A Media Matters review of several major newspapers found that their coverage of congressional efforts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been missing an essential component of the story: the hundreds of millions of dollars that the fossil fuel industry spent in the midterm elections to elect members of Congress who support Keystone XL and other aspects of the oil industry's agenda. Of the newspapers reviewed, only The New York Times tied congressional support for Keystone XL back to the fossil fuel industry's campaign contributions.
CBS News reported that a "coalition of big oil companies, environmental groups and food companies have been aggressively lobbying" against the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) "amid concerns that it is doing little to address climate change and is having unintended environmental consequences." However, major oil and food companies oppose the RFS out of concern for their own economic well-being, not concern for the environment, and some prominent environmental groups support the standard.
The Washington Post has allowed opinion writer Ed Rogers to advocate for the positions and interests of his lobbying firm's clients in numerous anti-environmental pieces. The Post and Rogers have not disclosed his major conflicts of interest even though his firm received over $1.6 million in fees in 2014 alone from energy and transportation clients like Chevron, Caterpillar, and the National Mining Association.
Rogers is a Republican strategist who chairs and co-founded the BGR Group with former Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) in 1991. As the Post itself has reported, the firm is one of the top Washington D.C. lobbying firms, having banked more than $15 million in 2014. The newspaper's reporters have described Rogers as a "Republican mega-lobbyist," "lobbyist extraordinaire," and "a go-to guy for Republicans."
One of BGR's practice areas is energy and transportation, where it professes to having "the industry expertise, Capitol Hill experience and knowledge of government to successfully advocate our clients' public policy goals." Rogers is listed as a group leader for the issue area.
On his Post "Insiders" blog, Rogers frequently advocates for positions favored by his energy and transportation clients. While the Post notes that Rogers is "a political consultant" and "chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group," the publication fails to disclose Rogers' firm's clients and conflicts of interest in his anti-environmental posts. For instance:
Misinformer of the Year George Will reversed the timeline of events surrounding President Obama's threat to veto a bill forcing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and distorted a quote from Obama about the number of jobs Keystone XL would create.
In his January 15 syndicated column, Will wrote, "[T]here no longer is any reason to think [Obama] has ever reasoned about [Keystone XL]. He said he would not make up his mind until the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled. It ruled to permit construction, so he promptly vowed to veto authorization of construction." However, Will's version of events is backward.Obama announced on January 7 that he would veto H.R. 3, the House of Representatives bill that would force theapproval of Keystone XL. That was two days before the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on January 9 that a group of landowners did not have standing to challenge the state over a law that approved the pipeline's route through the state.
Moreover, Obama emphasized in his announcement that he would veto the bill not just because of ongoing litigation in Nebraska, but also because the bill "seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest." When asked about the Nebraska court decision on January 9, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz similarly stated that the Obama administration's "position hasn't changed" and that Obama would still veto the bill and then wait for the State Department review process to play out before he "makes any decisions" regarding Keystone XL.
Will also mischaracterized a quote from Obama to falsely suggest the president had touted job numbers for the pipeline that were at odds with the State Department's own estimates. Will claimed: "[Obama] said it would create 'a couple thousand' jobs (the State Department study says approximately 42,100 'direct, indirect, and induced')." However, the full quote shows Obama said that "the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs" (emphasis added). Obama's figure is entirely consistent with the State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which said:
During construction, proposed Project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced), and approximately $2 billion in earnings throughout the United States. Of these jobs, approximately 3,900 would be direct construction jobs in the proposed Project area in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas (3,900 over 1 year of construction, or 1,950 per year if construction took 2 years).
Finally, Will turned to mocking the environmental concerns of pipeline opponents: "To oppose the pipeline is to favor more oil being transported by trains, which have significant carbon footprints, and accidents. To do this in the name of environmental fastidiousness is hilarious." However, there is no shortage of studies that back up environmentalists' concerns and contradict Will's claim that the tar sands oil that would flow through Keystone XL will simply be "transported by trains" if the pipeline is not built. In fact, even the State Department report, which considered it unlikely that building Keystone XL would significantly affect the production of carbon-intensive Canadian tar sands oil, noted that the pipeline could do so if oil prices fell below $75 a barrel -- which is exactly what has happened since the report came out.
