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  • Oil industry enlists minority groups to publish pro-drilling op-eds

    Most Black and Hispanic Americans oppose offshore drilling, so these op-eds paint a distorted picture

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As part of a partnership with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the largest oil and gas lobbying organization in the U.S., Black and Hispanic business groups have been placing op-eds in local newspapers touting the benefits of offshore drilling, as Reuters recently reported. Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be opposed to offshore drilling than white Americans, according to a Pew poll conducted in January. The op-ed campaign is part of an industry-driven effort to make offshore drilling look more broadly supported and to shift minority opinion by enlisting groups that purport to represent communities of color.

    Op-eds push oil industry statistics but fail to disclose oil industry connections

    Media Matters identified six newspapers in the Southeast that have published op-eds by minority business leaders or political leaders who argue in favor of increased offshore oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic Coast. Most of these minority authors are affiliated with the Explore Offshore alliance, which they mention in their pieces -- but they neglect to disclose that Explore Offshore is a project of API and that many of the talking points and statistics they cite in their op-eds come straight from API materials.

    API announced the Explore Offshore alliance on June 6, billing it as a “bipartisan coalition representing a diverse group of community organizations, businesses, and local associations across the Southeast that support safe and responsible expanded U.S. access to oil and natural gas through advanced technologies.” The minority business groups in the coalition are highlighted on the Explore Offshore homepage, while most other coalition members are listed in less prominent places on the website -- an indication that API wants to highlight Black and Hispanic participation. The minority groups in the coalition include the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the North Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, and the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, plus one minority religious organization, the Hispanic Pastors Association.

    Florida:

    In Florida, The Palm Beach Post and the Tallahassee Democrat published a pro-drilling op-ed written by Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The Tampa Bay Times published a like-minded op-ed co-authored by Miriam Ramirez, a former member of Puerto Rico’s Senate and a co-chair of Explore Offshore Florida, a state affiliate of API's national Explore Offshore coalition.

    Fuentes and Ramirez and her co-authors took figures from API’s one-pager about the benefits of drilling in Florida’s waters. Fuentes wrote (emphasis added):

    Continued offshore development would put more than 56,000 Floridians to work and add $4.5 billion per year to our economy.

    API's one-pager says (emphasis added):

    Employment in Florida due to spending by the Eastern Gulf offshore oil and natural gas industry is projected to reach over 56,000 jobs.

    Contributions to Florida’s state economy due to spending on Eastern Gulf [Outer Continental Shelf] oil and natural gas exploration and development activities could be nearly $4.5 billion per year by the end of the forecast period.

    Ramirez and her co-authors wrote (emphasis added):

    Economic studies show that the industry’s spending would bring Florida $1.3 billion per year in government revenue within 20 years of opening up the area for oil and natural gas development.

    API's one-pager says (emphasis added):

    Florida could see a 37.5% share of the Eastern Coast bonuses, rents and royalties generated which are projected to reach $1.3 billion per year within 20 years.

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which Fuentes runs, receives support from Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light, two large utilities that are building natural gas-fired plants in Florida. The chamber and the two utilities have backed anti-environment campaigns in the past. In 2016, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce joined Duke, Florida Power & Light, and other power companies in supporting Amendment 1, a deceptive, utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida. The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also receives support from Florida-based, third-party energy supplier Liberty Power, a company that recently paid a settlement to New York state for engaging in deceptive practices and is the subject of a cease-and-desist complaint filed by Connecticut’s Office of Consumer Counsel for allegedly deceiving consumers.

    The other Florida minority group that's part of API's Explore Offshore alliance, the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, has fossil fuel ties as well. It is closely affiliated with the National Black Chamber of Commerce, which has received extensive funding from fossil fuel interests including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. The National Black Chamber notoriously led minority opposition to the EPA's Clean Power Plan, which would limit pollution from power plants. Eugene Franklin, president of the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, served on the board of directors of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Both the Florida chamber and the national chamber supported the pro-utility Amendment 1 in 2016.

