07/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Washington Post Promotes Debunked Deception About Hummers vs. Priuses

Yes, letters to the editor matter. And, yes, they merit fact-checking. And, yes, that fact-checking should actually be well-done.

Having had letters to the editor published in The Washington Post, my experience with the fact-checking process left me impressed ... and exhausted. Every point was questioned and challenged, with substantive backing required from the editor before it went into print. Watching the Post editorial page's (mis)handling of George Will's Will-ful deception regarding energy and climate issues, a question emerges:

Is it only those who are operating in reality when it comes to climate and energy issues who are seriously challenged to support there assertions?

Yesterday's Post had a deceptive, half-truthful letter to the editor entitled The Not-So-Quite-Green Toyota Prius which included this statement:

CNW Marketing rates cars on the combined energy needed "to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a vehicle from initial concept to scrappage." A Prius costs $2.87 per lifetime mile. By comparison, an H3 Hummer costs $2.07 per lifetime mile.

What is the half-truth? That there is such a CMS discussion. (And, I guess, that there is such a thing as a Hummer and a Prius.) After that, truth is left behind.

As Joe Romm accurately described it,

I am mocking this report because it is the most contrived and mistake-filled study I have ever seen -- by far (and that's saying a lot since I worked for the federal government for five years). I am not certain there is an accurate calculation in the entire report.

This 450-page "study" was debunked by the Pacific Institute and by Rocky Mountain Institute (see, as well, Slate and this fun Sierra Club discussion). It is not hard to find the idiocies in the study (reading Romm brings them out well).

These include:
  • Making an assumption that Hummers last 379,000 miles, Prius only 109,000. Thus, not just in weight, it takes three Prius to make one Hummer for CMS to arrive at their skewed results. [NOTE: Even when RMI skewed their analysis, using all of CMS's absurdities, the Prius still ended up with a lower energy life-cycle than a Hummer.]
  • A Prius, which gets in the range of 45 miles per gallon, has a fuel cost of 7.5 cents per mile. The Hummer, at less than 15 mpg, has a fuel cost of 18.7 cents per mile. Do the math. Are you confused?
  • Unlike every serious study of automotive life-cycle energy costs and inputs, which put 70-90 percent of the total energy energy use is in the operating life (e.g, mainly burning gasoline), this "study" places the vast majority in the construction and recycling.
  • The calculations border on insanity. See that price. If we accept that Prius cost per mile, it would cost the owner (and society) $287,000 for a Prius to drive 100,000 miles. Anyone else ready to ask: WTF?

Does anyone suspect that The Washington Post editorial board has the sensibility to be embarrassed by publishing this absurd letter citing such a deceptive and deceitful marketing "study"? As Romm finished his discussion of this study back in 2007:

As for CNW, the only explanation I can come up for this absurdity piled on top of absurdity is that the marketing firm is putting on an elaborate hoax, seeing how many reputable news organizations repeat these laughable numbers without bothering to check the original study to see that they have no basis whatsoever in fact. After all, no one could believe all this. Could they?

Well, evidently Washington Post "fact checkers" are perfectly satisfied publishing this drivel. After all, George Will-full Deceit Will cited the study in his call for people to Use a Hummer to Crush a Prius.