaining way to say, “Yeah, I was there, but nothing really happened where we were,” if I was, and nothing did.  But I wasn’t. And neither were most of the people skewering Williams over his above-average-height tales.

On the other hand, I was glad to see some media hand-wringing and self-flagellation over inaccuracy in reporting, and the tendency of today’s media to report controversy rather than doing the actual work of being a journalist by discovering the actual truth of a story. A couple weeks earlier, some “news” channels thought it was good news when a media scorecard showed that statements by pundits on the most accurate TV news outlets were “rated as half true or better,” 80 percent of the time. To me, that seems like a massive failure, since the news media’s only job is to find the truth, 100 percent of the time. Even when it’s not the truth they find most interesting.

I’m not confident “the media” will get the real message of its current self-examination. Most of the ongoing discussion is—predictably—about what reporters should say about themselves, not whether they are ever going to get back to the work of finding and confirming facts rather than just accepting and printing dueling public relations department statements on controversial topics.

I’ve got some ideas that an actual journalist could start with: As legislators continue to attack the renewable fuel standard (RFS), calling it a “failed policy,” or “broken,” and saying it needs to be “fixed,” can someone just ask a few representatives or senators exactly what they want to fix?  Since the RFS was passed, we’ve seen increased fuel availability, hundreds of thousands of new energy jobs, improved air quality and pump prices that are the lowest they’ve been since early this century, all stated goals of the energy bill and RFS2 when it was passed eight years ago.

So, what is the fix they’re hoping for? Do they want lower production? Fewer jobs? More pollution? Higher prices?  Or maybe elected officials have their own Brian Williams problem? They’ve repeated anti-ethanol stories that they believed were true, while embellishing them so the storyteller will be considered relevant and colorful. Would the media ever give as much attention to those stories as they’ve given to their cannibalism of Williams?

Maybe they could ask about the “ethanol uses 40 percent of the corn crop” lie that was only true during one drought year. Or the “blend wall” claim that said cars couldn’t use more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol, during a year they used 14 billion gallons. Perhaps they could ask oil companies why they ban the sale of E15 at branded stations, or check into E15 auto warranties.

Take any of those you want, eager journalist, but do yourself a favor: Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Look it up. Fact check. Do your job.  

Author: Ron Lamberty
Senior Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol
[email protected]