    South Carolina:

    In South Carolina, The Post and Courier and The Greenville News published a pro-drilling op-ed by Stephen Gilchrist, chair of the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce and chair of Explore Offshore SC, the South Carolina branch of API's Explore Offshore coalition. Gilchrist also apparently relied on API statistics in his op-ed, writing (emphasis added):

    Offshore development could … add $3.8 billion to our state budget per year. This could create 34,000 much needed jobs in the state

    But Gilchrist appears to have gotten one of those API talking points wrong by a factor of 20. He claimed that offshore drilling could add $3.8 billion to South Carolina's budget each year, but API’s South Carolina one-pager claims the $3.8 billion would come in over a 20-year period (emphasis added):

    Employment due to offshore oil and gas development activities on the Atlantic Coast in South Carolina could reach over 34,000 jobs within 20 years

    The cumulative effect on the state budget from 2020-2040 is projected to be over $3.8 billion.

    Gilchrist has cultivated questionable alliances that many African-Americans in South Carolina would not be comfortable with. In 2015, Gilchrist invited Donald Trump to an event for Black entrepreneurs that was co-hosted by the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce. The crowd at the event was "predominantly white," according to The Post and Courier. In late 2017, Gilchrist invited his friend Steve Bannon, former Trump advisor and white nationalist sympathizer, to a minority business roundtable sponsored by his group.

    Virginia:

    In Virginia, the Daily Press published an op-ed co-authored by former state Del. Winsome Earle Sears, an African-American, who now serves as co-chair of Virginia Explore Offshore, API's Virginia coalition. Like her cohorts in other states, she drew talking points right from API materials. From her op-ed (emphasis added):

    With the exploration and potential for development of offshore energy resources, Virginia could gain 25,000 jobs, many with an average salary of $116,000 — more than double the commonwealth’s average. We’re also projected to attract $1.5 billion per year in private investment

    From API’s announcement of its Explore Offshore coalition in Virginia (emphasis added):

    • By 2035, the oil and natural gas industry could create over 25,000 new high-paying jobs in Virginia
    • Offshore development could result in $1.5 billion in private investment into Virginia ...
    • The average salary for oil and natural gas exploration and development jobs is $116,000.

    The Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which is part of API's Explore Offshore coalition, joined a number of oil and gas trade associations in signing a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management urging the agency to allow more offshore drilling. The Virginia Hispanic chamber has also partnered with Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest and most powerful utility.

    Conservative groups with anti-environment agendas and fossil-fuel ties have a history of trying to co-opt minorities

    API is mimicking a well-worn strategy in which polluters target minority and low-income communities with industry-funded research and disinformation about energy. For example, in recent years, Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Edison Electric Institute, and the Heartland Institute, among many others, have waged a campaign to hinder the growth of solar energy at the state level. That effort has included the false claim, often advanced via minority politicians and front groups, that net-metering policies designed to make rooftop solar power more accessible would harm minority and low-income people.

    Fossil fuel industries and their allies, including the National Black Chamber of Commerce, also targeted minority groups with misinformation about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which, if fully implemented, would have prevented thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year.

    These tactics are especially insidious because research consistently shows that minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change. The third U.S. National Climate Assessment, released in 2014, found:

    Climate change will, absent other changes, amplify some of the existing health threats the nation now faces. Certain people and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and some communities of color.

    In early 2018, EPA scientists published a study in the American Journal of Public Health that found people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more air pollution than white people are, with African-Americans exposed to the most. A number of other studies have documented the negative health effects of air pollution on minority and low-income communities. A joint report released in 2017 by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force found that natural gas facilities in particular are harmful to Black Americans:

    • [M]any African American communities face an elevated risk of cancer due to air toxics emissions from natural gas development: Over 1 million African Americans live in counties that face a cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern from toxics emitted by natural gas facilities.
    • The air in many African American communities violates air quality standards for ozone smog. Rates of asthma are relatively high in African American communities. And, as a result of ozone increases due to natural gas emissions during the summer ozone season, African American children are burdened by 138,000 asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days each year.

    Blacks and Hispanics also suffer disproportionately from climate change impacts such as extreme weather. Just last year, Hurricanes Harvey and Maria devastated African-American and Latino communities in Houston and Puerto Rico.

    Polls have shown that nonwhite people in the U.S. are more concerned about climate change than white people are. A 2015 poll of African-Americans found that 60 percent of respondents ranked global warming as a serious issue, while a 2017 survey of Latinos found that 78 percent of respondents were worried about global warming.

    Surveys have also documented strong support among minority groups for clean energy solutions. A 2015 poll found that 66 percent of African-Americans believed that using more renewable energy would create new jobs, and 57 percent believed that shifting to clean energy would decrease their energy costs. A separate poll conducted in 2015 found that 84 percent of Latinos believed that the U.S. should mandate greater use of clean energy sources like solar and wind power.

    Clearly, minority communities understand the risks of climate change and want clean energy solutions to mitigate those risks.

    But API has chosen to partner with minority business groups to erode support for clean energy solutions and promote pro-fossil fuel arguments that would harm the very communities these organizations purport to represent. And, in a decision that demonstrates just how out of touch Explore Offshore is with minority communities, API recruited former Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), a confederate apologist, to be a national co-chair.

    Newspapers in the Southeast and around the country should not be letting oil industry allies spread propaganda and claim to represent minority interests. Op-eds that more accurately represent Black and Latino aspirations would point out that these communities have the most to lose from expanded offshore drilling and the most to gain from a shift to clean energy.

  • Study finds 5,000 people may have died from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Cable news focused on Roseanne instead.

    Cable news covered Roseanne for over 10 hours. They covered Hurricane Maria's death toll in Puerto Rico for just over 30 minutes.

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN & LIS POWER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Tuesday, Harvard researchers published a study estimating that approximately 5,000 deaths can be linked to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The same day, ABC canceled Roseanne Barr’s eponymous show Roseanne after Barr sent a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to former President Barack Obama. Cable news covered Barr’s tweet and her show’s cancellation 16 times as much as the deaths of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico.

    While the official death toll remains at just 64, the Harvard study, written up in The Washington Post, “indicated that the mortality rate was 14.3 deaths per 1,000 residents from Sept. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017, a 62 percent increase in the mortality rate compared with 2016, or 4,645 ‘excess deaths.’” BuzzFeed News, which also reported on the study, further explained that the researchers adjusted their estimate up to 5,740 hurricane-related deaths to account for “people who lived alone and died as a result of the storm” and were thus not reported in the study’s survey.

    Cable news barely covered the report. The May 29 broadcasts of MSNBC combined with the network's flagship morning show the next day spent 21 minutes discussing the findings. CNN followed with just under 10 minutes of coverage, and Fox covered the report for just 48 seconds. 

    By contrast, cable news spent over 8 and a half hours discussing a tweet from Barr describing Jarrett, a Black woman, as the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes and the subsequent cancellation of her show.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media coverage of the crisis in Puerto Rico has been dismal since the hurricane hit; even when outlets reported on major scandals about the mismanaged recovery, the coverage was negligible and faded quickly.

    Many in the media have been quick to label Barr’s obviously racist tweet as racist. But they've failed in their coverage of the mismanaged recovery in Puerto Rico, which is also explained -- at least in part -- by racism. The Root explained why “Puerto Rico’s crisis is not generally seen as a racial matter. But it should be.” Vox explained “the ways the island and its people have been othered through racial and ethnic bias” and noted that “both online and broadcast media gave Puerto Rico much less coverage, at least initially, than the hurricanes that recently hit Texas and Florida.” A Politico investigation found that “the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico” in the wake of the hurricanes that devastated both. Trump tweeted just days after Hurricane Maria hit that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them.” Only half of Americans are aware that Puerto Ricans are in fact U.S. citizens. And MSNBC contributor Eddie Glaude, chair of the Center for African-American Studies at Princeton University, pointed out, “When you think about 4,600 people dying -- of color -- dying in Puerto Rico, it reflects how their lives were valued, or less valued.”

    Dina Radtke contributed research to this piece.

  • A gun that looks like a cellphone isn't the only tone deaf thing on display at the NRA annual meeting

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The National Rifle Association is holding its annual meeting in Dallas, TX, this year. The event kicked off on May 3 with an evening banquet and is now in full swing with a three-day exhibition at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. In addition to exhibiting guns, ammunition, gun accessories, tactical gear, and other merchandise, the event features speeches, seminars, and workshops.

    The preeminent event at the annual meeting will be the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, which will begin at noon CST on May 4. (The Institute for Legislative Action, or ILA, is the NRA’s lobbying wing.) NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, chief lobbyist Chris Cox, and national spokesperson Dana Loesch are scheduled to speak at the forum. Elected officials speaking at the event include President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, and several conservative media figures will round out the lineup. The following day will feature the event’s official “Annual Meeting of Members,” where the election results for the NRA's board of directors will be announced and other NRA business will be conducted.

