SLO Tribune’s growing credibility problem

January 22, 2020

OPINION by RICHARD SCHMIDT

What happens when a community’s newspaper abdicates its responsibility to watchdog local government and seek the truth? You get the messy arrogant cliquish partisan exclusionary faction-serving politics we have in San Luis Obispo instead of government that works in the interests of all.

Recently the Tribune had a long article headlined, in its online presentation, “SLO and Morro Bay now receive cleaner energy, and it’s cheaper, officials say.”

Under a photo below the headline was the caption “Monterey Bay Community Power is now provided [sic] electricity to San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay from green sources . . .” One surmises that means “is now providing” green electricity.

Then the story began: “A new way of receiving cleaner power . . . has arrived in San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, and it will significantly reduce carbon emissions . . .”

Not only that, the story asserted, MBCP customers “will pay $3 to $10 less per month.”

Mayor Heidi “Harmon added that the change for SLO will remove 20,000 metric tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.”

Sprinkled throughout the Tribune article are terms like “cleaner,” “renewable,” “carbon-free,” “clean energy,” “green” and “energy resilience and reliability” to describe the power we’ll get from MBCP.

The article is sourced 100 percent from a single ideological source, the conjoined triplets SLO, Morro Bay and MBCP and SLO’s familial siblings, the SLO Chamber of Commerce and the SLO Climate Coalition, a private club and adjunct of the SLO Progressives that’s been granted permission – unknown to the public — to drive city climate policy.

One never gets a hint MBCP’s arrival is swathed in controversy, nor does the article include any fact checking on the extraordinary environmental claims being made by its single political source.

* * * *

And therein lies the article’s factualness problem and the Tribune’s credibility problem.

All of the claims about the coming of green power, our access to cleaner power or carbon-free power, MBCP’s reducing carbon emissions on our behalf – all those claims are false.

• Nobody is delivering or receiving cleaner energy.

SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon

• Nobody is removing 20K tons of carbon emissions. The precise number of emission tons prevented by our MBCP participation is zero. By uncritically repeating political mendaciousness as fact, the Tribune is lying to us.

The only claim that isn’t manifestly unfactual is the claim of savings, though even that is exaggerated since this year to get the $3 per month discount dangled as the low end of discounts you’d have close to $200 per month bills. I sure don’t. Do you? Further, MBCP admits these savings are only a “goal,” not a promise or certainty.

The root of the Tribune’s lie is that MBCP will deliver no power to us. How could they when they have no power lines to do so?

So, whatever MBCP is selling us, it’s not a different type of power that will arrive at our homes.

We, and our PG&E-served neighbors, will receive identical power. That power will not be carbon-free. About 40 percent, perhaps more, will be carboniferous, with most coming from natural gas, but some coming from coal. That’s because this is what’s in our power lines, the so-called “California mix.”

The Tribune either doesn’t understand what MBCP does, or doesn’t care to make that as clear as the political propaganda it spews. MBCP is nothing more than a power broker, which means they buy power on the market and resell it. We are who they’re reselling it to, but reselling doesn’t mean they deliver anything to us. It’s merely a paper transaction.

What they’ve done in our name is buy “clean” power on the power market. Their power portfolio has a lower percentage of renewables than PG&E’s portfolio, something you’d never guess from the political hype about “green MBCP, bad PG&E.” Two-thirds of MBCP’s portfolio is old Pacific Northwest hydro, some dating to New Deal days. Their renewables are also existing, not new, renewables.

It’s important to understand the global warming significance of old hydro and preexisting renewables. If a power provider is to reduce global carbon emissions, it must create new carbon-free power to replace existing carboniferous power. Simply putting a new ownership name on old carbon-free power, as MBCP has done, accomplishes nothing towards reducing global warming. It’s greenwash to claim otherwise.

Thus Mayor Harmon’s story that arrival of MBCP “will remove 20,000 metric tons of carbon” from our air is utter nonsense.

