Vox.com provided a misleading take of the Keystone XL pipeline in a short video explainer. The video for former Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein's new venture was sponsored by General Electric, which has publicly supported the tar sands pipeline.
The visually appealing “Vox Explains” video gives a two-minute overview of the Keystone XL, but provides a misleading view of the number of jobs the pipeline would create. While the voiceover states that building the pipeline would “create thousands of temporary construction jobs,” the number on the screen shows 42,000 temporary jobs, suggesting that all 42,000 jobs will be in construction. But the State Department report actually projects only 3,900 temporary construction jobs if construction took one year or 1,950 jobs if construction took two years. The 42,000 figure includes tens of thousands of indirect jobs in everything from food service to finance that the State Department estimates will be supported by Keystone XL's construction. The State Department estimates an outcome of only 35 permanent jobs would result from construction of the pipeline.
The video shows how new media can mislead in ways that newspapers never could. In the Keystone XL video, both the voiceover and the text were technically accurate. However, the combination of the two resulted in a misleading impression.
In response to criticism, the narrator of the video, Brad Plumer, tweeted that pointing out the much lower number of construction jobs was a “fair point” and that he could “break down that more precisely.” Plumer left The Washington Post's WonkBlog to join Vox, and is generally excellent at explaining everything from global warming to air pollution.
The video also repeats the State Department's claim that the Keystone XL won't greatly impact climate change because “most of the oil would just get shipped by rail anyway,” offering only that “green groups are disputing that analysis” as a rebuttal. But it's not just green groups -- reports from Reuters (largely ignored by the media) have found that the State Department's projections on rail transport were way off, undermining the Department's climate change claims. And as the number of disastrous train accidents rises, tougher regulations may increase the cost of moving oil by rail, making it even less attractive as an alternative. The claim that Keystone XL will not worsen climate change is becoming all the more dubious.
Strangely, this video has been cited by conservative news site Washington Free Beacon as an example of how GE's corporate sponsorship of Vox.com, including many of the “Vox Explains” videos, may be advancing the priorities of the Democratic Party. However, GE actually signed a letter in 2013 urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL.