The coverage surrounding Solyndra, the solar panel manufacturer that declared bankruptcy after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee, has been sloppy on the part of both mainstream and conservative media outlets. It has also been remarkably abundant.
Between August 31, when Solyndra suspended operations, and September 23, six major print outlets discussed the story in 89 items (news and opinion). Broadcast and cable TV networks discussed Solyndra more than 190 times, totaling over 10 hours of coverage -- 8 hours of which occurred on the Fox News Channel.
To put the volume of Solyndra coverage into context, we examined how much attention major print and TV news outlets gave to 1) an obvious case of government corruption exposed in 2008 at the Minerals Management Service (MMS), and 2) a report exposing much greater loss of taxpayer dollars through military contracting waste and fraud. The following charts capture our results:
In a report for the New York Times' website about Al Gore's "24 Hours of Reality" event about climate change, ClimateWire lent a megaphone to Canadian climate contrarian Tom Harris. The reporter summarized Gore's event and then, ostensibly to provide balance, turned the rest of the article over to Harris, who thinks Gore's event spent "time and energy on something that's not true."
ClimateWire quoted Harris' claims that the "amount of climate change impact that humans have is very small," and "This extreme weather thing is not a function of temperature," as well as his allegation that "90 percent of the important facts [in Gore's presentations] are wrong or misrepresented." The article offered no details to support this claim. Nor did mention that the vast majority of scientists agree that humans are changing the climate. And at no point did the article explain who Tom Harris is or why he was quoted evaluating statements about science instead of, say, a climate scientist.
Elsewhere on the Times' website, Andrew Revkin has explained what's wrong with this type of reporting:
The norm of journalistic balance has been exploited by opponents of emissions curbs. Starting in the late 1990s, big companies whose profits were tied to fossil fuels recognized they could use this journalistic practice to amplify the inherent uncertainties in climate projections and thus potentially delay cuts in emissions from burning those fuels. Perhaps the most glaring evidence of this strategy was a long memo written by Joe Walker, who worked in public relations at the American Petroleum Industry, that surfaced in 1998. According to this ''Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan,'' first revealed by my colleague John Cushman at the New York Times, ''Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom'' for ''average citizens'' and ''the media'' (Cushman 1998). The action plan called for scientists to be recruited, be given media training, highlight the questions about climate, and downplay evidence pointing to dangers. Since then, industry-funded groups have used the media's tradition of quoting people with competing views to convey a state of confusion even as consensus on warming has built.
Conservative media outlets are trumpeting a front page story in today's Washington Post which claims that "Obama's efforts to create green jobs are lagging behind expectations." But the article relies on questionable math regarding the jobs impact of the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program.
The Post wrote that the "$38.6 billion loan guarantee program" has directly created "3,545 new, permanent jobs after giving out almost half the allocated amount." (DOE also estimates that the program has saved 33,000 jobs and added 7,391 temporary construction jobs) The article goes on to say that if DOE's target of 60,000 jobs "is reached, it would work out to about $640,000 in loan guarantees for every job created or saved."
But former White House economist Jared Bernstein called out the Post for its "bad math," saying that "their emphasis on this $640K/job number assumes every loan defaults, which is implausible."
Bernstein said that "the correct numerator" is not $38.6 billion, but the "credit subsidy" and "that's likely to be well under $5 billion, which gets you into a much more reasonable neighborhood re bang-for-buck." The "credit subsidy" is the amount of money set aside to cover "defaults and delinquencies, interest subsidies, or other payments" resulting from the loan guarantees. The stimulus provided $2.5 billion for the cost of the loan guarantees for renewable energy projects.
In an editorial blasting President Obama's green jobs initiatives, the New York Post falsely claimed that despite significant investments in clean energy, California's "environmental sector has actually lost jobs, not gained them":
[T]he Obama administration's entire green-jobs initiative has been a massive boondoggle.
As The New York Times reported last month, Obama's grand plan to create 5 million green jobs over 10 years has turned into an enormous "pipe dream."
In California, for example, the environmental sector has actually lost jobs, not gained them.
Which raises serious questions about this administration's ability to come up with any kind of plan that will productively address America's unemployment crisis.
In fact, those job losses refer only to the San Jose metro area, not to the state of California as a whole, which has gained almost 80,000 green jobs since 2003 - a 4.2% annual increase - and leads the nation in the number of clean economy jobs.
Those numbers come from a recent Brookings Institution report assessing green jobs nationally and regionally, which was the subject of the New York Times/Bay Citizen article cited by the New York Post editorial. The Times article has been criticized for cherry-picking information from the Brookings report to paint a misleadingly negative picture of green job growth.
Fox News' supposedly "straight news" reporters recently asserted that federal investments in clean energy are wasteful and that the costs of green jobs outweigh the benefits. These claims are contradicted by several studies showing clean energy investments create more jobs than several other types of investments.
When Solyndra, a California based solar panel manufacturer, announced this week that it will file for bankruptcy, conservative media outlets immediately cheered the loss as evidence that solar power doesn't work. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Arizona-based First Solar is currently building its second U.S. factory, which will "roughly double the solar-panel maker's U.S. production capacity," according to the Wall Street Journal. The company is also investing in several large solar farms.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers announced in June that solar panels, which have great potential for increases in efficiency, could become most cost-effective electricity source within a decade, even challenging fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency also recently said solar generators, including both solar photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants, may produce most of the world's electricity within 50 years.
Despite all this, conservative media claim solar power isn't worth pursuing.
On his Fox Business show, Eric Bolling hosted Dr. Gabriel Calzada from Spain's Universidad Rey Juan Carlos to criticize the Obama administration's green jobs initiatives. Calzada called Spain's renewable energy program "a total disaster" and argued that it should not be used as a model for U.S. clean energy policy. Bolling wondered whether there is still time "to pull back all the money and assets and resources we're putting into green":
Dr. Calzada is the founder of a libertarian think-tank and co-author of a 2009 study claiming that Spain's renewable energy programs "destroyed" 2.2 jobs "for every green job created." The study asserts that these costs are not unique to Spain's approach, but instead are "largely inherent in schemes to promote renewable energy sources."
Of course Fox failed to mention that Calzada's study, commissioned by the industry-funded Institute for Energy Research, has been widely discredited due to its suspect methodology and unsupported conclusions.
Nevertheless, conservative media outlets continue to cite the Calzada study to criticize green jobs, including at least a dozen times in the past two weeks:
News Corporation's Wall Street Journal and Fox News claimed that President Obama could issue an executive order to delay several EPA regulations on power plants. In fact, the exemption authority applies to only one of the proposed regulations and requires that the control technology be unavailable and that the rule threaten national security. Neither of these criteria is met.
The new editor of the Washington Times vowed to ensure accuracy at the paper; however, a recent column by the Times' Jeffrey Kuhner contained several significant falsehoods about climate change, which Kuhner claims is "the greatest hoax of our time."
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly reported the claim that "a fifth of America's electricity generating capacity is about to be taken offline" due to Environmental Protection Agency limits on pollution from coal plants. In fact, this statement vastly overstates even the worst-case scenarios pushed by industry groups, which are themselves based on assumptions that the Congressional Research Service has called into question.