Garbage Journalism | Letters | Chicago Reader

Garbage Journalism 

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To the editors:

Last week's "What a Waste!" by Harold Henderson was garbage masquerading as journalism [September 28]. First, Henderson blatantly attempts to discredit Illinois' environmentalists and grassroots groups (disparagingly referred to as "environmentalists of the not-in-my-backyard persuasion"). It is the job of the journalist (or so I thought) to present issues in an unbiased manner, especially those as complicated and contentious as the solid waste disposal problem. Henderson is in no position to print uninformed opinions like: "Wouldn't this have been a good place for the environmentalists to declare victory and shake hands, instead of continuing to duke it out with the alleged villains?"

But the bad journalism and environmentalist-bashing doesn't stop there. Based on hearsay, Henderson quotes state officials who misquoted me, out of context, based on a conversation that took place over six months ago. I was not contacted by the author to verify my remarks nor to provide the context in which the original conversation took place. Henderson relates how Department of Energy and Natural Resources employees Robert Lieberman and Dave Baker contacted me concerning "workable legislation" on packaging reduction. This is true. He then writes that, according to Lieberman and Baker, when I was contacted, my response was "I hadn't thought about that."

As a policy analyst for Environmental Action Foundation, a nonprofit environmental research and advocacy group based in Washington D.C., it is my job to think about packaging reduction legislation. If my recollection of my conversation with Lieberman and Baker is correct, the specific issue with which I was unfamiliar was how a state would administer a packaging tax. I told them that I was not an expert in state tax administration and they should try to find someone who was.

It only takes one phone call to verify the facts. I hope in the future Henderson makes that call and that the Reader refrains from printing this kind of "trashy" journalism.

Jeanne Wirka

Solid Waste Policy Analyst

Environmental Action Foundation

Washington, D.C.

Harold Henderson replies:

I apologize to Ms. Wirka for not verifying her quote. The story would have been better if I had done so. However, I am not sure that the substance of the story would have been much different. It is the job of the solid-waste policy analyst (or so I thought) to know at least enough about state tax administration to help environmentalists propose packaging taxes that revenue bureaucrats can then take seriously and work with.

My article certainly did express opinion: that continued confrontationalism and stalemate in Illinois will lead to a future of landfills and incinerators rather than recycling. And I supported that opinion with facts. My prediction could be wrong. I would welcome correspondents who have information that might prove it wrong.

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