Monday, April 02, 2012

AP on the NEI Challenge: A Response That Raises More Questions Than It Answers

Our readers will recall that last week we forwarded a note to some editors at the Associated Press concerning some irregularities I identified in a story that ran earlier in the week that contained a claim from anti-nuclear activist Arnie Gundersen that soil samples he took in Tokyo would be classified as low level radioactive waste in the U.S.

Late on Friday afternoon we received a one line answer from Cara Rubinsky, the AP's New England Editor: "We have reviewed your concerns and obtained a copy of the report from the lab that did the testing. We do not believe a correction is warranted."

Considering the details we shared in our message to the AP, the response seemed less than adequate. Here's the latest note I shared this morning with Rubinsky, AP Editor Evan Berland and reporter Dave Gram.

Hi Cara,

Please forgive me if I find your response to be insufficient, and hardly in the spirit or the letter of your organization's own published standards. In fact, your reluctance to provide precise details in response to my query raises more questions than it answers. With this in mind, I have several follow up questions that I must insist you answer:

1. Which laboratory performed the testing on the soil samples? Are you planning on publishing the lab report? Will you share the precise results with your readers? If not, why not? Why didn't the AP provide the precise results in your initial report?

2. How did Dave Gram go about reporting the original story? Did he obtain the lab report from Arnie Gundersen before he wrote the story, or did he simply rely on the statements that Gundersen made in the video posted at the web site of Fairewinds Associates?

3. Once you obtained the lab report, how did you go about verifying Gundersen's claims? Did Gram verify the results of the lab tests before the story was published, or did your team simply attempt to verify them after the fact once we had lodged our complaint? Your one line response to our initial query seems to imply that this might have been the case.

4. Did you consult a health physicist or other radiation protection professional at any time in the course of your reporting? If not, why not?

5. Why didn't you disclose Gundersen's role as a paid consultant for the state of Vermont? Were you and your reporter aware that Gundersen was being compensated for his work there? Other public reports claim that Gundersen is paid somewhere between $185 and $300 per hour for his work. Don't your readers deserve to know this in order for them to fully evaluate his claims?

I look forward to a more constructive response.

Best,

Eric McErlain
Senior Manager, Web Communications
Nuclear Energy Institute
As always, we'll keep you informed as to what happens next here.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Should this work both ways? IE, should all press stories citing NEI officials and nuclear industry consultants cite how much they are paid per hour for their work? Or does this only apply to sources with whom the industry disagrees?

Will Davis said...

@Anonymous: The issue is the fact that such outlandish statements (clearly proven untrue) are being taken as fact by a major media outlet, which has not done its homework to check up on the author of those statements and which now is stonewalling until the heat goes down. Further, much of Gundersen's "consulting" work is done and his "reports" made without anyone ever offering up who it is that's paying him.. and clearly since he's paid by anti-nuclear groups only, that matters. NEI is by nature going to post and write pro-nuclear. The difference is that when there is a footnote about an NEI rep after an article, it says that Mr. or Ms. so and so is a member of so and so corporation, involved in the nuclear industry but when Gundersen is quoted the writeups usually just say he's a consultant from Fairewinds Associates. Saying that he's anti-nuclear and paid by anti-nuclear groups is the hidden agenda that gets left out. Until now.

Eric McErlain said...

That's correct, Will. NEI employees are always identified as working for an industry trade group. Arnie Gundersen is never correctly identified. He's got an axe to grind and a financial interest in spreading fear about nuclear energy. Readers have a right to know about his activities, and the press ought to be asking questions about how much he's paid, by whom and exactly what for.

Steve Aplin said...

From all of this, what else could an objective observer conclude but that AP is biased against nuclear energy. Of course NEI is an industry lobby group, and properly identified as such. But for AP to identify Gundersen as merely a consultant with Fairewinds Associates is a pretty obvious attempt on their part to portray him as an independent, keep-'em-honest kind of guy. He's not. He's a professional anti-nuke. This is slanted advocacy dressed up as objective journalism and AP should be called on it.

Nancy E Roth said...