Environmentalists view stopping Keystone XL as a critical part of addressing climate change, and Will has a long record of denying that climate change is a real, manmade problem with drastic consequences.
Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that "[l]ow oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming."
Fox News consistently pushes fears of government "land grabs" surrounding environmental regulations. But the network celebrated the recent court decision allowing TransCanada to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on private land -- with no mention of the threat to landowner rights.
The Nebraska Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling that would have protected the property rights of landowners who do not want the Keystone XL pipeline built on their land and fear that a spill could devastate region's drinking water and agriculture-based economy. As CBS reported, the ruling upheld a 2012 law allowing Canadian oil firm TransCanada to "seize property using eminent domain from any landowners who deny the developer access." A majority of Nebraska's Supreme Court -- four of the seven judges -- actually voted that the statute authorizing TransCanada's use of eminent domain was unconstitutional, but that fell just short of the supermajority (of at least five judges) necessary to make such a ruling.
Rather than address the decision's impact on property rights, Fox News celebrated the ruling by repeating the GOP talking point that President Obama is now out of "excuses" for stalling on Keystone XL as the GOP attempts to pass legislation forcing its approval in Congress this week. On the January 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt reported that the ruling "basically removes... the last obstacle or excuse for the administration and President Obama saying that it was not ripe for a decision." On the January 9 edition of Special Report, Correspondent Mike Emanuel stated that "New Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said now the President is out of excuses." And on the January 12 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer posited that the White House may have "run out of excuses on Keystone," and Republican strategist Tony Sayegh agreed:
As the newly GOP-controlled Senate attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the long-debunked myth that the pipeline would create 42,000 jobs continues to pervade in the media -- despite the fact that it will create only 35 permanent jobs:
For many years conservative media and the the GOP have framed the Keystone XL pipeline -- which would transport highly greenhouse gas-intensive Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico for export to the global oil market -- as a job creation policy, often claiming that the project would create 42,000 new jobs.
Over time, that message has made its way into mainstream media -- even after being debunked by studies and outlets such as Politifact, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and more -- by both Republican Senators who tout misleading job benefits without being corrected and by media pundits themselves.
But an exhaustive study by the State Department concluded that the Keystone XL project will result in just 50 jobs, including "35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors." Further, the report stated that spending on the project would support only 3,900 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted one year and just 1,950 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted two years. The report also states that a majority of potential other jobs supported by the project would come from "indirect and induced spending," yet a recent Washington Post article detailed how the "indirect" job estimates themselves don't hold up, as some have already been created in anticipation of the pipeline, and most would last for less than a year:
"42,000 new jobs" is going too far. Most of those jobs are far from the construction site, and it's hard to argue they are new. Moreover, under State's accounting, they only last for a year. For some workers, it would be a good but brief payday.
The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed by the CEO of Caterpillar, a manufacturer of large construction equipment, which advocated for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline but failed to disclose Caterpillar's significant financial stake in the pipeline's construction.
The January 7 op-ed in the Tribune by Caterpillar chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman advocated for the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline that would connect the Alberta tar sands in Canada to an existing pipeline in the United States. Oberhelman's op-ed touted the perceived benefits of the pipeline:
Think how manufacturers will help grow the U.S. economy if after more than six years of examination, review and debate, this pipeline is finally approved. Manufacturers can hire tens of thousands of workers to build a modern, state-of-the-art pipeline, delivering a project that will increase U.S. energy supplies.
Let the construction begin and manufacturers will hire laborers, welders, mechanics, clerks, engineers and office managers. Although some argue that the bulk of hiring will be insufficient -- only 42,000 temporary construction-related jobs and far fewer permanent ones -- think about it this way: Putting 42,000 people to work is like employing every undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Creating more than 42,000 jobs -- even temporary jobs -- is no small matter, especially when the United States faces historically low labor participation rates like we do now.
