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Mercury News Coverage of Metcalf
Original October 21, 2002 Commentary submitted to the Mercury News

David Grey
Professor Emeritus, San Jose State University

As a longtime and now former journalist and journalism educator, this media watcher has always been concerned with the press' roles in covering--and not--important public matters.

Thus, it continues to be of major concern that the so-called Metcalf Energy Center in South San Jose is still mostly being ignored by the Mercury News as the significant local, South Bay and entire Bay Area story that it has been and still is.

And at the very time Calpine Corp., builder of this controversial 600-megawatt, $400 million power plant adjoining residential neighborhoods and schools and in prime Coyote Valley open space, says it is about to start (before the end of October) the pile-driving phases of constructing the plant's all-important foundations.

The plant's fuller story and issues of Mercury News non-coverage are too long and complicated to address here. One main point, however, is that a large daily newspaper must not be preoccupied with reporting mostly what just happened or is about to happen--at the expense of needed updates and overviews of what has been happening.

The plant's construction future is still in the hands of the courts, with several cases scheduled to be decided fairly to very soon. There are such lingering environmental issues as air quality and water, plus still the legalities and ethics of approval and decision procedures by the state and city of San Jose.

And there is the economy, hardly a good time for Calpine with its recent rock-bottom stock market values, high long-term debt, other generally uncertain financial conditions and even what might be called its tarnished reputation. The construction has already been delayed and must now be completed by December 2004; otherwise, the original approval agreement with the state says the plant must be turned over to the state.

That is: If Metcalf, indeed, really is honestly still "so needed" or even any longer, on balance, desirable.

Since early 1999, as followed by this observer, the Mercury News has been primarily on the Build Metcalf bandwagon and pro-Calpine in its almost unconditioned support of the plant and site (both in its selective staff reporting and opinion writing). Allowed to fade from scrutiny are many of the issues that caused the initial lack of support by Mayor Ron Gonzales and City Council members who later turned suddenly, almost in panic, pro-plant. Much the same could be said for the changes in ever-politically fluctuating attitudes of Gov. Gray Davis, many state politicians and also some state energy administrators.

These changes, of course, were brought on primarily by all the pressures from companies such as Calpine in the days of the so-called rolling blackouts which, we now know, should not have been allowed to happen. And to be over-dramatized--especially by the press.

Could it have been the politicians were wrong on the plant and especially that Mercalf site when they changed their minds? Has the Mercury News been wrong since Spring 1999 in making up its minds seemingly very prematurely?

Isn't it the reponsibility of leaders, including newspapers in the community and one self-proclaiming itself "The Newspaper of Silicon Valley," to admit or acknowledge doubts or even error? And to make extra efforts to review previous decisions to modify, even correct them?

David Grey
Professor Emeritus, San Jose State University
Mountain View

Two weeks from submittals, rewrites to published letter

Original October 24, 2002 "Letter to the Editor" submitted to the Mercury News

November 5, 2002 published "Letter to the Editor" by the Mercury News

November 7, 2002 Commentary

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