* * * *

The Tribune’s article was based on a publicity stunt akin to a ribbon cutting. Journalists call such stunts “pseudo-events” because they are stunts staged to induce fake news. Good print journalists ignore pseudo-events. New Times ignored this one. The Tribune went in full bore, delivering to its readers stunt propaganda indistinguishable from a paid public relations operative’s verbal mischief.

Unfortunately, this is typical of what the Tribune has become. It now eschews watchdogging.

Instead it sides with city hall’s establishment to block exposing inconvenient truths.

I got this thrown in my face several years back. The SLO city council blatantly violated the Brown Act in a manner that harmed my neighborhood. So 20-some of us submitted a Brown Act “fix-it” letter to the council, calling them out on their obviously carefully-scripted non-
inadvertent violation and demanding they undo their improper action.

Twenty-some upstanding citizens accusing the city of violating the law and demanding redress is by any definition news. Furthermore, the Brown Act is mother’s milk to the news media, with its prohibition of secretive and other improper dealings that might obstruct news reporting. If ever there’s a misdeed mandating media follow-up, it’s a well-substantiated alleged violation of the Brown Act.

I sent a copy of our fix-it letter to the Tribune. In response there was no reporting, but instead an email from the city hall reporter declaring there was no Brown Act violation because the city attorney, who had been party to the Brown Act violation, had told him there was no violation.

Sorry, Tribune, but that’s not how responsible journalism works. Your job isn’t to decide a legal matter or to take sides, it’s to report what’s happening. “News” isn’t what city hall tells a reporter it is. You’re supposed to be a watchdog, not the city’s lapdog.

* * * *

The Tribune’s mendacious MBCP “news” story should never have happened with best practices journalism.

Rule #1 of reporting is never accept anything at face value. Question everything.

The reason for this isn’t to be an obnoxious reporter. It’s to make sure you understand, and to uncover facts. Questioning even the simplest thing may make clear the reporter’s assumptions and understandings about a story need modification. It might also open up a new story the reporter didn’t recognize was there.

In the MBCP story, there are things so obviously in need of questioning it’s shocking they survived writing and editing unexamined. For example, Mayor Harmon claims MBCP will remove 20,000 tons of greenhouse gases. Even the dimmest observer knows Harmon doesn’t
know the difference between 2K tons, 20K tons or 200K tons of carbon.

Somebody told her to say that. So, the question becomes where did that number come from, and how was it arrived at? I suspect it would turn out to be unsubstantiated as fact, in which case an honest story
might report: “Mayor Harmon said MBCP will prevent emitting 20,000 tons of carbon, a number she said came from MBCP, but upon questioning by a reporter MBCP admitted such carbon savings are unsubstantiated and may actually be zero.”

Your job, Tribune, is to inform your readers, not make the mayor happy by repeating as fact everything she says. She has Facebook for the latter.

A second thing even the dimmest observer might ask is does MBCP have its own power lines, and, if not, how exactly do its customers get power different from that received by PG&E customers next door? This would quickly dispose of the entire myth MBCP is supplying us with anything special.

Such questioning of all the major claims about MBCP’s “arrival” would unveil the house of cards our politicos are falsely claiming will save the earth. That’s a very different story from the one the Tribune spun.

The function of a community newspaper is to look out for the community’s members, particularly as government affects them.

Unfortunately the Tribune has reversed that function and become city hall’s press agent, even when doing so causes it to misinform its readers.

Our newspaper has become an unabashed stenographer for city propaganda not the sort of newspaper any of us need. And that, for an
old newspaper lover like myself, is very sad to see.


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Mjd

Ladies & Gentlemen,


I AGREE with Mr. Richard Schmidt!


Sadly, the SLO TT has surrendered its journalistic credibility and now is a shell of a community newspaper, their corporate owners have become ideologically joined at the hip with the whacky SLO Progressives, and I predict that a bankruptcy is near.


