Once in a while I watch regular broadcast media and I’m just bowled over by how biased it is. For example, check out this King 5 segment on the phase-out of coal at the TransAlta plant in Centralia, Washington. Here’s the opening line:

It produces 12 percent of the state’s electricity, but environmentalists call it Washington’s largest single source of pollution.

What’s wrong with this statement? Pretty much everything.

First, the TransAlta plant does not, in fact, produce 12 percent of the state’s electricity. Even the company only claims it produces 10 percent of the state’s power—and that’s a claim my colleague, Jennifer Langston, has thoroughly debunked.

Second, “environmentalists call it the largest single source of pollution”? Seriously? What is the point of this formulation, if not to make the claim sound suspect?

The truth is it almost doesn’t matter what pollutant you pick—carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, smog-forming compounds, particulate matter—the TransAlta coal plant is far and  away the single biggest polluter in the state. There’s nothing else even remotely comparable. And none of this is controversial or a matter of debate. It’s just the basic facts of the case, the sort of thing one would think a reporter might inquire into.

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  • An accurate and unbiased formulation would have gone like so:

    The company claims it produces 10 percent of the state’s electricity, but it is  Washington’s largest single source of pollution.

    Easy, right?

    But the fun doesn’t stop there. The piece goes to length to frame up the phase-out as a conflict between the environment and the economy. (One of many examples: “The move praised by environmentalists, questioned by the thousands in the community who would be impacted.”) Nowhere is mentioned the serious damage that coal burning does to public health (particularly to to children), the diminished views at Mount Rainier National Park, the havoc wrought by climate change, or the precariousness of a local economy dependent on a foreign multinational energy company that has sent shock waves through the town’s labor force before.

    No, we don’t get any of that. We get the hackneyed old stuff we’ve always gotten: “environmentalists” versus simple working folk. I’m awfully sick of this stuff, and surprised—naively so, I guess—that this is the standard of supposedly impartial broadcast journalism.