The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it will delay its decision about the 2014 levels for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires oil refiners to blend renewable fuels into the nation's gasoline supply. The announcement has drawn criticism from opponents who want the EPA to lessen or eliminate the RFS, and the media are recycling debunked myths about the mandate. Here are the facts.
Boston Globe columnist John E. Sununu's latest piece urges approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and criticizes regulations against oil and gas companies. The Globe did not disclose that Sununu is an advisor for a Washington firm that lobbies for the pipeline's construction on behalf of its would-be builder.
Sununu is a former Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire who lost re-election to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in 2008. He joined Akin Gump, the top-earning lobbying firm in Washington, DC, as an adjunct senior policy advisor in 2010. His corporate profile states that he "advises clients on a wide range of public policy, strategic and regulatory issues."
In the latest example, Sununu wrote a November 20 column criticizing Democrats for failing to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He wrote that "Democrats still don't know what the Keystone debate is really all about," adding that Keystone XL "is a debate about infrastructure, regulation, and the power of government to thwart investment on the flimsiest of grounds."
Sununu added that "the public understands that allowing the government to arbitrarily stand in front of private investment and economic development sets a dangerous precedent -- something Democrats in the Senate do not."
Media figures are touting the Keystone XL pipeline as an "environmentally safe" alternative to truck and rail transportation, uncritically citing a State Department report on the environmental impact of building Keystone XL. But experts and subsequent studies have determined that the report is based on faulty conclusions and grossly underestimates greenhouse gas emissions caused by Keystone.
From the November 19 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box:
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Fox News provided American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellow Jonah Goldberg a platform to attack climate scientists as profiteers who are "financially incentivized" to advocate climate change action, without disclosing AEI's own financial incentive to undercut action on climate change. AEI has taken over $3 million from ExxonMobil, and once offered money to scientists to write articles criticizing a UN climate change report.
On the November 18 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Goldberg argued that climate scientists have a conflict of interest reporting on climate change because they are "deeply invested in the whole industry of global warming" for their university programs. Goldberg also called climate scientists and advocates "people who are financially incentivized to go one way."
Though host Neil Cavuto did disclose that Goldberg is a fellow at AEI, he did not mention AEI's ties to the oil industry or its history of offering money to climate scientists to write articles undermining a climate change report. In 2013, The Union of Concerned Scientists reported that AEI received $3.04 million from ExxonMobil between 2001 and 2011. According to ExxonMobil's website, in 2012 the company also donated $260,000 to AEI.
In 2007, The Guardian reported that AEI offered scientists and economists $10,000 to write articles that "emphasise the shortcomings" of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which found a 90 percent chance that human activity was causing global temperature increases.
The failure of Fox News and Goldberg to disclose ExxonMobil's contributions to AEI, or its previous attempt to pay scientists to criticize a U.N. climate change report, shows that conservative media will stop at nothing to undercut the settled science on climate change, even in the face of their own hypocrisy.
ABC's World News Tonight pushed the myth that building the Keystone XL pipeline could create up to 40,000 jobs. In fact, the pipeline is expected to create as few as 50 permanent jobs.
During a November 18 report on the failed Senate vote to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, World News Tonight anchor David Muir stated that "many argued it could have created thousands of American jobs." ABC White House correspondent Jonathan Karl added that "the jobs estimates range from 4,000 to 40,000 jobs. Proponents say it not only creates jobs, but it could lead to energy independence."
But PolitiFact has classified similar claims that the construction of the pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs to be "mostly false," because a vast majority of the jobs would be temporary, and it "does not amount to tens of thousands of full-time jobs in the most common sense of employment." According to PolitiFact, "the State Department estimates the operation of the pipeline will only create 35 permanent, full-time jobs and 15 temporary contractors" once construction is complete.
The pipeline would also do little for "energy independence." Much of the oil that would be carried by the pipeline is slated for export, and U.S. imports of oil would be minimally affected by the supply that would flow through the pipeline.
A 60 Minutes report on groundwater depletion brought attention to a critical issue that many regard as a national security threat, but failed to mention the inherent connection between water scarcity and climate change.
The November 16 edition of 60 Minutes featured a segment on the threat of groundwater scarcity titled "Depleting the Water." In it, host Leslie Stahl covered the severe droughts around the world that are leading people to extract fresh water from the ground at unsustainable rates, warning that "the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water."
