09/16/2010 09:59 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cap And Trade Wasn't Castle's Undoing

UPDATE: John Fialka of Environment & Energy Publishing has responded to this post here.

After working for four decades as a journalist, I should know better than to pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel -- or enjoys unlimited bandwidth. But an uncommonly egregious case of biased reporting requires this public rebuke.

The offender is Environment & Energy Publishing, a niche outlet in cut-throat world of Washington journalism.

In the avalanche of stories on Christine O'Donnell's upset victory over Mike Castle in Delaware this week, E&E published a piece headlined: "Tea Party Candidate Upsets 'Cap and Trade' Republican in Senate Primary.''

It was a conceptual "scoop'' that eluded the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, all publications known for their astute political coverage. Even the Wilmington News Journal, which covered the Castle-O'Donnell race day-in and day-out, missed that "insight.''

For good reason.

E&E's unfounded assertion that climate change played the key role in Congressman Castle's defeat was a canard.

Yes, O'Donnell hit Castle for his stance on limiting carbon pollution that causes global warming. But it was a combination of the dismal economy and a raging anti-incumbency fervor that led to Castle's downfall; he's been a towering figure in Delaware politics for more than a generation: nine terms in Congress and stints as governor and lieutenant governor.

"To say it was just climate change mischaracterizes that election,'' University of Delaware political scientist Jason Mycoff told me. "In this case, you can't pin the entire election on one issue.''

In other words, climate change was hardly a top-tier campaign issue.

Rather, O'Donnell was energized by the panoply of divisive social issues, including the evils of masturbation, according to today's New York Times.

Very little polling was done in the race, said Dr. Mycoff, who directs undergraduate studies in the university's political science department.

But here's what we do know. According to a Rasmussen Reports survey of 500 likely Delaware voters conducted on September 2 , 51% rated the economy as their top concern, followed by fiscal issues (15%), domestic concerns (12%), national security (10%) and cultural matters (5%). Six percent said "not sure.''

Cap and trade was nowhere to be found.

Covering environmental and energy issues is E&E's franchise. But casting the Castle-O'Donnell race as having turned on climate change legislation was more than a stretch. It gave tunnel vision a good name.

E&E would far better serve its readers by focusing on the real choices facing voters -- namely, the extent to which O'Donnell and most of her fellow Republican candidates for U.S. Senate are woefully out of step with Mainstream America.

Look for yourself. A new poll done for NRDC by Infogroup/Opinion Research Corp. found overwhelming, bipartisan support for combating climate change and allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to do its job by curbing greenhouse gases.

E&E needs to do less opining and more basic research -- and then report the news fairly and with balance and an honest sense of proportionality.