In December 2014, Matthew Wald, the energy reporter for the New York Times, took a buyout from the paper of record after working there for decades.
Last week, he joined the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) as senior director, policy analysis and strategic planning.
This did not sit well with public interest activists who for years had to deal with Wald’s pro-nuclear bias.
And it continues an unseemly trend of mainstream news reporters going to work for the industries they covered as reporters.
For years, Dan Whitten was Bloomberg’s energy reporter, but in 2010, he jumped ship to become vice president of strategic communications at America’s Natural Gas Alliance.
“It’s always troubling when someone goes from journalism to lobbying — from telling the story to selling the story,” said Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting in New York. “You have to wonder if they’ve really been giving readers all sides of the issue when one side — the side that happens to have the deepest pockets — is happy to offer them a new home.”
Michael Mariotte, president of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said he was “surprised and disappointed that the New York Times reporter on nuclear power issues for decades would accept an early buyout and turn around and work for the nuclear industry.”
“It makes one wonder how many other reporters have cozier relationships with the industries they cover than they let on,” Mariotte said.
“In Matt Wald’s case, he should have learned a lot over the years about nuclear power’s terrible economics, ongoing safety issues, and the futility of existing radioactive waste policies and programs — all of which point to the reality that he is moving from one dying industry — print journalism — to another — nuclear power. The nuclear industry is already in intensive care and Matt Wald isn’t going to turn that around. Good journalism, however, may change in format, but, unlike nuclear power, there will always be a need for it.”
Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum said that Wald “always seemed to have a pro-nuclear bent, but he did give space for criticism.”
“He generally seemed to favor nuclear power,” Slocum said. “It is an unsettling trend when established journalists go to work for corporate advocacy organizations. I was definitely surprised. Just for the sake of one’s professional reputation — to jump from being an allegedly objective reporter to going to working for a trade association, it tarnishes your reputation for objectivity, it just doesn’t look good.”
Karl Grossman, Professor of Journalism at the State University of New York/Old Westbury, said that “to go from being the nuclear energy reporter at the New York Times to then representing the pro nuclear lobbying group is unseemly at best.”
Last year, at a news conference held by Friends of the Earth about the San Onofre nuclear power facility in California, Grossman reported on how Wald asked Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica how he “squared eliminating ‘2,400 megawatts of carbon-free energy’ that would be generated by the San Onofre nuclear plant.”
“Wald either doesn’t want to acknowledge or doesn’t know that the ‘nuclear cycle’ — the mining, milling, fuel enrichment and other components of nuclear power — emits greenhouse gases and contributes substantially to global warming, and thus the energy from San Onofre was never ‘carbon-free,’” Grossman wrote last year.
Friends of the Earth’s Damon Moglen faults Wald for not taking the safety issues at San Onofre seriously. San Onofre was closed down in 2013 due to safety concerns.
“It’s a very good thing if the New York Times now gets a journalist who is going to fairly, independently and seriously cover nuclear issues,” Moglen said.
Janette Sherman was a contributing editor of a 2010 book titled Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.
Sherman says that on May 25, 2011, just a couple of months after the Fukushima meltdown, “Matt Wald interviewed Alexey Yablokov, one of the authors of the Chernobyl report, at my home. Wald spent about an hour interviewing Professor Yablokov. To my knowledge, Wald never published anything about that interview.”
Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, said that as a rule “we did not think Matt’s Times energy coverage was at all objective or appropriately deep for a newspaper of that importance.”
“While on the surface it’s quite shocking that he would go to work for NEI now, the truth is that nuclear industry interests were and are excessively protected at the Times,” Mello said. “There’s a clubbiness that comes from hanging out with industry that makes it easy to omit or relativize the most devastating and relevant facts.”
“This is now a feature of elite journalism in the U.S. generally, perhaps especially at the Times, which seldom disturbs the general complacency the paper encourages about the crises America — and the world — face. Maintaining that complacency is “Job Number One” at the Times.”
Alice Slater, a long time anti-nuclear activist, said she wasn’t surprised about Wald’s jumping ship from the Times to the nuclear industry.
“For too long, activists working to expose the many dangers, hidden costs, and damaging health effects of nuclear power, from the devastating effects inflicted on indigenous land from uranium mining, to the growing childhood cancers, mutations and birth defects, in communities with nuclear reactors, to the corrupt corporate subsidies that enabled the industry to survive and deprived the rapid expansion of a viable sustainable energy economy, and to the intractable dilemma of what to do with nuclear waste that remains lethally toxic for hundreds of thousands of years, had to contend with Wald’s reporting for the nation’s paper of record in which he totally distorted and ignored the facts that would have enabled the US to move forward more swiftly and intelligently on energy alternatives and measures to contain and clean up the damage caused by civilian nuclear power,” Slater said. “Perhaps this new era for the Times will give us the information we need to transform our energy economy before it’s too late for people and the planet.”
Beverly Keever is author of News Zero: The New York Times and the Bomb (Common Courage Press, 2004).
Keever sees Wald’s protection of the nuclear industry as part of a decades long trend.
“Wald joining a nuclear-industry lobbying group would appear to be a new millennium continuation of that newspaper’s kowtowing to that planet-changing sector that began at the dawn of the atomic-bomb age 70 years ago this coming July,” Keever said. “In my book, I document how the New York Times almost single-handedly shaped news and public perceptions beginning 70 years ago that helped the U.S. government birth the acceptance of the most destructive man-made force ever created.”
“Then, the Times’ award-winning science writer William Laurence — perhaps the godfather of Matthew Wald — was hand picked exclusively and paid by the U.S. Army to chronicle the birth, testing and first use of atomic bombs. He spun government propaganda that this self-advertised newspaper-of-record passed off as news to the nation’s other media. Yet this world-class newspaper then omitted or obscured the defining — and deadly — feature of atomic bombs: silent, invisible radiation and radioactivity.”
“Failing to challenge secrecy and echoing the government’s spin, The Times then helped U.S. officials to hide from public consciousness nearly half of the 86 atmospheric tests and their yield that from 1946 to 1962 in the U.S.-administered atolls and territorial waters convulsed the Pacific region once described as paradise.”
“The destructive force of those 86 Pacific tests equates to detonations of at least 8,580 Hiroshima-size bombs. Just 70 years ago on July 16 at Alamogordo Air Base, Laurence wrote the first draft of the U.S. government’s cover-up when he witnessed the explosion of the Trinity bomb that thrust the planet into the atomic age — he described the 21,000-kiloton explosion with its radioactive clouds merely as the detonation of an ammunition magazine filled with high explosives.”