As wildfires swept through southern California over the past week, experts warned that the state is in for an especially dangerous wildfire season due to unusually hot and dry conditions. But in their coverage of the fires, several of California's major newspapers have entirely ignored how climate change has increased wildfire risks in the region.
California's wildfire season kicked off early this year, with record temperatures, heavy winds and ongoing drought conditions fueling fires across the state that have threatened thousands of homes and businesses. California has already experienced 680 wildfires this year -- about 200 more than average for this period -- and the National Interagency Fire Service is predicting "above normal" potential for significant fires in northern and southern California this season. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing for a higher number of significant fires across the West.
Climate experts warn that rising global temperatures are already leading to more frequent and more severe wildfires and longer fire seasons in the Southwest, calling large fires like those in California "the new normal." But several major print outlets in California have failed to make this connection, even after Governor Jerry Brown noted the link Monday.
The San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and U-T San Diego have not mentioned climate change while reporting on the recent fires. These papers also printed several stories from the Associated Press, none of which mentioned climate change. By contrast, the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times mentioned climate change in 33 percent and 27 percent of coverage, respectively.
The U-T San Diego editorial board hyped a court decision that would benefit a project to expand the San Diego Convention Center but never noted that the paper's owner, Douglas Manchester, has a financial interest in the convention center's development.
A March 11 editorial by the U-T San Diego called for the expansion project to "move forward as quickly as possible," now that the plans to finance it -- including a controversial hotel-room tax -- have been validated by Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager's tentative ruling. The editorial concluded that the "worst-case scenario" would be that the center does not expand at all, as "[t]ens of millions in annual tax revenue, and the creation of thousands of jobs, are at stake."
What the editorial does not say, however, is that the owner of the U-T San Diego, Douglas (Papa Doug) Manchester, is one of the driving forces behind the convention center's birth. According to Manchester's own website, "Papa Doug is considered father of the San Diego Convention Center after his generous contribution of the property for its development."
As a Media Matters report noted last year, the U-T San Diego was criticized soon after Manchester's acquisition of the paper when it ran a front page editorial hyping a "new vision" for the San Diego waterfront. The editorial said the waterfront -- where Manchester owned hotels -- should be redeveloped with more hotels, a convention center expansion, and a new NFL stadium. Although Manchester had sold the hotels near the convention center property, he owns stock in the company that purchased the hotels -- solidifying his financial stake in the development of the area.
Although the editorial touts the "thousands of jobs" that will be created as a result of the expansion, it fails to note that they will not be high quality jobs. According to a report issued last year by Murtaza H. Baxamusa, director of Planning and Development at the Family House Corporation, San Diego Building Trades, the city estimated that only 16.8 percent of the new jobs would be above the regional median wage of $18.41 and that 71.2 percent of the jobs would be below the self-sufficiency wage of $13.92. Baxamusa concludes that, "the results of this study indicate that the quality of jobs created by the project may actually depress wages, increase uninsurance and lower the standard of living in the region."
A U-T San Diego editorial claims that opposing the Keystone XL pipeline is "daft" because if President Obama were to block the construction of the pipeline, Canada would easily construct an alternate pipeline through British Columbia to export to China, ignoring that such a plan faces significant opposition.
The February 19 editorial claims that "If the president rejects the [Keystone XL] project, Canada will instead construct a pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, where it will build refineries and eventually ship most of the refined bitumen to Asia -- primarily fast-growing China."
But the route to British Columbia faces significant opposition in Canada. First Nation tribes have rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would transport tar sands oil from Alberta to British Columbia since 2006. At a series of community hearings in 16 different towns in British Columbia, the National Energy Board -- an independent federal agency that regulates pipelines and energy development -- heard 1,159 speakers opposed to the Northern Gateway project and only two in favor. In fact, Robert Campbell, a Reuters market analyst, explained in a column that a pipeline following this route is likely to face even more opposition than Keystone XL:
Despite what you may think, the delay or even cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline project from Canada to the United States does not ensure that China will become the go-to customer for Canada's vast oil sands.
Doubtless this theme will be dredged up by Keystone's backer, TransCanada and other oil industry lobbyists in Washington with an eye to fanning Americans' fears about oil supply security should the Obama Administration opt for further study of fresh routes for the pipeline.
But the simple fact is that this claim is at best a huge exaggeration. If anything a pipeline from Alberta across the mountainous province of British Colombia is likely to face more scrutiny from environmental groups than Keystone XL.
Thus it's not inevitable that the accelerated development of tar sands oil, which creates "14 to 20 percent more carbon emissions than other oil the U.S. imports," will occur. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimated that if the Keystone XL pipeline were approved, it could increase United States carbon emissions by the equivalent of up to four million cars annually.
The U-T San Diego editorial also cites the New York Times' Joe Nocera -- who supports construction of the pipeline -- claiming that blocking the Keystone XL pipeline would harm our energy security, benefitting "our No. 1 geopolitical rival."
However, Nocera's column was factually challenged, and Keystone XL would have little impact on U.S. oil imports or energy security. As economist Ed Dolan explained, the pipeline symbolizes one more step toward dependence on oil, when the most effective solution to our energy security problems is exactly the opposite: reducing our oil consumption.
The editorial board's misleading right-leaning stance on this issue should come as no surprise given that the paper's new owner has turned the once respected paper into a corporate shill.
It's been just about a year since developer and financier Douglas Manchester bought the San Diego Union-Tribune, the largest newspaper in the city. For some staffers and media observers, it's been the worst year in the paper's eight-decade history.
Manchester, a major Republican Party contributor, and U-T CEO John Lynch have overhauled the once-respected daily into what many consider a front for Manchester's "cheerleading" for business interests and right-wing politics.
"People are so embarrassed by the [newspaper] that they are dropping their subscriptions," says Don Bauder, who spent 30 years at the Union-Tribune from 1973 to 2003, which included stints as financial editor and columnist. "Around town it is an embarrassment."
A group headed by Manchester purchased the Union-Tribune in November 2011, just a few years after the paper won two Pulitzer prizes. He took over operations in January 2012 and immediately put his mark on the paper, changing the name to U-T San Diego to promote all of its news outlets beyond print, hiring Lynch, a longtime friend and local radio station owner, as his CEO, and placing a front-page editorial on the print edition that all but vowed to work for big business.
Such changes have come at a cost. David Carr of The New York Times, among the most respected media columnists in the country, wrote in June that the Union-Tribune "often seems like a brochure for [Manchester's] various interests." He added that any pretense of protecting news coverage from the new ownership's editorial views "was obliterated from the start."
The paper's decline has continued apace since Carr published his piece. In the run up to November's elections, the paper took its support for a Republican mayoral candidate to unusual lengths with front page editorials, while also disparaging President Obama via opinion pieces that featured vitriol usually confined to Internet fever swamps.
From its outlandish front page editorializing for a new football stadium and waterfront development (which would indirectly benefit Manchester's bank account) to its top executive's threatening email to a public official, the newspaper is considered by many staff and local media experts to have fallen into an ethical morass.
And that worry has grown worse in the past few months as Manchester bought the North County Times, a smaller daily in nearby Escondido, CA, which was considered a necessary rival to the Union-Tribune.
"The only way the paper will survive is if people trust it to give the news of their community," said Dean Nelson, director of journalism at nearby Point Loma Nazarene University, who also writes for The New York Times and The Boston Globe. "If people get the sense it is just whoring for the leadership's business enterprises, they are done.