City Paper is not for tourists
In the forest of environmental journalists, Edward Flattau finds himself a lone liberal crusader, up in a remote tree amongst a band of clear-cutters. Flattau’s syndicated column, which doesn’t run here in his own city, was never a cushy gig, but now its prospects are bleaker than ever. He used to run in about 100 newspapers nationwide, but the Gannett chain canceled his contract four years ago and hired an anti-environmentalist writer instead. Flattau’s client list now totals only eight, among them the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Baltimore Sun, and the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Ironically, Flattau’s recent problems stem from environmentalism’s success. “Newspapers love the contrarian view,” says Flattau, a bit wistfully. “We didn’t realize it at the time, but our golden days were in the days of Ronald Reagan and James Watt,” Reagan’s lightning-rod interior secretary.
Newspaper executives are a big obstacle, too, Flattau contends. “There are exceptions, but publishers are basically hostile to environmental protection,” he says. “It’s a threat to their business. Their economic lifeblood comes from advertising revenues, and that means conspicuous consumption….No publisher or editor is going to suppress an important environmental story, but they’re not going to go out of their way to editorialize about it.”
The signs of Flattau’s struggles are all over his new polemic, Tracking the Charlatans: An Environmental Columnist’s Refutational Handbook for the Propaganda Wars (Global Horizons Press). His critics on the rightmany cited by name in the bookwill complain that Flattau unfairly broadsides them. Even greens will find his fixation with Rush Limbaugh and his ilk a bit excessive. But the author’s long career has exposed him to the anti-environmental movement’s every stratagem.
“For many years, I laughed off a lot of the attacks that I rebut in this book,” he says. “But in the last few years, their intensity has increased, and so has their exposure. The claims have no more credibility than they did beforeactually, they probably have lessbut repetition can carry a sense of conviction to the naive.”Louis Jacobson