    There are many notable facts about the event, but none highlight the disconnect between the NRA and public sentiment on firearms regulation and the role of guns in society more than a pistol featured in the exhibition hall that can be disguised to look like a cell phone:



    The pistol is manufactured by Ideal Conceal, whose website says, “Smartphones are EVERYWHERE, so your new pistol will easily blend in with today’s environment.” A demonstration video shows that the weapon can be pulled from a pocket, unfolded, and fired in just seconds.





    The display comes less than two months after Stephon Clark was shot and killed by police in Sacramento, CA, after the cops mistook the cellphone he was holding for a gun. As Jaclyn Corin, a survivor of the mass Parkland, FL, shooting, noted on Twitter, the existence of the firearm could be used as a pretext to justify police shootings of unarmed people:

    Here are some other highlights of the NRA’s annual meeting:

    Speeches, seminars, and other events

    • Trump’s will give a speech at the meeting for the fourth year in a row. The Kremlin reportedly sought to use the 2016 annual meeting as a venue to attempt to make “first contact” with Trump’s presidential campaign.

    • The meeting will have a “Women’s Leadership Forum” and the keynote speaker will be white nationalist favorite Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host. This isn’t the first time a Fox host has keynoted the event; Sean Hannity was the featured speaker in 2013.

    • The NRA announced that pro-Trump media figures Diamond and Silk will speak at the event’s NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. The announcement came just days after the duo appeared before Congress and made false statements under oath.

    • NRA board member Ted Nugent will be attending the meeting. Nugent has made several controversial statements this year including saying the Parkland shooting survivors are liars who “have no soul.” Nugent has been a regular figure at NRA annual meetings, where he’s talked about shooting former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and called then-President Barack Obama “Osama Obama” and offered to “pilot” a boat to send him to Kenya.   

    • Discredited gun researcher John Lott will give a seminar on “false and misleading claims that will be made to advance gun control this year” ranging from “claims about Australia’s and the UK’s gun laws to … the true costs of expanded background checks to mass public shootings and gun-free zones.” His group, the Crime Prevention Research Center, will also have a booth.  

    • During the meeting’s “Youth Day,” the NRA will introduce children to firearms by using “nerf guns.” The NRA was previously criticized for pushing an ineffective program to teach kids gun safety and for rewriting children’s fairy tales to include pro-gun narratives.

    • The NRA has stated that no guns will be allowed in the arena during appearances by Trump and Pence at the behest of the Secret Service, undermining the NRA’s frequent claims that so-called “gun-free zones” imperil people’s lives, enable mass shootings, and draw terrorists.

    The exhibition hall

    • Smith & Wesson, the maker of the assault weapon used in the Parkland, FL, school shooting, will exhibit several products in the “Featured Product Center & Demo Area.” Smith & Wesson has donated more than $1 million to the NRA.

    • Aagil Arms, a sister company of TuffZone and the “official manufacurer (sic) of the Ted Nugent Signature Series upper assemblies,” will have a booth on the exhibit floor that will feature a line called “Ted Nugent’s American Spearchucker Series AR15-style Upper kits,” which reference an obscure racial slur.

    • Trump-supporting Liberty University, conservative Hillsdale College, and right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation -- entities with no direct connection to the gun industry  -- will all have booths at the meeting.

    • U.S. Border Patrol will also have a booth at the meeting, even though members of NRA leadership routinely demean and attack immigrants.  

    • There will likely be a lot of men. Eighty-five percent of attendees last year were men, according to information posted on the NRA annual meeting website for potential exhibitors.

    • According to The Texas Tribune, the NRA is “getting a free ride” for this event and will not pay the usual $410,000 rent for the space.

  • Video: Coverage of gun violence must include police violence against black people

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH, MILES LE & SARAH WASKO

    Police in America shoot and kill more people than police in other highly developed countries do, and a disproportionately high number of those killed are black Americans. In 2012, black people accounted for 31 percent of police killings, even though they made up just 13 percent of the U.S. population. Research shows that black Americans are more likely to be shot and killed by police than other races.

    This is the grim reality. But right-wing media, conservative personalities, and some mainstream media figures criminalize black victims of police violence. Here are some examples:

    • Former CNN “law enforcement analyst” Harry Houck said the officers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice acted “properly” when they shot him while he played in a park.