The SLO TT editorial board and Editor Joe Tarica consistency cover-up the truth and hide the bad behavior of the corrupt SLO Progressives. Our local government has literally gone to pot, and the latest insult to the taxpaying public is that the SLO City Council has been taking special interest money from the marijuana dealers.


Working families in SLO County deserve better than a failing newspaper and corrupt politicians.


sjdunbar

I have a minor in energy policy and a bachelors in electrical engineering.


Mr. Schmidt is repeatedly misguided in this article. While it is true that the current power mix of MBCP includes significant large hydro, it also has 0% fossil-fuel based energy. Yes, we all understand the power lines transmit everything the same.


The procurement contracts further tighten the market on renewables and provide further incentive for new renewable contracts via a market mechanism. That’s how this is supposed to work. Claiming that has zero impact makes no sense.


Mr. Schmidt also veers into old grudges. It’s not convincing.


SLO_Children_at_play

Oh good, so glad your undergraduate degree in a related field is here to set the record straight.


Note that nearly 50% of the electricity made here in California is still produced using natural gas. The Independent System Operator also relies on gas turbine “peaker” plants when demand is high. That is the only electricity available for sale to the masses of California.


Sure, MBCP can create a demand for cleaner power, but so far they only have the support of two cities from our County. Hardly the muscle required to make a significant change.


I don’t think your amazing four-year degree in Electrical Engineering makes you that much of an expert in journalism. You see, Mr. Scmidt is allowed to bring up any (what you call) “old grudges” in this article. That’s why it’s categorized as an OPINION piece. Ya gotta love the pseudo-experts that our colleges are producing these days. I can’t wait for the day that my tax dollars go to pay off their student loans.


What was it exactly that Descartes said? “I ad scholam ergo sum.” I went to college, therefore I am?


sjdunbar

I am well aware of the energy mix of the state of California. Your attempt at education is irrelevant to the matter at hand.


Mr. Schmidt is the one who claimed “zero” (not insignificant, but zero) effect for MBCP.


Mr. Schmidt’s expertise in journalism apparently doesn’t transfer to energy policy.


And I didn’t claim he was “not allowed” to post his old grduges. I said it was “not convincing.”


Maybe you can try going to a journalism class in college to learn some basic logic.


20miles

Newspapers no longer have educated journalists to research these things and arrive at a well reasoned conclusion. Neither do websites. “News” has become regurgitation of information from another source which may be a self serving announcement or press release, another webiste that did nothing to corroborate any facts or just a re-posting of an item from another site. The burden falls on the citizens to do their own research, educate themselves and make better choices when electing officials. The progressive agenda of a Green New Deal will cause people to think that this stuff is true unless we all become more involved in educating ourselves and voting appropriately.


DocT

Excellent Article! I hesitate to call it an opinion piece because it is mostly fact with only very logical, deductive reasoning offered as “opinion.”


The Tribune is nothing more than a propaganda dispenser for Boobus SanLuisObiscanus. Unfortunately, Boobus can’t focus enough to read….and therefore can’t think stuff like this through.


Keep it up Richard! Great job.


slomark

The McClatchy Company (MNI), the holding group for the Tribune, stock is down to $1.08 today. Its market cap is an astonishingly low $2.5 million. Anyone who is an investor recognizes that this market cap signals imminent bankruptcy. So they won’t be here for us to kick around much longer.


I’m surprised people are even still being paid at the Trib.


ANTELOPE

As a long time SLO County resident I can remember when I actually looked forward to reading the old Telegram Tribune. Even though I disagreed with many of their editorial positions they at least acknowledged other points of view and would actually do some “leg work” to verify facts.


I, as with most of those I know, canceled our subscriptions years ago. It is a shame that our County doesn’t have a decent daily newspaper. The demise of the Trib is near.