But Stahl completely ignored climate change, which is projected to increase the severity and frequency of such droughts and is inherently linked to groundwater scarcity. A United Nations climate science report concluded earlier this year that manmade climate change will reduce groundwater resources "significantly in most dry subtropical regions," and a 2013 study from Simon Fraser University determined that climate change may already be exacerbating water shortages in many areas around the globe.
The 60 Minutes segment highlighted that California's "record-breaking drought" is inducing farmers to drill for water in underwater aquifers at unsustainable rates -- without mentioning that this drought that has been directly linked by scientists multiple times to manmade climate change. Stahl also highlighted severe droughts across southern Asia and in the Middle East, regions that the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other scientific institutions have projected will experience worsening droughts as the planet warms.
Stahl's comment that groundwater shortages may lead to political unrest also has roots in global warming. As Stahl pointed out, many aquifers that are being severely depleted are in "volatile regions" such as in Iraq and Syria. Many military officials have warned that unabated global warming could exacerbate wars and terrorism and pose a national security threat.
The segment ended by asserting that if no action is taken, California's aquifers could end up completely depleted. But the only responses to the drought that the news magazine covered were a process in which sewage water is recycled into freshwater and a recently enacted law that regulates groundwater. 60 Minutes didn't discuss ways to combat climate change, which would work to prevent catastrophic droughts from happening in the first place.
60 Minutes' failure to mention global warming -- in a segment focused on a problem related to manmade climate change -- follows the news magazine's widely panned report on clean energy, which also made no mention of climate change.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough peddled the myth that building the Keystone XL pipeline would "create 50,000 new jobs," even though independent fact checkers have called that figure false. The pipeline is projected to create as few as 50 permanent jobs.
The House of Representatives passed a bill to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for the ninth time on Friday. A parallel measure will be considered in the Senate on Tuesday. The administration has indicated that it plans to delay approval of the pipeline while a legal challenge to the proposed route proceeds and suggested that President Obama would veto the effort to accelerate the process.
Scarborough questioned any decision to delay the pipeline on the November 17 edition of Morning Joe and wrongly claimed that the project would "create 50,000 new jobs."
The implication that building the pipeline would create 50,000 jobs that don't currently exist is not true. As PolitiFact noted in calling similar job creation estimates false, many of the jobs that would be supported by the pipeline already exist, and the majority of the construction jobs that would be supported are short term.
"A State Department review found the project could support -- not create -- 42,100 jobs. But that number needs considerable explanation and does not amount to tens of thousands of full-time jobs in the most common sense of employment," PolitiFact noted. "The figure represents the project's estimated direct, indirect and induced jobs over two years of construction, and all but 50 are temporary."
The U.S Department of Energy's (DOE) renewable energy loan guarantee program is turning a profit after weathering years of media attacks and misinformation that attempted to paint the now defunct solar energy firm Solyndra as representative of the program's failure. Media outlets from The Washington Post to CBS News spent years profiling Solyndra, wrongly suggesting its demise was illustrative of widespread waste, fraud, failure, and political corruption among DOE loan guarantee recipients -- but will the program's latest successes receive a comparable platform?
On November 13, NPR reported that the DOE loan program, designed to "accelerate the domestic commercial deployment of innovative and advanced clean energy technologies," is now turning a profit exceeding $30 million after collecting $810 million in interest payments. NPR noted that the program was never intended to make money, making the development all the more remarkable:
Overall, the agency has loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology. Companies have defaulted on $780 million of that -- a loss rate of 2.28 percent. The agency also has collected $810 million in interest payments, putting the program $30 million in the black.
When Congress created the loan program under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it was never designed to be a moneymaker. In fact, Congress imagined there would be losses and set aside $10 billion to cover them.
NPR noted that previous critics of the program have remained silent on the new revelations.
The media's coverage of the DOE's loan program over the past few years has been overwhelmingly negative and often egregiously misinformed. Coverage frequently focused on Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a $535 million federal loan guarantee before going bankrupt in 2011, suggesting the company's fate was representative of the program's success as a whole.
The Washington Post gave particularly outsized coverage to the Solyndra bankruptcy, devoting an entire section of its website to the so-called "Solyndra Scandal." The Post's reporting stated that President Obama "infused" politics into the program and suggested that Solyndra made the entire loan guarantee program a political liability:
Since the failure of [Solyndra], Obama's entire $80 billion clean-technology program has begun to look like a political liability for an administration about to enter a bruising reelection campaign.
Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama's green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal e-mails. Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and White House officials.
