Wall Street Journal editorial page: A glimpse behind the curtain

First, a disclaimer: the Wall Street Journal’s news reporting on climate science, clean energy and related environmental issues is and has always been stellar. To a person, the reporters are subject matter experts in each of their relevant beats and are the lodestars of accuracy, healthy skepticism and a desire to understand the complex, cascading set of issues.
Then there’s the Journal’s editorial page. The page is known for its unabashed defense of … well, of its own quirky ideology. They’re not exactly capitalists: they like profits when they’re privatized, as long as the related costs (especially if it’s infrastructure, pollution or poor labor conditions) are socialized. They disdain partisan politics, unless the partisan in question is bashing Democrats or those God-forsaken liberals.
Usually, the wacky, unsigned opinions on the Journal’s editorial page give little insight into the personalities behind their “unique” outlooks. At least, that was the case, until they started recording themselves on video and posting it on the internets.

In this sample, James Freeman interviews recent Dartmouth-grad and Wall Street Journal editorial writer Joe Rago about the state of Kansas’s decision to ban new coal-fired power plants. The state’s officials based their decision on the basis of the unreasonable carbon risk they pose to ratepayers – that is, the hidden, “socialized costs” the proponents, Sunflower Electric, want to force unwittingly on Kansas electricity customers.
(Brief related note: I first wrote about this likely outcome four years ago.)
Rago begins with the humorous claim that “everyone agrees Kansas needs more baseload coal-fired electricity,” follows up with how carbon dioxide is “necessary for all life on the planet,” and generally gets more “creative” from there. Watch:Keep in mind, Rago is as young as he looks – about 24 or so. Would you trust this young man with your economic future? Because thousands of loyal WSJ Editorial readers take the received wisdom of that page as the last word on all issues economic, scientific and political. Amazing that so many readers uncritically accept advice on climate science and energy policy from a guy who’s all CEED talking points, no cattle.
But it gets better. Joe doesn’t even have the basic facts right. His claim that Kansas’ decision is “unprecedented, the first in the nation?” California banned new coal-fired power plants two years ago. Idaho passed a coal moratorium at the insistence of its biggest industries – dairymen and fish farmers – due to their concern about coal’s negative impacts on their products. Florida’s Republican Governor rejected new coal plants because they were too expensive and environmentally unsound. Texas rejected plans for several new coal pants in favor of investments in efficiency, wind and some natural gas. A half dozen other states have either de-facto bans, or are considering them.
But a Wall Street Journal editorialist doesn’t have to go all the way to Kansas to find opposition to coal – they can just take a cab uptown to JP Morgan or Citigroup or any of the giant, multinational banks that have passed new guidelines prohibiting investment in coal power.
So when Joe Rago says that the use of coal is a “nationwide trend,” one has to wonder …

Interestingly, Joe Rago has a history of being fact-challenged – even conservative blogger Hugh Hewett has had some fun at Joe’s considerable expense:

HH: Joe, you’re 23.
JR: Sure.
HH: Can you be expert in anything? And I’m serious here.
JR: I think I can write a thoughtful article, even though I’m 23.
HH: That wasn’t…the question is, can you be expert in anything at 23?
JR: No, I don’t think so.

So next time you read a Wall Street Journal opinion piece about climate or energy policy and want to tear your hair out, take pity instead – Joe Rago needs all the sympathy he can get.

4 responses

  1. For one he didn’t say “everyone agrees Kansas needs more baseload coal-fired electricity”, he said “they need more baseload capacity”, which is probably true. Please do not misquote people, even if they are talking heads for some interest group.
    The second video seems broken for me, its 6seconds of some old movie.
    Anyway, the video as far as i have seen it does paint a rather one-sided picture of the issue. I wonder why people always say green energy is not viable, instead of how much more we are willing to pay for it. Frankly, i think it is worth quiet a lot.
    CO2 obviously is not toxic at low concentrations, so doesnt pollute locally. The point is though, it is a greenhouse gas, whining about it not being toxic doesnt change that.

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