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Mindless Green Flackery at the Times

A recent press release masquerading as a news article in the New York Times is a classic example of journalistic flackery at its worst. A profile of new “green” urban development in Fort Collins, CO doesn’t just cross the line between optimism and fawning propaganda. It takes vacuous puffery to new levels, reaching levels of idiocy that transcend mere bias to reach something that is, in its own silly way, almost sublime.  A choice excerpt:

With development pressure off the table, environmental-minded groups and residents no longer needed to focus obsessively on fighting things like sprawl and could turn their attention to other topics, like energy. And businesses that had prospered under the old model — build it and they will come — had to look for new ways of thinking, too.

So Fort Collins reached out as it never had before, seeking volunteers and input, and, just as crucially, ideas about how to finance a new future in an age of limits.

And those reaching back, including some people and organizations who had never participated in city planning, from arts groups and beer brewers to technology entrepreneurs and professors at Colorado State University, created the city’s new vision of itself — an ambitious and comprehensive plan, even by the standards of bigger cities in more prosperous times.

Democratized by necessity, the process led to goals that went beyond the predictable safe streets and commerce that planners might have otherwise emerged. In a departure from the old command-down process — planners proposing, residents disposing in public planning meetings — ideas bubbled up in new ferment.

The entire (lengthy) piece reads like this, full of obsequious adulation and namby-pamby greenthink cliches unthinkingly parroted. The article makes no mention of even the smallest criticisms of the new plan, nor does it provide even a hint of caution to leaven the overbearing optimism of the piece. Virtually the entire piece consists of process-worship; there is zero, correct, zero in the way of objective measures (population, productivity, traffic to new stores, employment growth, tax base) that would allow readers to assess how all this beautiful process produced or did not produce real world change. The planners like their project and speak well of it; that is enough to get a lengthy, heavy breathing puff job (hardened newspaper people would use a phrase in place of that one that is unsuitable in a family friendly blog like Via Meadia) in the New York Times.  Only an idiot or a propagandist would write such a piece; it is hard to see how any editor would put it in print.

There is a bit, a tiny bit, of drama in the piece.  Yes: conflict and opposition, triumphantly overcome:

Early in the planning process, for example, talk emerged of a new culture and business district based around beer-brewing, called the Lincoln Triangle, home to three microbreweries that had become popular tourist destinations. Some traditional transportation planners contended that the district would need more traffic lanes to handle all the ardently hoped for added visitors.

But then some of the economic development collaborators, thinking in different ways about downtown, spoke up. Not more cars, they said. Instead, they wanted more pedestrians, more bikes, more life connected to the new ideas bubbling up around FortZed.

“After that it just crystalized as a catalyst project area, a beer district within the energy zone,” said Benjamin A. Herman, a vice president at Clarion Associates, a land-use consulting firm that worked with the city.

That one of the breweries, New Belgium Brewing, was also an anchoring force in FortZED — running part of the brewery already on a combination of solar and bio-gas energy from the fermenting process — connected the dots: electricity, beer, and an emerging brand for the city folded into one. The Triangle became yet another improvisation in a moment of life that had arrived without a script.

Somebody call the Pulitzer committee.

While there may be some truly good and useful ideas coming out of Fort Collins, the cloying layers of uncritical approbation undermines the credibility of the entire piece — it is impossible to separate the truly novel ideas from the thick stew of green boilerplate, leaving sensible readers no choice but to discredit the entire piece as unwholesome fluff: fattening mind candy for uncritical greens.

This is not a news story, it is ineffective NGO devspeak propaganda weirdly allowed into the Times by editors who are either asleep at the switch or so jazzed up by advocacy that they have forgotten what news is.

This fatuous PR release ends with a policy conclusion.  On no evidence whatever, save the enthusiastic endorsements of those with a financial or professional stake in the project, the Times concludes that this development zone could serve, gasp, as a model for similar efforts elsewhere:

Some planning experts said that a Fort Collins method — anchoring many elements around a centrally connected ultra-green downtown — could become a model for other cities. In any case, at least a dozen countries, and many other cities in the United States, have sent representatives here to look. And that curiosity itself, expressed through hotel and restaurant traffic if nothing else, locals said, has been helpful to local cash flow in a slow time.

Using subsidies to regenerate your downtown by creating a development zone that developers from other cities want to visit is indeed a brilliant model.  As other cities and towns across the nation and the world follow the trail Fort Collins has blazed, new green beer pedestrian zones can spring up across the globe.  New development professionals from still other towns can visit the new green beer zones in many other cities to get ideas for how, given enough government subsidies, they too can build development zones around pedestrian green beer districts that will in turn become tourist draws for yet more development professionals in search of new ‘models’.

I only hope the beer in the green zones is made in unionized microbreweries that use organic, fair trade hops.

Something had to go badly wrong at the Times for a piece this bad to see the light of day.  The piece carries a strange credit: it is apparently an “I.H.T Special Report.” Perhaps the IHT has lower standards than the mother ship, but somebody needs to man the sludge barriers at the Times more vigilantly if this is the sort of thing the IHT now puts out.  As it is, journalism school students across the country can now learn to recognize and avoid dozens of journalism no-nos simply by reading this piece.  Like the green beer zone of Fort Collins it so lovingly describes, this piece can serve as a “model,” if not for fund-wasting development bureaucrats looking for new scams to push then for anyone in search of ways to put driveling nonsense in the pages of a major newspaper.

