Fact checking...
Apr 11, 2013 | 1589 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In last week’s Times-Independent there was a story about the two rallies opposing and supporting the creation of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument. One quote in the story intrigued me.

James W. Tibbetts, chairman of the Sagebrush Coalition’s board of directors, which oppose the proposed monument, was quoted as saying, “2 trillion tons of low sulfur coal was taken off the market when President Bill Clinton declared the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.” Two trillion tons is a big number and I became curious about its accuracy.

A few seconds, literally a few seconds, with my search engine of choice pointed me to a report by the Utah Geologic Survey on the energy resources of the Grand Staircase area. That report put the total coal resources on federal, state, and private land in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument at 62.3 billion tons, of which 11.4 billon tons was recoverable. Mr. Tibbetts’s number of 2 trillion tons was off by a factor of about 200 (11.4 billion instead of 2 trillion). Perhaps the giddy excitement and fumes of Jeep Safari had addled him.

There are two conclusions a fact-friendly reader can draw. One, Mr. Tibbetts apparently pulled a number out of the air, or somewhere, and wouldn’t recognize a fact if it bit him on the ankle, or somewhere. Second, The Times-Independent presented Mr. Tibbetts nonsense as fact without doing any basic checking of its own.

A newspaper should do more than report “what he said.” A newspaper should report “what he said” and then do some checking and, if warranted, add “and he was wrong.” If all the T-I does is serve as stenographers, what value do you add?

There are smart, committed, and concerned folks working at the T-I. Let them be journalists rather than stenographers.

—Richard Schwartz


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