Consultants on either side of the debate should reveal the sources and numbers on which they base their conclusions. Without that we don't have honest public discourse. The claims of this activist in particular have on numerous occasions have been disproved and rejected, including his "expert witness" testimony in a district court case, which was later affirmed in an appellate court decision shredding his testimony.(www.ca11.uscourts.gov/unpub/ops/200611133.pdf). But even apart from Gundersen's obligation to transparently present the science on which he bases his claims, especially given his history, doesn't the journalist, who has an ethical imperative to honestly inform and educate the public, have a mandate to check whether his claims are science-based, accurate and trustworthy? Rather than just to reproduce them without comment or analysis, in the most sensational and fearful manner possible? Like it or not, this is a major ethical lapse on the part of the AP--and they know it, otherwise they would be more forthcoming.

Anonymous said...

"NEI employees are always identified as working for an industry trade group"

OK. Should their salaries be included in the articles quoting them? That would be required to meet the standard that's been posited for Mr. Gundersen.

And what about nuclear industry consultants who are only identified as "bloggers"? How is that full disclosure?

The real problem is that many on this board feel that anyone who opposes nuclear power is, by definition, not qualified, because they've reached such a stupid conclusion. This self-sealing argument is fallacious, and shouldn't be applied to outside media outlets.

Atomikrabbit said...

A “questioning attitude” – one of the best parts of the Nuclear Safety Culture, and an attribute that used to be foremost among old-school news reporters.

As for Gundersen, how many demonstrable libels and slanders are going to go unchallenged before someone has the gumption to haul him into a court of law?

Anonymous said...

"how many demonstrable libels and slanders are going to go unchallenged before someone has the gumption to haul him into a court of law"

Poster conveniently continues to forget about the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and has no familiarity with the legal standards for libel and slander.

Just because you don't LIKE what someone says doesn't make it libel.

Anonymous said...

Most so-called "journalists" today are incredibly lazy. Long gone are the days when reporters did an honest day's work. I'm talking about tough, dirty, tiring legwork, tracking down sources, gathering information from a variety of sources, checking facts, doing homework, digging below the surface. Today, if a "journalist" is handed information, especially information that fits a preconceived meme (i.e., is anti-nuclear), they'd much rather simply parrot that than bother to get any differing viewpoints and write a balanced article. This is another reason why the mainstream press has lost a lot of crediblility among the public, and is why newspapers are going out of business left and right, and mainstream TV news ratings are plummeting.

Brian Mays said...

"OK. Should their salaries be included in the articles quoting them? That would be required to meet the standard that's been posited for Mr. Gundersen."

Nonsense. This is a matter of funding. Gundersen has his own consulting firm, and it is not unreasonable to expect to know who his customers are.

Meanwhile, the NEI is a trade group, which is supported by member dues, and it publishes who its members are and the conditions for membership.

The difference in transparency between Gundersen and the NEI is the difference between night and day.

Furthermore, when the NEI is quoted in a news article, nobody with any sense fails to understand who they represent and what their point of view is. When Gundersen is quoted by the press, it is not at all clear who he is, who he represents professionally, and what he's paid to do and say.

"And what about nuclear industry consultants who are only identified as 'bloggers'? How is that full disclosure?"

Can you give us an example of such a "blogger" who doesn't reveal his or her ties to the nuclear industry?

jimwg said...

AP's coyness is hardly unexpected; simply put they are, along most their peers, shamelessly anti-nuclear. Arnie and his ilk wear white hats in their kindred regard, ever and ever, out to punish the atom for Hiroshima or whatever skewed reason. The AP & Co. can afford to feel biased without condemnation over fairness because much of the public is nuclear ignorant and fodder for their anti-nuke POV, thanks to our wonderful school system and the nuclear industry's almost criminal PR complacence since TMI.

What's most troubling to me is here we have a relative few professionally questionable individuals, like Arnie, who are exploiting and steering the nuclear ignorance and nightmares of the public, to effect and impact the energy and economic security of this nation out of all proportion to their expertise and specious "evidence". That these fear-mongers have been allowed to run loose totally unchallenged of their "facts" and assertions swaying whole populations so long is a travesty and likely a measurable handicap to our whole economy.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

Brian is correct. By the media not holding Gundersen to a full disclosure of his funding, he uses that omission to create a false impression in the public mind that he is an independent consultant, with no ties to either side. That presents a patently false facade of objectivity, and speciously endows his statements and opinions with greater weight in the public mind. Gundersen is neither independent nor objective. That he presents himself so by omitting his funding sources is a despicably dishonest tactic. In fact, if we are talking about holding the industry to higher standards, I'd say let's do likewise with Gundersen. If he fails to meet those standards, then his information is likely suspect and unworthy of serious consideration.

Rod Adams said...