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  • Russell

    Tell us how you really feel?

  • Cheves

    WRM: I’ve been reading you for years, and I have never, ever seen you anything close to this [annoyed]. Wow! Went and read the piece, and you’re right. It felt like reading an NGO’s monthly report on how awesomely it’s doing and, ya know, how

  • David

    Too funny! Sounds likes excerpts from a college alumni mag extolling the PC business exploits of one of its graduates. As an alum of Wesleyan, I know whereof I speak.

  • vanderleun

    “Only an idiot or a propagandist would write such a piece; it is hard to see how any editor would put it in print.”

    You know, for a smart man Prof. Mead your dumbth when it comes to the agenda of the Times certainly runs deep. You’d think that by this time you’d start to catch on.

  • Randy

    We’ll have to send this NYT article to Taranto at the Wall Street Journal. Kirk Johnson is now competing with Thomas Friedman for Worst Writer in the English Language.

  • Luke Lea
  • James Jones

    “I only hope the beer in the green zones is made in unionized microbreweries that use organic, fair trade hops.”

    Thanks, Professor Mead. Now I’m going to go get a towel and clean up the non-fair trade coffee I spewed when I started laughing uncontrollably.

  • nadine

    “Something had to go badly wrong at the Times for a piece this bad to see the light of day.”

    Something’s been going badly wrong at the Times since Howell Raines’ advocacy-editorship started in 2001. Before that, the Times was a liberal paper. Since that, the Times has been turning into The Guardian on the Hudson.

    Did you just notice? In that case, you must have missed the 53 articles on that Master’s Club in Atlanta admitting women, the 30 days straight of front page Abu Ghraib reporting, using the story to club GW Bush into the ground, the heavy breathing on John McCain’s supposed long-ago affair, the spiking of coverage of John Edwards’ current affair, etc, and so on and so forth. Not to mention that Jayson Blair affair.

    The worst thing about it is that the Times still wields an outsize influence on the MSM, a legacy from the days when it was the paper of record.

  • BillH

    So much bubbling going on. Wonder if the Ft. Collins model is the source of all these bubbles I keep hearing about (.com, housing, student loan…). May apply for a Federal grant to study the possibility.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    As a seeker of Truth, I have learned to focus my attention on websites like, Drudgereport, Instapundit, RealClearPolitics, and ViaMedia. News sources which don’t set my BS Detector to ringing and screaming so loudly that I can’t hear myself think. Utterly biased advocacy organs that camouflage themselves as news sources like the NY Times, MSNBC, etc… are a waste of time for those with scientific method calibrated Truthdars, and BS Detectors.

  • a nissen

    I too have been wondering for some time why WRM continues to get his “news” from the NYT.

    The WSJ recently made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, but after reading it again for a month, I am thinking we should have stuck with the more succinct more costly IBD.

    Neither of which is a clear window on reality, just a less nuanced view of those in power. Some balance comes with the honest advocacy at The Nation, e.g.,

    This can be balanced by step back in the other direction to the not so open advocacy at the City Journal of the Manhattan Institute, e.g.

    And all of that can be checked to some degree at

    In short, one virtual village never sustains far-seeing citizen even those of WRM’s caliber!

  • Kris

    And here I thought I’d have to become an intern myself in order to get this kind of vituperative derision.

    By the way, with phrases like “That planners might have otherwise emerged,” one would certainly hope that no editor was involved.

  • John Burke

    “Democratized by necessity, the process led to goals that went beyond the predictable safe streets and commerce that planners might have otherwise emerged.”

    Can a process lead? Do planners emerge? Is this sentence even English.

    Alas, the “writer” of the sentence is not some stringer whose one-off piece got past an editor. Kirk Johnson has dozens of by-lined stories in the Times (not just the IHT) in the past several months alone. He seems to be based in Denver and covers stories out of a swath of western states with a marked concentration on environmental features.

    Apart from its squishy goo “content,” the Ft. Collins
    piece is also practically unreadable.

    I am not as surprised as Mead, though. In recent years, the Times has become such a comfy nest of like-minded ideologues that Times insiders no longer require much of each other beyond conformity to the collective line. It is a long way from the well-written, rigorously edited liberal paper of Abe Rosenthal and Max Frankel.

  • Kris

    Unlike certain prestigious publications, I do not have the benefit of “layers of editors,” so allow me to clarify my previous comment (#12). When I wrote “I thought I’d have to become an intern myself in order to get this kind of vituperative derision,” I meant to say that as an intern, I might draft this kind of prose, and thus “get this” published on Via Meadia. It was not my intention to imply that WRM treats his interns abusively.

    The mouse that clicked on the previous “Post Comment” is being flogged.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Kris: VM would never think of treating interns abusively. We sometimes treat them sternly, it is true, but that is for their own good.

  • Kris

    WRM@15: Treat them sternly, and beat them when they sneezes [sic].

  • Terry

    “I.H.T Special Report” IHT stands for International Herald Tribune. A search on google shows a whole series of these articles about green projects and attitudes. Topics like “Business of Green: Soy Substitute Edges Its Way Into European Meals,” and “Winemakers Rising to Climate Challenge.”

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