NRSP's Tom Harris Sucker Punches a Rookie

Brooke Hogemann is a delightful young woman. Two years out of journalism school at Mount Royal College in Calgary, she has her first newspaper job at the Airdrie Echo, a little weekly in a bedroom community in the Alberta foothills.

In a conversation with a big-city interrogator (that would be me) she says that she's the environment reporter, but she adds quickly that she covers lots of things. It's the way of the world in small-town papers.

What she doesn't say - what she doesn't have to say if you read her story from yesterday - is that she wasn't ready for the sandbagging that she got from Tom Harris, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project (see, NRSP: Not Real Science People).

Harris told her that the NRSP is all about accuracy. He said: “We get scientists to look at different policies and we get them to say what is real.”

He told her: “The scientists on our team are the purest of the environmentalists, because they’ve spent their life researching it.”

He didn't tell her that his “scientists” - “the purest of the environmentalists” - had to fold up the tent on their last phoney organization, the Friends of Science, after the Globe and Mail revealed that it was an oil industry front.

He didn't tell her that his chief “scientist” - the tireless Dr. Tim Ball - got his degree in historical geography and has barely published a word of science in his unspectacular career. In fact, Ball, who also spoke to Hogemann, but didn't get quoted (“He didn't really add anything that Tom hadn't already said.”) never mentioned that he is locked in a lawsuit with another newspaper (the Calgary Herald) which accidentally revealed the lies that Ball has been in the habit of telling about his own resume.

Hogemann says, without apology, that she was just doing her job. She's written other stories about climate change and she “decided to put in a different opinion that I haven't seen before.”

Regardless of how the story reads, she also says, “I wasn't taking them at face value. (What she wrote is) just their opinion. Whether it's right or wrong is not up to me to decide.”

I disagree. I think that journalists have a responsibility to make sure the people they quote are credible. But Hogemann says, “At the end of the day, I have to trust that the people I'm interviewing are telling me the truth of what they believe.”

Like I said, a delightful young woman. I don't know how Tom Harris sleeps.


Good piece Richard, but you’re too easy on the newbie reporter. Seriously, if reporters just “trusted what people told them” we would be really fucked as a democracy. The media’s role, no matter how tiny the outlet, is to research and question, not to simply take whatever is said to them at face value. As a former journalist yourself, please phone hoggeman back and give her a quick tutorial in investigative journalism. At least it is comforting to know that with the attitude she has for reportingn, she will no doubt stay at that little Alberta papert for a long, long time!

… I’m just glad that some of the stuff I wrote for the Brandon Sun when I was 22 isn’t available on Google.

There are kids like Hogemann cutting their teeth in every cash-strapped little outlet in the country. We expect too much if we think all those reporters are going to be scientific sophisticates.

I hope Hogemann learns a lesson, but I’m savin’ the blame for Ball and Harris - a couple of old guys who should be ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of Hogemann’s wide-eyed faith in humanity.