George Garrigues

It won’t get better without a staff to report the news. It won’t have a staff to report the news without income. It won’t have income without advertisers. It won’t have advertisers without subscribers. Thus, “no decent daily newspaper,” no matter what the editorial policy.Connect the dots.


P.S. Don’t forget the comics and the crossword puzzles.


MrYan

Richard, I am not an advocate for MBCP, especially the unmentioned “opt in” clause. Or is it opt out? Either way, you’re opted into the program by default. If you wish to stay on PG&E you must do so pro-actively otherwise you become a MBCP customer.


The dimmest observer probably would not be able to understand, but yes you can have a different electrical provider than PG&E. With deregulation, competitors can buy energy and dump it into the grid from a variety of sources–green being just one.


If you read a power bill you’d understand that PG&E still is contracted for delivery of energy across it’s infrastructure. Infrastructure that was subsidized by all of us mind you over the years. The local delivery system is not the “grid” where generated power comes from. It is a merely a distribution system.


An example that you may be able to follow would be found in the telecommunications industry.


Deregulation made it possible for competitors to lease access to copper lines, controlled by AT&T-Pac Bell, in order to deliver Internet access to customers.

AT&T had its own Internet at the time, and did not want people using their copper to deliver Internet from another source, but they were forced to allow others to use “their” copper infrastructure.


If you got a bill from one of these competitors to AT&T you would have seen fees associated with the use of the AT&T copper infrastructure. Same thing here bud.


The power lines will be maintained by PG&E. The upstream source (what gets dumped into the grid for disbursement) can come from other sources, from others states, and by various means.


The idea is to create a free-er marketplace for the consumer of power.


Green sourcing aside; competition is a good thing is it not?


MysticOne

I thought California already had too much ‘green energy’ to the point at times we have to PAY other states to take our excess green energy from us.


https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-electricity-solar/

“ California invested heavily in solar power. Now there’s so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it”.


20miles

It is very similar to the deregulation of the phone companies. What you fail to grasp is being on the backbone of ATT or PGE is a delivery of services that they control. The phone service still came from ATT and the power will still come from PGE> The “leasing copper” is a fallacy. It is leasing capacity. Att still provides service, maintenance, etc. Go ahead and order phones and internet from one of the alternate providers. (I have it.) When the installation comes to the building ATT provides it. Earlier in the days of phone deregulation prices were substantially lower by making the change and still are. While power deregulation is in it’s infant stages, it appears that our local govt. reps did a lousy job in negotiating prices for us. I wonder if that is because they are sharing in the revenues vs the savings going directly to the consumer like with phone and internet?


MrYan

You are incorrect about ATT. A CLEC (competitor) could lease “copper”; T1, DSx, OCn from ATT, take it to their facility (switch) to provide their own phone service. The “last mile” -the part that goes to the customer would be leased from ATT, so that is why you’d see them. Technically the CLEC is ATT’s customer turning up service at your location. Reselling capacity is something altogether different.


mary margaret

Thank you for your revealing article Mr. Schmidt. The Tribune needs to ask you if they can publish your well-researched article in their paper and stop being the mouthpiece for the City of San Luis Obispo’s mayor, city council , department heads and staff. The Tribune needs to present its readers the truth, or at least both sides.


The massive amounts spent consultants like the PR firm the city has hired needs to be stopped. The former directors and staff of the Chamber of Commerce slide right over to city hall and then become influential, highly-paid city officials and administrators. It’s just plain old corruption which is running rampant thanks to the collusion that includes The Tribune.


Slosum

Richard my man….. you need to understand that “journalists” are genetically pre-disposed to liberalism and advocacy. They can’t help it. Their world view is that life is full of problems and they are going to expose them and fix them. They don’t dig deep. If they see something that looks like a solution and fits their narrative, then that’s what they go with. Such is the case with the Tribune. They’re a sham.


But don’t fret. No one reads its’ one page anymore. It’s a dead tree falling in the wilderness.