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Inaccuracies Riddle NY Times' Thompson Profile

One Napan analyzes journalist Eric Lipton's article about the congressman and finds it flawed..

Eric Lipton seemed to be in a rush as his July 4 (D-St. Helena) was full of challengeable reporting, thin backgrounding, one-sided statistics and dropped issues.

Lipton won a 1992 Pulitzer for explanatory journalism (writing about the Hubble Space Telescope) and has written hard-hitting investigative pieces about both Republicans and Democrats, all of which makes the flawed Thompson profile all the more surprising.

FYI, the Press Democrat online version was not quite the same as the one in The New York Times.

Just a few of the inaccuracies in this article: 

1. "Grape-obsessed district"—Of the seven counties in Thompson’s district, really only Napa is a mono-industry. Yolo County grape-obsessed? Try tomatoes. Humbolt? Wrong cash crop, Mr. Lipton. Sonoma—yes, they make wine there. But it is far from the biggest industry in the county. Del Norte County grape-obsessed? No.  

2. "Get money for pet projects like the Napa Valley Wine Train"—Again, inaccurately labeled. The current construction project involving federal dollars and the Wine Train is part of a long-term flood control project that has resulted in investment in Napa that has brought jobs and tax revenue. The Wine Train, love it or not, happens to use those tracks and bridges. If the Wine Train ceased to exist tomorrow, we would still need to have these bridges raised to prevent flooding. The glitzy cover of the June Wine Spectator with the alluring picture of the Riverfront project beautifully lit at dusk and the headline, "Napa—A City Reborn," would not exist if the river still flooded.

3. "Twenty acres of Sav Blanc in Lake County"—Thompson's 20 acres of grapes hardly even counts as a gentleman’s farm. Lipton later goes on to report that Thomson gets around $900 per ton for this fruit (without mentioning the cost of growing the grapes). This is actually about half of the price of Sav Blanc grapes from Napa in 2010.

In all fairness, Lipton does say that Thompson made about $18K in profit from the fruit last year, but that is hardly a killing. (It is likely that he has hardly recouped the investment in the land). He’s also not going to make much money on the 20 acres of Lake County vineyards if he were to decide to sell. Stanford University last week said the wine grape industry in Northern California is at risk due to rising temperatures as a result of global climate change.

Lake County is about as hot as it gets for grapes right now; a small increase in degree days will make it unsustainable for wine grapes. With all due respect to Lake County, it does not have a whole lot more to offer.

4. Lipton says Thompson’s effort to help with creating a new Big Valley appellation in Lake County is a "marketing boon that helps increase the value of the grapes grown there." Please name five wine appellations you actively seek out when buying wine. As Steve Heimhoff said, Lake County Sauv Blanc has a built in price ceiling—a new appellation will do nothing to change that.   

5. To criticize Thompson's efforts on behalf of wineries wanting to allow more direct shipping to consumers by quoting the president of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America is about as one-sided as you can get. The WSWA is a trade organization that represents distributors who face disintermediation and loss of revenue by allowing wineries to ship direct to consumers. Of course they are against direct sales to consumers. Lipton should have educated himself on both sides of this issue before mentioning it.   

Mr. Lipton’s editor is as much to blame for letting such under-researched reporting hit the pages. Whether you support Thompson or not, his years of representing the people of the First District of California (not to mention his service in the military) deserves a more thorough, balanced and better-researched look.

John K. Ruch is a musician, sommelier and writer from Napa, CA. He has been a resident of Rep. Thompson's district for almost 10 years.

John Sensenbaugh July 13, 2011 at 03:02 PM
It just goes to show that even in a newspaper that historically claims to carry "all the news that's fit to print" there can be either hidden agendas or just plain good old fashioned sloppiness.
Vincent Goetz July 13, 2011 at 04:28 PM
NYT has always been an agenda based paper. Their editorial and journalistic standards are virtually non-existent. The gray lady has become even more gray...
Brian Kelly July 14, 2011 at 04:30 PM
John - Thanks for taking the time and the analysis / corrections. Disappointed to see the NYT do such a shallow article.

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