How CBS Helped Bill O'Reilly Misinform His Audience About Clean Energy

Last night Fox News' Bill O'Reilly told his viewers that the Obama administration “gave France 1.2 billion” in clean energy funding. It was completely false and something Fox could have avoided with a few minutes of fact-checking. But a chunk of the blame belongs to CBS, which enabled O'Reilly's misinformation with its own sloppy journalism.

CBS News' new morning show ran a report on Friday by correspondent Sharyl Attkisson which purported to identify 11 “New Solyndras.” The segment was surprisingly bad, and like so much reporting on clean energy these days, eagerly skipped over the facts in pursuit of a broader narrative. In the report, Attkisson included California solar company SunPower on her list of struggling clean energy companies purportedly risking taxpayer dollars:

ATTKISSON: SunPower landed a $1.2 billion loan guarantee last fall after a French oil company took it over. On its last financial statement, SunPower owed more than it was worth.

Citing CBS, O'Reilly concluded that “the French people got our money,” adding, “We gave France 1.2 billion, because this company went bankrupt and the French guy swooped in ... grabbed the company, and went back to Paris with our money”:

In reality, SunPower doesn't have a federal loan guarantee. NRG Energy acquired the project in question -- the California Valley Solar Ranch -- from SunPower shortly before the project received the loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. So NRG, not SunPower, is on the hook for the loan. The CVSR project is not considered risky for taxpayers because California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. already signed a long-term contract to buy the power from the solar plant.

And SunPower did not go bankrupt, as O'Reilly claimed (a minor detail by Fox News standards). The fact that a massive French oil company (Total SA) purchased a majority stake in SunPower “could give SunPower a huge advantage” since “Total can get access to large amounts of capital at lower rates than standalone solar companies,” according to solar analyst Shyam Mehta. In December, Total upped its stake to 66 percent in what was seen as "a vote of confidence" in the solar company.