The public hears a great deal about media bias. Mostly, these complaints arise when newspapers and electronic media are presented with a set of facts from which they draw a conclusion which annoys part of the electorate. Those offended then decide that the media must be biased and unenlightened; otherwise, it would have agreed with them.
However, setting that aside, I think that the media can be fairly accused of a second type of bias which is seldom discussed. In hot pursuit of readers and viewers, the print and electronic media are often more interested in covering short-lived, sensational stories than those that are substantial and have long-term consequences. A case in point was the relative lack of coverage given the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) release of far-reaching air pollution regulations 21 years after they were first mandated by Congress.
This is a big deal - a very big deal. Paul Krugman of the New York Times writes (12/22/11) "It's worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live."
Are Krugman's comments over the top? I think not. The rules require coal- and oil-fired power plants (many of which are currently unregulated) to lower emissions of 84 different toxic chemicals to levels no higher than those emitted by the cleanest 12 percent of plants. The EPA estimates that the new regulations will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and prevent 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms.
Well, why did it take 21 years for these new rules to go into effect? Krugman notes, "The reason is, of course, obvious: special interests, hiding behind claims of immense economic damage if anything was done, were able to block action."
"It's worth noting," continues Krugman, "that these claims of economic harm from pollution regulation have always proven wrong when the regulation finally came. Ozone regulation was supposed to cripple the economy; so was acid rain regulation; neither did."
Apparently, corporations and big businesses define "immense economic damage" as regulations that might interfere with large profits. They bemoaned the cost of upgrading coal- and oil-fired power plants. The EPA estimates that the cost of compliance will run approximately $9.6 billion per year, a figure far outweighed by the savings of $37 to $90 billion derived from fewer people falling ill and dying from pollution.
The Charlotte Observer (12/25/11) nicely summarizes the situation in an editorial. "What we know is that mercury's danger is real, and that the cost of controlling that odorless, invisible poison pales against the cost of doing nothing. We're thankful that the EPA has finally concluded the same."
Republicans frequently accuse Barack Obama of being a "do nothing president" (all the while attempting to block anything he does). That is far from the truth. The new pollution regulations are yet another notch in his belt, which already bears more than a few. Obama doesn't receive the credit he deserves because the press has tended to undercover these achievements.
Let's review his often unheralded successes: Obama ended the war in Iraq, and aided the overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi in Libya. He helped pass the Dodd-Frank Regulatory Reform Act to combat Wall Street financial excesses. President Obama oversaw the elimination of Osama Bin Laden as a terrorist threat. Obama secured a bipartisan agreement extending tax cuts for middle class families. He negotiated a new START treaty that will reduce nuclear arsenals and put inspectors on the ground in Russia.
The president signed bipartisan comprehensive credit card reform into law. He prevented a slide into a Depression with the passage of the Recovery Act. Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, ensuring equal pay for equal work. He repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." President Obama increased mileage standards for automobiles to decrease our reliance on foreign oil. The president enacted the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act which caps student loan payments in keeping with graduates' incomes.
And, of course, after 20 years, the EPA issued new regulations significantly reducing power plant pollution abd safeguarding the health of the American people.
Not bad for a supposed "do-nothing" president. Readers probably found these stories of progress by the Obama administration on the back pages of the newspapers, but they were worth the search.