    • After a police officer shot and killed Walter Scott, who was unarmed and merely ran, Fox’s Geraldo Rivera said: “This civilian has dared to have a physical altercation with the officer.” (Rivera has also repeatedly victim-blamed black teenagers.)

    • After Stephon Clark was shot eight times, mostly in the back, Fox News’ William La Jeunesse remarked: “Now, Clark does have a criminal record.”

    • Fox host Sean Hannity called Freddie Gray, who died “days after suffering a severe spinal injury while riding in the back of a police van,” the “lowest scum parasite in the world” and said: “Look at this guy's record, look at his arrest record. … I'm saying that he's obviously not a pillar of the community.”

    • Hannity also said that Terrence Crutcher, who was shot even after following orders by a police officer, “has a long criminal history and appeared to be under the influence.” (More of Hannity's race-baiting remarks can be found here.)

    • CBS’ David Begnaud claimed that Alton Sterling, who was pinned to the ground, tased, and shot, “has a lengthy criminal history.”

    • Fox’s Mark Fuhrman said of Sterling: “Now, this man has to take responsibility that he did have a gun, and he conducted himself in some manner to draw attention to a citizen who called the police.” (Fuhrman has a long history of making racist remarks.)

    • In another instance, Fox News blatantly ignored dashcam footage in its coverage of the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by police officer Jeronimo Yanez. The footage revealed that Castile had alerted the officer that he was armed and had a valid permit for his firearm.

    Following the school shooting in Parkland, FL, and the resulting March for Our Lives movement for gun regulation, Parkland students have tried to shift media focus to the widespread gun violence against people of color, which they note has not drawn as much media attention as they have.

    The disparity shows a failure by national media to highlight black and brown voices and to recognize the systemic failures and historical context that have led to the unfair targeting of black Americans by law enforcement. State violence against people of color has been part of the fabric of the U.S. since its formation. But you wouldn't know that from some media coverage.

    Black Americans are dying at the hands of police officers. Media should hold law enforcement accountable and treat victims of police brutality the same way they treat victims of gun violence.

    (Charts and Images via CBS News, Family of Stephon Clark, Fibonacci Blue on Flickr, MSNBC, NBC News, Sun Sentinel, Tiffany Dena Loftin, Vox, Wikimedia Commons, and WLRN. Footage via CBS News, CNN, The Crisis Magazine, Fox News Channel, Tiffany Dena Loftin, and WJLA.)

  • Right-wing media lash out at "social justice warriors" after backlash over racist incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks led to protests, and the corporation announced a day of “racial bias training” for its U.S. employees, multiple right-wing media figures reacted to the news by attacking “the cult of social justice warrior” and “the racism industry” for giving “national attention” to the incident. Some right-wing message boards promoted hoaxes designed to bring more controversy to the coffee chain. Several media figures gave an anti-Semite with white nationalist sympathies a platform simply because he trolled a Starbucks employee into giving him free coffee as “reparations.”

  • A guide to NRATV: NRA's news outlet is a hybrid of Breitbart and Infowars

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Launched in late 2016, NRATV serves as the news outlet for the National Rifle Association, regularly defending President Donald Trump, slamming mainstream media outlets as “dishonest rags,” and viciously criticizing any politician or activist who speaks out against the president and his policies. While some of the outlet’s coverage focuses on gun policy, the newest developments in firearms technology, and tactical shooting, the programming has largely become a platform for far-right conservative talking points that are often unrelated to gun policy. As NRATV strayed away from gun coverage, it sparked a number of controversies and drew widespread criticism during its inaugural year. After the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, FL, there were numerous calls for companies to end their business relationship with NRATV. 

  • Video: Mainstream media ignored the Women's March. Here's what Women's March participants said about the media.

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    On January 20 and 21, over a million protesters marched all over the United States and the world for the 2018 Women’s March. Some estimates include: 200,000 marchers in New York City, 300,000 in Chicago, and 600,000 in Los Angeles. But despite the high turnout especially one year after the first Women’s March -- which not only broke records for attendance, but has since grown into a movement -- news outlets largely ignored these historic protests let alone actually interview anyone who organized or participated in them.

    We went to a sister march in Washington D.C. on Saturday, January 20 and spoke to a few of the estimated 10,000 protesters and activists who were there.

    Here’s what they had to say: