NYTimes Green Jobs Story Misstated Sources Tremendously

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Shortly after the New York Times released an inaccurate piece on the growth of green jobs, Van Jones expressed anger that the writer used selective quotes from an hour-long interview to satisfy the predetermined conclusion of the article.

Now, one of the other key sources, SolFocus VP of Business Development Nancy Hartsoch, is speaking out about the reporter’s selective use of facts to paint an inaccurate picture of her company’s operations.  In an exclusive interview, she tells Climate Progress:

Honestly, I’ve never been involved in a story that got this screwed up. I was so surprised to read the story. It’s like the facts were misstated in order to put forward an agenda.

The NY Times author starts the story:

Flanked by a cadre of local political leaders, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose used a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a solar power company last week to talk up the promise of the green economy.

…But SolFocus assembles its solar panels in China, and the new San Jose headquarters employs just 90 people.

Hartsoch tells Climate Progress she was “shocked” when she read the story. Why? Because the reporter left out one very important fact: Sol Focus directly employs only four people in China and hires about 30 sub-contractors for manufacturing. So its U.S. operations are far larger than anything in China.

When factoring in all the sub-contractors in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan for production of components like glass and racking, the number of American jobs the company supports rises by dozens more, says Hartsoch.

She says she told all that to the reporter, who apparently had already decided his predetermined narrative was more important than fact-based reporting.

No, the company has not yet created a massive amount of jobs. But it’s scaling up at a moderate pace in response to demand for its unique concentrating photovoltaics technology (as opposed to the much-maligned solar company Solyndra, which tried to scale too quickly). And with a product that can potentially compete with low-cost Chinese producers, it’s the type of American-based company that could actually help the country succeed in solar manufacturing.

As Hartsoch says: “It makes sense for us to do the panel assembly and build the trackers near the end-use where we’re constructing projects.” So with a market here to support project development, a lot of the jobs will actually stay in the U.S., not China.

But the writer doesn’t mention any of this. Instead, he makes an even more misleading statement about SolFocus’ manufacturing operations:

A SolFocus spokeswoman, Nancy Hartsoch, said the company was willing to pay  work at the campus on Zanker Road, although the solar panels themselves will continue being made in China. Mayor Reed said he continued to hope that San Jose would attract manufacturing and assembly jobs, but Ms. Hartsoch said that was unlikely because “taxes and labor rates” were too high to merit investment in a factory in Northern California.

According to Hartsoch, the writer conveniently left out the fact that SolFocus is looking into building an assembly facility in southern California to be closer to where projects are being deployed. Instead, the reader gets the impression that SolFocus will be shipping all its jobs over to China just because it won’t likely build a facility in northern California.

Hartsoch explains her reaction to the story:

Honestly, I’ve never been involved in a story that got this screwed up. I was so surprised to read the story. It’s like the facts were misstated in order to put forward an agenda.

Things like this have legs that don’t stop. It gets picked up everywhere and gets skewed further and further. I don’t normally say anything about stories in the press, but the piece was inaccurate enough that I had to say something.

In this particular case, the writer misleadingly left out all the important details that would have given the facts context – and therefore would have challenged the predetermined conclusion of the article that clean energy jobs are a “pipe-dream.”

Of course, as Climate Progress reported, the author also completely ignored the “explosive growth” documented by a recent Brookings study in the clean energy jobs sector – even though the article cited the study!

Sadly, as Hartsoch points on, this widely debunked story lives on, cited again and again by right wing media and columnists like David Brooks.  Such are the fruits of bad journalism.

This story was originally published at ClimateProgress.org and was cross-posted with permission.

Image: screenshot of NYTimes Green Jobs story linked at the top


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