In his “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats? Or are its rivals overdoing it?
I may be imagining it, but while the other network news organizations are giving full, even avid, coverage to the threat of terrorism at the coming Sochi Olympics, NBC — which is televising the games — seems to be playing it down. Or at least not playing it up.
It’s no surprise that NBC has been full of segments featuring the arrivals or practice sessions of members of team America, especially the good-looking ones. That’s a time-honored, if cheesy, effort to use ostensible news shows to boost the games’ ratings.
But it also seems that its coverage of the security threats and accompanying precautions is nothing like what we’re seeing on CBS, ABC, Fox, or CNN — where images of barb wire-encased arenas and helmeted Russian security forces abound.
Am I right? Someone on the media or sports beats ought to check that out by doing a full count of the types of stories aired across the networks.
Either way — if NBC’s security coverage is just as strong as its rivals or not — I’d like to see an inside report on how the network’s bosses are instructing their producers and talent to juxtapose their cheery coverage of our athletes with the more grim reports about the challenges of Sochi as the venue for the games.
When it’s over, I’d also like to see someone try to figure out if the ratings were hurt by the negative vibes from Sochi, or if they were helped because of the extra tension surrounding the events.
2. Stalling on environmental reviews:
Last week, the State Department released what most press reports called its “long-awaited” environmental impact review of the proposed Keystone XL gas pipeline. The pipeline’s sponsor, TransCanada Corporation, had submitted its application 21 months ago, on May 4, 2012, after what a company press release called “more than three years of environmental review already conducted” by the company and various regulatory agencies.
Though the State Department’s decision took up 11 volumes, almost two years is still a long time to write a report — especially one based on other reports.
Besides, it’s not even the final word: Now that the State Department has concluded that the pipeline, according to this account in The New York Times, “would not substantially worsen carbon pollution,” Secretary of State John Kerry still has to consult with eight other federal agencies (from the departments of Commerce and Justice, to Homeland Security and Energy) to decide whether the project is in the broader national interest.
So, who at the State Department was doing what over those 21 months? Was a team burning the midnight oil every day to produce its verdict? Or, as I suspect, has the report been slow-walked because the politics of the pipeline are so dicey for a Democratic administration that has two key constituencies — labor and environmentalists — in opposite camps?
A major news organization should demand calendars, meeting logs and other records and cultivate some inside sources to create what I’ll bet is a story of a determined bureaucratic stall. For the same reason, someone ought to start tracking the pace of Kerry’s consultations with all those other agencies.
3. Inside the Cuomo stall:
With that in mind, here’s an even surer story on the same subject. This one involves a Democratic presidential hopeful rather than a soon-to-be lame duck.
It’s about the debate over whether the hydraulic fracturing process of drilling for natural gas — fracking — should be allowed in New York State.
Fracking fields in neighboring Pennsylvania are thriving. But New York — whose upstate regions are thought to contain the same natural gas riches found in Pennsylvania — has had a moratorium on this kind of drilling since 2008, ostensibly to study the issue.
It’s become comical watching New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explain the deliberative process he and his team are going through whenever a reporter is lucky enough to pin him down on the subject.
After Cuomo inherited the moratorium when he took office in 2010, he assigned his health commissioner, Nirav Shah, to examine the pros and cons. Since then, Cuomo has repeatedly brushed off questions about where he stands on fracking by saying he’s waiting for Shah’s report. The governor has promised that his decision will only be based on science, as determined by Shah, not politics.