At CBS News, then-correspondent Sharyl Attkisson issued a report on Solyndra that was rife with factual errors. The report helped earn Attkisson an award from Accuracy In Media, a conservative organization known for pushing anti-gay misinformation and bizarre conspiracy theories. CBS subsequently pulled Attkisson from a planned appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to accept the award.
Fox News demonized DOE loan programs at every turn, criticizing even companies who received no funds at all from the guarantee program.
More recently, an April Media Matters study found that the mainstream media largely failed to mention the DOE's role in the success of the electric car company Tesla Motors and ignored that the program has a higher success rate than venture capitalists.
The Post's "Wonkblog" acknowledged on November 13 that the energy loans were making money, but after years of breathless negative coverage, it remains to be seen whether these media outlets will provide a more prominent a platform to inform media consumers of evidence that counters their previous narrative.
Fox News revived a long debunked myth to inflate the number of long-term, sustainable jobs that would be created by the Keystone XL pipeline.
Conservative media attacked President Obama over a historic deal between China and the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions, claiming that the deal was a "cave" to China and that the U.S. got "steamrolled." But climate experts and others widely agree that the deal is an important step in the fight against climate change.
This year's midterm election campaigns were filled with promises to dismantle climate change policies, at a time when climate action is more important than ever. But even against the backdrop of record-breaking temperatures, recent landmark climate reports, and candidates denying climate change, the broadcast networks ignored the implications of climate change in their evening news coverage of the midterms.
A Media Matters analysis of broadcast networks' coverage of the midterm elections found that their nightly news programs glossed over policy issues. Moreover, the programs offered no discussion about climate change or how the candidates plan to address the issue.
Here are several opportunities that the media could have used to bring climate change into their discussion of the midterm elections.
Environmental issues were a top platform issue in this year's elections; environment and energy-related issues were the "third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements" according to an analysis from Kantar Media/CMAG, especially in battlegrounds states like Kentucky and West Virginia. The New York Times reported that the surge in energy and environmental ads "suggests the prominent role that the issues could play in the 2016 presidential race."
Many of these ads included promises to dismantle environmental regulations and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A main target of conservative attacks has been the EPA's Clean Power Plan, a key piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which has been seen by foreign government leaders as an important step for reaching a global agreement on climate change. Dismantling the Climate Action Plan could have global ramifications and dissuade other countriesfrom taking action to curb emissions themselves.
At the same time, the reality of climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The globe just experienced the hottest June, August, and September on record, as well as the warmest six-month stretch ever recorded.
Just days before the elections, the United Nations' climate panel released the culmination of their five-year effort to synthesize climate science in a report concluding that the world needs to take action and completely phase out fossil fuels by 2100 to avoid the "irreversible"effects of man-made climate change.
Yet several GOP candidates waffled on the issue of climate change, or even backtracked to global warming denial. Denial of climate science has become something of a litmus test for Republican politicians, and in order to deflect questions about their belief in climate change, candidates have repeated the refrain: "I'm not a scientist."
A plurality of Americans agree that climate change is happening and support government effort to curb emissions, but now that the Senate has flipped, the nation's current efforts to address climate change are at risk.
The broadcast nightly news programs have an alarming trend of paltry climate change coverage. Their coverage of the midterm elections fits in with this trend --instead of focusing on climate issues, the networks devoted much of their midterm coverage to President Obama's low favorability ratings.
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
HBO's John Oliver did what many others in the media have not by shining a spotlight on the shadowy influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But ALEC's latest initiative, which has its sights set on molding county and municipal governments, has deeper aspirations than even Oliver's show explored -- and has been almost entirely ignored by the media.
ALEC is an organization funded mostly by corporations and conservative organizations, whose purpose, according to Fortune magazine, is to "bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations." ALEC drafts model legislation designed to push conservative corporate agendas at the state level and does not shy away from boasting about its outsized influence on local lawmakers.
The rash of discriminatory voter ID laws popping up across the country in the past couple of election cycles was largely fueled by ALEC. This year, the group has seen success dismantling clean energy standards.
On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver described ALEC succinctly as "a conservative bill mill which has helped develop model legislation from Arizona's notorious SB 1070 immigration bill to bills expanding private prisons, payday loan companies and for-profit colleges":
OLIVER: It's basically a conservative bill mill which has helped develop model legislation from Arizona's notorious SB 1070 immigration bill to bills expanding private prisons, payday loan companies and for-profit colleges, all of which we've talked about on this very show. In fact, I'm going to list ALEC in the credits for our show as associate producer of creating horrifying things for us to talk about. Great work, ALEC! See you at the end-of-season wrap party, you pieces of shit.
