On Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden virtually toured the electric bus and battery company Proterra’s facility in Greenville, South Carolina, to promote his infrastructure plan. Right-wing media personalities immediately insisted there was a conflict of interest, because Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm sat on the company’s board before her confirmation and has held significant stock options in the company.
But Granholm had already pledged during her confirmation process that if she was confirmed, she would resign from all corporate boards and divest her stock options within 180 days. Furthermore, consistent with federal regulations, she had also pledged to recuse herself from any decisions affecting Proterra for at least one year. (Granholm was confirmed two months ago.)
The Washington Free Beacon ran an article on Tuesday, claiming that the president’s appearance with the company “risk[s] at least the appearance of impropriety and demonstrate how lawmakers can use policy initiatives to pad their own wallets.”
But the argument fell apart in the rest of the Free Beacon’s telling of the story. The site quoted an unnamed White House official who said that “neither Secretary Granholm nor the Department of Energy were involved in selecting the Proterra plant” and that it was selected for the tour because of its status as a leading company in the electric bus field. The official also said that Granholm was “in the process of selling off all stock in the company,” which would be completed “within the 180-day window permitted by the ethics agreement.” (The article did not include the context that Granholm had already pledged to not be involved in any Proterra-related matter for a year.)
Then on Wednesday night, Fox News host Laura Ingraham aired a misleading segment in which Fox News contributor Raymond Arroyo falsely stated that Granholm “owns at least $5 million of stock in this company” when her financial disclosure form says that she owns between $1 million and $5 million.
And neither Ingraham nor Arroyo mentioned that Granholm had already promised to divest her stock within 180 days of her confirmation, which she is still within, and that the White House said the Energy Department wasn’t involved in selecting this location. Instead, the point of the segment was to try to discredit Biden’s entire green-energy policy.
“This infrastructure bill that Biden and Granholm are pushing dedicates $174 million to the electric vehicle market and $45 billion to the zero-emission buses that the company builds,” Arroyo said. “The fix is in here. This is a bad look.”
Yet Ingraham once praised the appointment of Wilbur Ross as secretary of Commerce in the Trump administration, hailing him as “one of the most successful investors in the world” and touting this as a qualification for the position. Ross then maintained numerous conflicts of interest during and up to the very end of Trump’s term — with nary a peep from Ingraham back when Fox News routinely ignored stories of the Trump administration’s corruption.
And then in Fox’s “news”-side timeslot just after midnight, anchor Shannon Bream carried the story during a block of news headlines. Bream noted that Granholm was “in the process of selling off her stock … as she agreed to do if she was confirmed.” But the Fox anchor failed to mention the other key details listed above, similar to Ingraham and Arroyo.
And on Thursday, the white nationalist site Breitbart also ran a post with the misleading headline “Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm Still Holds Millions in Stocks of Green Business Promoted by Joe Biden.” This post linked to the Free Beacon’s article and largely quoted from it.
Granholm is a former senior adviser at Media Matters.