When I glanced at the front page of the Sunday N&O, I thought, Oh, more global warming propaganda.
Little did I know. This wasn't just more of the same, this was a new and sad development in the decline of newspapers into propaganda vehicles.
The article's headline blared: "UN climate change summit could bring first progress in years." (Sister paper the Charlotte Observer ran the same piece.) The content was the usual rant about the dangers of global warming — with no attempt to give outside sources for its claims, except for favorable comments from fellow greenies. But this morning I was told who the "reporter" was.
The byline was by one Justin Catanoso. You'd assume he's a staff reporter, but you'd be wrong. He is identified only at the very end of the article as "director of journalism at Wake Forest University. His reporting is sponsored by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in Washington and the Center for Energy Environment and Sustainability (CEES) at Wake Forest." The first organization proclaims, "From the Arctic Ocean to the South Pacific, the impacts of climate change are becoming impossible to ignore. Ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, the very chemistry of the seas is undergoing change." CEES is, obviously, a pro-global warming organization; Catanoso is one of its faculty affiliates.
In short, Catanoso is not a reporter, striving for a fair picture, but an unabashed advocate for the environmental cause. Yet there's nothing at the top to alert the reader of that: no tag "commentary" or "opinion," no editor's note to that effect. Ninety-nine percent of readers probably assumed it was a news story, when in fact it was an opinion piece. It can't even claim to be one person's take: it's paid for by two outside organizations with an agenda.
Once newspapers maintained walls between the editorial page and the front page. The N&O has now torn that down.
It can't even offer the feeble alibi that the writer offered some special perspective on the Paris talks. His main source was John Knox — another Wake Forest professor who is also a faculty affiliate of CEES and a long-time environmentalist. Catanoso didn't have to go 4,087 miles to Paris to get this scoop; he just had to walk about a half-mile from his office on the campus to Knox's office.
As a formerly ink-stained wretch, I'm saddened by how low the N&O and other newspapers have fallen. At one time, when you read a big story in a newspaper, you could figure that the staff would at least try to separate fact from opinion, and let you know which was which. Apparently, no longer. If you see a "news" story in your local paper, it might well be in fact an editorial from an activist, and funded by outside organizations with an ax to grind.
What's next? Maybe a front-page article about the gubernatorial race, written by Roy Cooper, including a big interview with some big-shot politics professor … say, Bev Perdue of Harvard.
The saddest note: papers are jettisoning staff right and left. Maybe they'll get rid of that unneeded expense of paying actual journalists and just have political hacks and ideological fanatics send in their screeds to be published as news.
Update: Hold on a second! I've always wanted to see my byline on the front page of a major newspaper. I'll just sent the N&O one of my own rants — expect to see it above the fold next Sunday! 🙂