The thing is, ALEC is everywhere. Roughly 1 in 4 state legislators are members, and it's not hard to see why. ALEC makes their jobs troublingly easy. Here's their model electricity freedom bill, which at one point says, "be it therefore enacted that the state of, insert state, repeals the renewable energy mandate." So, as long as you can remember and spell the name of your state, you can introduce legislation.
One reason the group has been able to remain relatively free from public scrutiny is that the media has traditionally failed to cover the connections between ALEC members serving in state legislatures and the ALEC model legislation influencing the bills they introduce -- an issue so blatant that, as Oliver points out, occasionally text is lifted word-for-word from ALEC model bills.
The good news is that over the past couple of years, ALEC's operation has been more frequently exposed to the light of day, and the group has seen sponsors scamper away as a result.
The bad news is that ALEC is expanding its influence to a hyper-local level, which even Last Week Tonight overlooked.
In August, ALEC launched an initiative to take its model legislation beyond statehouses and into city councils and county commissions. This new spinoff, the American City County Exchange, "will push policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group's state strategies." The corporate influence of the initiative is poignantly illustrated by the group's membership fee disparity: Local council members and county commissioners are required to pay a nominal $100 for a two-year membership. Meanwhile, prospective private industry members must choose between a $10,000 and $25,000 membership fee.
According to a search of the Nexis database, only a tiny number of print news outlets have reported on the new initiative. And as local media outlets face extinction or the possibility of being gobbled up by billionaire media moguls, it falls to the larger outlets that remain to lead the way.
Sharyl Attkisson's new book attempts to cast the former CBS News reporter as an intrepid reporter fighting against intractable barriers. But the book's sloppy inaccuracies and absent context reinforce her image as a journalist more interested in a biased narrative than uncovering the facts.
Attkisson resigned this year after two decades at CBS and promptly launched a media tour attacking her former employer for supposedly protecting the Obama administration from her reporting. Her new book has been published and promoted by conservative interests, who clearly see this narrative as a confirmation of their worldview that the "liberal" media is biased against them.
But Attkisson doesn't portray herself as a conservative folk hero pitted against "liberal bias." In fact, she sees that kind of rhetoric as distracting "from the real issues," and the real reasons she left CBS. Instead, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington is meant to confirm her place in the pantheon of nonpartisan journalists, who will "follow a story wherever it leads, no matter how unpleasant, no matter whom it touches or implicates." In her account, Attkisson is one of the few reporters who have been trying to hold the Obama administration accountable by investigating its supposedly scandalous behavior in the face of "forces" who seek to protect the White House.
Attkisson organizes the book around her coverage of four major news stories -- the botched law enforcement Operation Fast and Furious, the bankruptcy of a few green energy companies that had received federal funding, the Benghazi attacks, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act's website, Healthcare.gov -- which she casts as symbolic of her desire to investigate administration failures. But Attkisson claims her efforts were repeatedly stymied by CBS.
Attkisson's claims of the opposition she faced at CBS News are difficult to confirm, as they rely on private conversations and anonymous sources. (The Washington Post's Erik Wemple has been attempting to identify and reach out to some of them, but has received few confirmations.) But her account inflates those supposed scandals by hiding key facts in favor of pushing conservative talking points -- the sort of behavior that led CBS officials to fear that she was "wading dangerously close to advocacy" in her reporting.
Attkisson was one of the first reporters to cover Operation Fast and Furious, under which Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents allowed firearms to be trafficked across the U.S. - Mexico border, hoping to follow the guns to high-level Mexican drug cartel targets. ATF lost track of the guns, some of which ended up at crime scenes in Mexico, while others were found at the scene of the fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
Stonewalled details Attkisson's role in reporting the story, for which she won an Emmy. However, her book also floats a number of debunked conservative conspiracy theories about the botched operation, while promoting the 2012 Department of Justice Inspector General report that undermines those same theories.
For instance, Attkisson falsely suggests that her reporting proved Attorney General Eric Holder was lying about his knowledge of Fast and Furious. Holder testified under oath that he was unaware of the operation until it became public knowledge in early 2011, but Attkisson claims Holder was aware several months earlier:
Unfortunately for Holder, it wasn't long after his testimony that we obtained internal documents showing he was actually sent weekly briefings on Fast and Furious as early as July 2010, ten months before. The briefings came from the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center and from Holder's own Assistant Attorney General Breuer.