Let the construction begin, and see the benefits to local communities as they absorb the more than $2 billion in worker payments from Keystone XL jobs.
However, while the paper did disclose the fact that Oberhelman is the CEO of Caterpillar, it left out the significant financial benefit the construction of the pipeline would have for Caterpillar. A Forbes article from March 2013 quoted the then-Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, as saying that, "the oil sands are the largest market in the world for Caterpillar mining trucks." Indeed, even the Keystone XL pipeline website highlights Caterpillar as one of the companies that would benefit from the pipeline's construction.
In addition, a letter from the Vice President of Caterpillar, Kathryn D. Karol, to Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) in support of the Keystone XL pipeline explains that Caterpillar has a "keen interest in the approval" of the pipeline as "the world's leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbine, and locomotives ... With energy related products and services accounting for over one-fourth of [Caterpillar's] business."
This year saw landmark reports on climate change, detailing the ever-increasing scientific certainty that human activities are driving catastrophic climate change and that action needs to be taken to prevent the worst effects. Yet despite the fact that more Americans than ever support action on climate change, conservative media went to ridiculous lengths to cast doubt on the scientific consensus behind global warming, citing everything from free market economics to witchcraft, touting conspiracy theories and predictions of an "ice age," and even fulfilling Godwin's law.
Here are the 11 dumbest things conservative media said about climate change this year:
11. Bill O'Reilly: "It's Easier To Believe In A Benevolent God, The Baby Jesus" Than Manmade Climate Change. On the December 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly led a discussion on whether or not it is easier to believe in the birth story of Jesus than in manmade climate change, positing that it is "easier to believe in a benevolent God, the baby Jesus, than it is in some kind of theory about global warming." When his guest pointed out that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activities are driving global warming, O'Reilly baselessly countered, "I wouldn't put it that high. I've read a lot about it." He concluded: "[I]t's a choice -- people choose to believe."
While some mainstream media outlets are starting to get the message about the threat of climate change, they are still far behind emerging media when it comes to climate coverage.
Throughout 2014, new TV and web-based news sources have been continuing the trend of providing excellent climate coverage. Media Matters has identified six positive trends in how new media are covering climate change -- and one trend that may be cause for alarm.
"Single-subject news sites" have been on the rise for the past couple of years. The New York Times reported in 2011 that internet news was starting to veer towards "niche" sites, and more recently, in its "Prediction for Journalism 2014" series, Nieman Lab predicted that single-subject news sites would continue to gain prominence this year.
The Center for American Progress' ClimateProgress is unparalleled in its timely coverage of the latest climate developments. The blog often takes its reporting further than mainstream sources, providing perspective on landmark climate reports and mainstream climate coverage, and amplifying studies that shed light on media bias in global warming reporting.
Another prominent climate news site, InsideClimate News (ICN), won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting last year, with the Pulitzer committee commending their "rigorous reports on flawed regulation of the nation's oil pipelines." ICN also teams up with other outlets to amplify and disseminate their work; it partnered with VICE TV for a documentary and e-book on how global warming affects the likelihood of polar bear attacks, produced an exposé with The Weather Channel on the ramifications of the oil-by-rail boom, and partnered with both The Weather Channel and Center for Public Integrity for an in-depth investigation of how Texas' fracking boom has been harming the environment.
This year saw clean energy technologies become cost-competitive with fossil fuels and gain prominence worldwide. The fossil fuel industry, desperate to stymie clean energy's continuing expansion, enlisted conservative media to do their bidding and attack clean technologies in every shape and form. From stoking fears about public transit being a form of "government control," to providing one-sided stories falsely predicting clean energy's downfall, here are the media's six most absurd attacks on clean energy this year.
1. 60 Minutes Produces "Poor Piece Of Journalism" To Attack Clean Energy
In January, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report titled, "The Cleantech Crash," which attempted to label clean energy a "dirty word." The report was widely criticized by reporters, government officials, and clean energy advocates alike for offering a one-sided look at renewable energy and narrowly focusing on a few failures while ignoring the majority of clean energy's success. Two of the guests interviewed in the report later criticized it for selectively airing their comments to provide an overly negative portrait of the industy and for "fail[ing] to do the most elementary fact checking and source qualification."
