Give me exposed filaments, or give me death.

Last week while I was vacationing in exotic Nebraska, I had a phone conversation with Poynter’s Matt Hochberg about the great light bulb controversy. Hochberg, who was as baffled as I was that a bipartisan energy law passed in 2007 had suddenly turned into a major political wedge issue four years later, has put together a wonderfully complete and concise summary of the controversy.

Hochberg looked back and found that, not surprisingly, it was conservative web sites such as World Net Daily (which today is claiming to have “irrefutable proof” that President Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery) and bloggers like Michelle Malkin who were key early forces in crafting the narrative that the government was coming, perhaps in sleek black helicopters, to take your light bulbs away.

For instance, why do many people believe (incorrectly) that the 2007 law bans the possession of incandescent bulbs? A 2008 column by WND founder and bumper sticker entrepreneur Joseph Farah may have had something to do with it:

Did you know the congressional busybodies in Washington have actually passed a law that will ban the sale and possession of incandescent light bulbs a few years from now?

I hope others see the importance of this issue. If the federal government can take away your incandescent light bulbs, is there anything the federal government can’t take away from you?

And what about the mistaken belief that the law will force us to buy compact fluorescent bulbs? Perhaps, in part, because this was implied (but not stated directly) by Malkin back in 2007, the day after the law was passed.

Tucked into the legislation is a provision that mandates the phase-out of the 125-year-old incandescent bulb in the next four to 12 years in favor of a new generation of trendy, supposedly energy-efficient Gorebulbs.

As Hochberg points out, there’s plenty of room for debate over whether it makes sense for the government to set efficiency standards for bulbs, just like they do for refrigerators, TVs, washing machines, and automobiles.

What we got instead, however, was yet another culture war — sucking away vast amounts of media attention and political capital at a time when we have little of either to spare.

And we all remember what the first casualty of war is, right?

Photo by mastahanky via Creative Commons

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.