However, the Inspector General report found that Holder did not personally review those reports, and that those reports did not refer to the agent's major failure to stop the firearms from crossing the border. The report went on to completely exonerate Holder, placing the "primary responsibility" for Fast and Furious on the ATF's Phoenix field office and the Phoenix U.S. Attorney's Office. Even House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) has acknowledged that he has "no evidence" or even a "strong suspicion" that Holder was aware of the gunwalking tactics.
Attkisson calls the Inspector General report "scathing" while acknowledging that its findings contradicted some of her reporting. Nevertheless, she misleadingly concludes by blasting the press for accurately exonerating Holder, accusing them of a "generous interpretation of the facts."
Attkisson goes on to attack the Obama administration's electric vehicle initiative, a part of the Department of Energy's clean energy loan program. She focuses on several failed companies that received federal funds, including Fisker Automotive and A123, and falsely claims their eventual bankruptcies were representative of the entire program:
Were these failed enterprises alone among an overwhelming body of successful green energy initiatives funded by tax dollars? No.
This is false. Despite conservative media's fixation on the few beneficiaries of clean energy loan programs that failed, such as Fisker and Solyndra -- and despite Attkisson's previous error-ridden report on what CBS called "new Solyndras" -- 98 percent of clean energy funds went to successful ventures:
Attkisson criticizes the media for a double standard when covering the bankruptcies, insisting that journalists gave President Obama a pass that they wouldn't have afforded President Bush -- all while insisting that she would have covered each president fairly (emphasis added):
Imagine a parallel scenario in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney personally appeared at groundbreakings for, and used billions of tax dollars to support, multiple giant corporate ventures whose investors were sometimes major political campaign bundlers, only to have one (or two, or three) go bankrupt. At a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. During a presidential election. When they knew in advance the companies' credit ratings were junk. News headlines would have been relentless with images of Bush and Cheney smiling and waing at one contrsuction-start ceremony after another, making their invalidated claims about jobs and untold millions...contrasted with images of empty plants and boarded-up warehouses. And I would have been proposing those stories.
But the program that started the Fisker loans -- called the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program -- did begin under Bush.
In fact, Fisker itself was approached by the Bush administration and encouraged to apply for the loan, and they were in charge when the application was filed. Attkisson does not mention this context in her description of Fisker; instead, all she offers is a brief note that she had broadly investigated "the backgrounds of some troubled green ventures that benefited from federal tax dollars, whether under Bush or Obama."
Attkisson hides basic facts to suggest the Obama administration is trying to cover up the truth about September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
She narrates a moment in November 2012 when she attempted to find a photograph of President Obama on the night of the Benghazi attacks as a way to account for his "actions that night." Conservative media, and Fox News in particular, have repeatedly questioned the whereabouts of various administration officials the night of the attacks.
Attkisson claims the White House isn't being forthright about the President's whereabouts, which she characterizes as suspicious and politically motivated, given that "tax dollars pay to have a professional photographer cover most every aspect of the president's work life."
A photo of the president in the Oval Office taken the night of the attacks has been available on the public White House Flickr account since October 11, 2012, three weeks before Attkisson claims she started looking for a photo.
The photo depicts Obama meeting with Denis McDonough, then-Deputy National Security Advisor, Vice President Joe Biden, then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and then-Chief of Staff Jack Lew. The existence of the photo has been repeatedly documented. Attkisson apparently did not know about the photo at the time, but she does not attempt to reconcile the facts now.
Attkisson criticizes her CBS bosses for not letting her repeatedly report on theoretical security problems the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchange website faced -- while hiding key testimony that confirmed there had been no security breaches.
Attkisson highlights the closed-door House Oversight Committee testimony of Teresa Fryer, a lead cybersecurity official on the project, who Attkisson holds up as "a knowledgeable insider" whose testimony is worth trusting as a "current, sitting, senior manager." Fryer testified that there had been two high-risk security findings on Healthcare.gov "after it went live October 1" (emphasis original), which Attkisson claims is a "bombshell" and reveals that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has misled journalists when they confirmed that "all fears about security risks in the past never came to pass."
What Attkisson fails to note is that during her testimony Fryer also explained there had been "no successful breaches" of the website; the "several layers of security" in place had performed as expected. The two findings Fryer mentioned were simply red flags -- they did not result in any real security failures, according to Fryer herself.
Attkisson notes that according to HHS one of the findings was a "false alarm" and the second was fixed, but insists "that may or may not be true. No proof is offered." She insists until evidence is produced it's simply the government's "side of the story," and derides media figures who accept the HHS "claims." She does not mention that Fryer made the exact same claims.