For the record, I am a pro-nuclear blogger who is also employed in the nuclear industry. My job description does not include any assignments related to promoting the industry or any specific technology; I am a member of a technical team and assigned duties appropriate for an "engineer/analyst."

As many people in this discussion can testify, my musings on Atomic Insights and in other discussion forums are often posted at very strange hours, perhaps due to the sleep patterns I developed while learning my trade as an engineering officer in the nuclear Navy.

Circling back to the topic at hand - the AP and others like to portray the discussion about nuclear energy as being two sided - the industry on one side and independent, public interest groups on the other. It cannot seem to accept that some people are truly, passionately in favor of nuclear energy as the BEST solution to many of our most pressing energy challenges because we are passionate about making the world a better place.

Even the NRC is guilty of seeing the nuclear discussion as two sided. Here is a quote from a blog about meeting with social media representatives that still frosts me.

"The first session focused on those with industry ties, and the second on those in the public interest/watchdog sector."
http://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2011/10/13/blogging-about-blogging/

We are NOT in the industry because it is a reasonably well paying profession; most of us are smart enough to be able to make more money with less stress in other endeavors. Most of us are NOT pronuclear because we have industry ties; many of us have industry ties because we are in favor of nuclear technology!

Disclosing the funding sources behind people who fight against nuclear energy is important because the public needs to understand that much of what you read about nuclear energy comes from people with close ties to the fossil fuel establishment - which obtains incredibly large rewards when nuclear competition gets pushed out of the market.

For example: During the period from March 11 - December 31 2011, as Japan gradually shut down nearly every nuclear plant in the country, the fossil fuel industry's revenues from sales to Japan increased by $55 billion. It is not "conspiracy theory" to notice that the fossil fuel industry spends a lot more money on advertising, which directly supports organizations like the AP, than the nuclear industry does.

How many times during the Fukushima frenzy that make Gundersen a media darling on networks like RT did you see commercials for "clean natural gas" with its newly found abundance "right under our feet". I have suggested many times that the ad revenue might be partially responsible for the slants taken in the stories. Some scoff, but it is hard to argue with tens of BILLIONs of dollars worth of motive at stake.

As a syndicator of new stories, the AP is highly interested in helping increase the revenues for its subscribing companies. Publishing antinuclear material is a safe way to do that - it benefits a block of big advertisers, each with annual "media buys" in the tens to hundreds of millions and upsets an industry where a budget increase of perhaps $2 million per year represents a doubling of its ad effort. There is a reason that our media is called "commercial" - it is because commercials are what makes it possible for the "news" to be delivered for "free."

That is the real disclosure that is missing.

One more thing about Gundersen's income from Vermont as a consultant working to shut down Vermont Yankee. Because of perverse laws, nearly every dime of that money passing through Vermont's treasury actually came from Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee, which was billed for the "services" of the board formed to review its operations.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Atomikrabbit said...

“Anonymous said...

Poster conveniently continues to forget about the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and has no familiarity with the legal standards for libel and slander.

Just because you don't LIKE what someone says doesn't make it libel.
April 2, 2012 3:26 PM”

Upon reconsideration, I fully agree with Anonymous’s interpretation of libel law and the 1st Amendment,

In unrelated news, I am announcing the results of my own investigation, including my photos of Helen Caldicott, Arnie Gundersen, and Ralph Nader in a sloppy ménage-a-trois involving the threesome frolicking on a panda bear rug while smoking crack from pipes carved from white rhino horns. In between sessions of signing large checks from the American Gas Association, they gleefully peruse stacks of child porn and shoot heroin into their jugular veins. Some photos show the trio in compromising positions with Satan, who is obviously endorsing their activities.

I will be submitting my report on these disturbing findings to the Associated Press, New York Times, and CNN, but will not be releasing the actual photos, or any physical evidence. For those who want more information, I will be making periodic videos for my YouTube channel, and going on tour to promote my book, “Essence of Evil: How the Antinuclear Industry Poisons the Planet with Lies“, which is being published by my vast consulting conglomerate, ScareWinds Associates, where my current title is Exalted Grand Poohbah and Chief Engineer.

jimwg said...

It's amazing that Friends Of The Earth and other Green groups have enough bucks to launch har'em scare'em ads out to shut down San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station for good but there's hardly even a pro-nuke street flyer rebuttal challenging them! Nuclear industry/unions, get off your duffs and debunk your enemy!

James Greenidge
Queens NY