Further, the report made no mention of climate change, which as energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out is "the whole point of cleantech, after all: using the promise of technology and innovation to try to wean our economy off of fossil fuels."
Conservative media are praising Pennsylvania's fracking industry in order to criticize New York's recently announced ban on hydraulic fracturing, without mentioning the health impacts that it has had on Pennsylvania's drinking water and communities.
On December 17, New York became the first state in the country to officially ban the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration came alongside a long-awaited health study on fracking in New York state, which found "significant public health risks" associated with the process. Cuomo officials also stated that allowing fracking would bring "far lower" economic benefits to the state "than originally forecast."
In response, conservative media have been holding up the economy in Pennsylvania -- where fracking has been in practice for decades -- to question the Cuomo administration's decision. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Caller touted statistics from the American Petroleum Institute, which claimed Wednesday that Pennsylvania's fracking industry has generated $2.1 billion in state taxes that have allegedly supported new roads, bridges, and parks. And on the December 17 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, correspondent Eric Shawn reported, "[Fracking] has been allowed in Pennsylvania and helped that state's troubled economy enormously." Co-host Heather Nauert agreed, lamenting, "When you go upstate in New York you see just how badly the jobs are needed up there":
But Pennsylvania may actually be more of a testament to why New York's health concerns surrounding fracking are warranted. Oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania's water supply over 200 times since 2007, according to an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and a recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the state's drinking water is at risk from poor wastewater disposal practices. One Pennsylvania town, Dimock, has been dubbed "Ground Zero" in the battle over fracking's safety by NPR. The town has seen particularly high rates of water contamination, with a methane leak causing a resident's backyard water well to explode, tossing aside a concrete slab weighing several thousand pounds in one instance.
After blaming President Obama when gas prices were high, the New Hampshire Union Leader is now misleadingly crediting "oil companies and speculators" now that gas prices have dropped. However, analysts credit Obama's policies in part for the price decrease, a fact unmentioned by the Union Leader.
The December 8 editorial went after U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen - who has previously asked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to "crack down speculation in commodities markets" - claiming the senator should apologize for previously blaming speculators and oil companies for rising gas prices, because speculators have recently played a role in falling prices. The editorial continued:
Bloomberg Businessweek reported that oil speculators played a role in the falling prices. "Since June, then, speculators have dumped the equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil onto the futures market," the magazine reported. That did not cause the price crash, which was mostly the result of increased supply. But speculators added to the downward pressure.
"Mostly they've been blamed for making prices go higher," the Bloomberg Businessweek report noted. "This time, though, the opposite is true."
Shaheen has spent years demonizing oil companies and speculators and trying to get Congress to investigate speculators and regulate them more heavily. But she only brings them up when prices are rising. That tells Granite Staters two things: 1) Shaheen has no idea how markets work; and 2) she is not above falsely accusing others of acting in bad faith if it will help her get elected.
But a previous Bloomberg Businessweek article explained that several of the previous surges in the price of gas during Obama's presidency were in fact due to "speculators - specifically noncommercial users" which is "jargon for investors who are buying up futures contracts not because they intend to use the oil, but because they think it's a good investment ... these are money managers betting that prices will go up."
A Media Matters analysis of major U.S. newspapers reporting on the alleged "war on coal" found that newspapers provided one-sided coverage of the issue and seldom mentioned the coal industry's negative environmental and health impacts or its efforts to fight regulations. Out of 223 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year mentioning the phrase "war on coal," more than half failed to mention underlying issues that account for the coal industry's decline and the need for regulations. Further, less than 10 percent of articles mentioned harm caused by the coal industry or how the coal industry is fighting against regulations aimed at protecting miners and reducing pollution.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal criticized a long-awaited draft Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule to reduce smog pollution as economically harmful, echoing unfounded industry fears about EPA regulations. The EPA's estimates, however, are based on sound science and show that the smog regulation will have long-term economic benefits.