More Messages: Do the Math

Journalists are often criticized these days for simply disseminating statements made by public officials without critically examining what they've said -- and rightly so. If the media is to truly serve the public, editorial types must provide analysis, rather than serving as little more than a neutral placard for de facto press releases. Yet too few news organizations regularly fulfill this function.

Serious examples of this phenomenon abound. The Iraq war, anyone? But a more humorous item from last week may make the phenomenon easier to grasp. On July 13, Denver's mayor, John Hickenlooper, offered a series of environmental proposals, the grabbiest of which was his goal to facilitate the planting of one million trees in the greater metropolitan area over the next twenty years. Most coverage of Hickenlooper's declaration reported the figure without bothering to calculate how the task could be accomplished; this article in the Rocky Mountain News was typical. But on July 14, a letter credited to Aspen's R. Berry Crook and published by the Denver Post raised the sort of nuts-and-bolts issues that apparently didn't occur to anyone with a press pass. Crook wrote:

Just doing the math for the mayor, a million trees to be planted over a 20-year period will require him to plant 5.7 trees every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 20 years. If he plans to do it in a "normal" workweek, it jumps to 24 trees per hour for every eight-hour day the city works. That sounds like at least 12 crews working their entire year doing nothing but planting trees. Better start planting!

Yeah -- and better start asking legitimate questions of politicians and the like. After all, R. Berry Crook might not always be around to pick up the slack. -- Michael Roberts

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