Friday, March 20, 2009

When journalists become apologists

Sometimes you read something in the paper that requires a response. This column on Alberta's oilsands qualified:
  • "Oilsands a poor excuse for world-class bogeyman" (Gary Lamphier, Edmonton Journal, Feb. 28, 2009)
Lamphier's column reminds me of this argument commonly used by apologists everywhere:

Yes, the war in Darfur is awful. And deadly. And ugly. And it creates a pressing humanitarian crisis that clearly must be addressed, from refugee camps to starvation.

We get it. We don't need the United Nations to tell us. But let's get a bit of perspective. Darfur has resulted in about 300,000 deaths. Accurate numbers of dead are difficult to estimate, partly because the government obstructs information gathering, but the death total doesn't even make the top 10.

Hey, WWII killed 6 million Jews to say nothing of 20 million citizens of the former USSR. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (1975-78) killed about 1.5 million, and the war in the Congo (1998-2003) resulted in 4.5 million deaths. Now, those are impressive numbers. You want a world-class humanitarian catastrophe? Sorry, you'll have to look far beyond Darfur.

Does that excuse the Sudanese government from its role in the disaster?* Of course not. But again, a wee bit of perspective.

Yes, Gary, let's get a grip. There are other environmental blights that dwarf Alberta's oilsands. But aren't journalists meant to seek truth and inform society? Are Albertans, Canadians, and the world at large better served when journalists like you take an apologist's view of a serious environmental issue and put smiles on the faces of oil executives?

Your oilsands column makes you just another PR flunky, an apologist whose role it is to whitewash and spin what's happening. The public deserves better.

Note: A shorter, edited version of this blog appeared as a letter to the editor (Edmonton Journal, Mar. 5, 2009): "Maybe not the worst but still bad"