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Trump's corrupt offer to Big Oil executives almost entirely ignored in top local newspapers and TV markets in battleground states

Trump’s promise to repeal climate action and solicitation of campaign donations from oil executives is vital information for voters

The Washington Post published an exclusive story on May 9 about a dinner at Mar-a-Lago last month in which presumptive Republican 2024 nominee Donald Trump reportedly promised to reverse President Joe Biden's actions on climate change as he asked oil executives to raise $1 billion for his presidential campaign, assuring them that they'd be getting a “deal” due to the “taxation and regulation they would avoid thanks to him.”

The revelation of Trump’s “undeniably scandalous” proposition to Big Oil was subsequently covered by Reuters, The New York Times, Politico, and The Atlantic, among other digital news sites, while national broadcast and cable news, with the exception of MSNBC, had failed to cover the story as of May 12.

An analysis by Media Matters further found that from May 9 through May 16 top local newspapers and TV outlets in the largest media markets to reach the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin did not bring this story to local audiences — with one exception.

One North Carolina newspaper, the Greensboro News and Record republished a May 10 Bloomberg column six days later that discussed Trump’s $1 billion proposition to oil executives at Mar-a-Lago. Bloomberg opinion editor Mark Gongloff noted that the fossil fuel industry has already given $6.4 million to Trump’s fundraising committee and “the sector is gearing up to give a lot more, the Washington Post reports, especially after Trump has promised to cater to its every desire in a second term.”

This republished opinion column was the only reference we found to Trump’s Big Oil scandal in top local newspapers and TV outlets in the largest media markets to reach the seven battleground states during the studied timeframe.

  • In 2024, substantive local news coverage is more vital than ever

  • For better or worse, publishing news wires and nationally syndicated columns in place of local reporting became widely adopted practices for American newspapers in the 20th century, which resulted in local papers becoming less local and more national. And as digital media have overtaken print since the turn of the millennium, newspapers lost a dramatic number of readers: Weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers in 2020 was 24.2 million, a more than 56% decrease since 2000.

    The landscape for local newspapers is dire in the 21st century — and U.S. readers aren't even paying attention. According to the Medill Local News Initiative's 2023 report from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, more than half of U.S. counties have just one or fewer local news sources, an average of 2.5 local papers close each week, 2,900 papers have closed since 2005, and 43,000 newspaper journalists have lost their jobs — two-thirds of the country’s total.

    This decline of local news is partially driving a growing political divide in the U.S. In response, organizations such as National Trust for Local News and Rebuild Local News have emerged, advocating for local news to return to being local as a way to save these papers and their vital role in civic engagement that's necessary for a functioning democracy and an informed public.

    And if the decline of local news is leading toward lower voter turnout, fewer candidate choices, less voter knowledge of candidates, less community engagement, poorer functioning local government, and increased political polarization, then it should be no surprise that local media missed Trump's nakedly self-serving proposal to oil executives.

  • The story about Trump’s quid pro quo proposition to Big Oil is important to voters

  • Like other substantive coverage of Trump’s dinner with oil executives, the Bloomberg column by Mark Gongloff that was republished by the North Carolina paper outlines why this story is important to voters beyond the alleged quid pro quo, noting: “‘Big Oil Gives Money to Republican’ is about as dog-bites-man as news headlines can get. But it’s notable in this case for a couple of reasons.”

    Gongloff goes on to point out that “Americans still don’t seem to think that there is a drastic difference between” Biden and Trump on the issue of climate change and concludes that “voters need to understand just how stark the choice in November truly is, and following the money can help.”

    Former Biden press secretary Jen Psaki made a similar point on the May 9 edition of Alex Wagner Tonight: “This is a clear contrast. It may be hard to break through on domestic issues but people do care about this [climate change], and you can do a clear contrast event with ‘Trump is ready to be paying off oil executives and wasting away, getting rid of the safe air and safe drinking water for your grandchildren.’” The Washington Post’s original May 9 article also noted:

  • The contrast between the two candidates on climate policy could not be more stark. Biden has called global warming an “existential threat,” and over the last three years, his administration has finalized more than 100 new environmental regulations aimed at cutting air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, restricting toxic chemicals, and conserving public lands and waters. In comparison, Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” and his administration weakened or wiped out more than 125 environmental rules and policies over four years.

  • Finally, The Atlantic’s David A. Graham made the point that Trump’s proposal to oil executives illustrates that the former president’s “drain the swamp” motto that he used to brand himself as outside of the supposed corruption in Washington politics is patently untrue.

  • Since Trump’s proposition to Big Oil was reported, House Democrats have launched an investigation into the alleged quid pro quo proposal, and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has also reportedly “expressed interest in launching an investigation into the meeting.” This ongoing probe and other potential investigations will provide more opportunities for coverage of this important story at both the national and local level.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched articles in the Factiva database from up to five of the top local, daily print newspapers in each of the states Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin for any of the terms “Trump,” “former president,” or “Mar-a-Lago” within the same article as any of the terms “oil,” “donor,” “executive,” “billion,” “industry,” “fossil,” or “fuel” or any variations of either of the terms “environment” or “CEO” from May 9, 2024, when The Washington Post broke the story on Donald Trump’s quid pro quo offer to oil executives, through May 16, 2024.

    We reviewed publicly available circulation numbers from Agility PR, Newswire, and Intelligent Relations to assess the top papers in each state. We considered a newspaper a “top” print publication if two sources both agreed on its status. We could not find five papers to meet this criteria for Nevada.

    For Arizona, we included the East Valley Tribune, The Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Star, the Yuma Sun, and the Arizona Daily Sun. For Georgia, we included the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Savannah Morning News, The Augusta Chronicle, the Athens Banner-Herald, and The Albany Herald. For Michigan, we included the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, the Kalamazoo Gazette, The Flint Journal, and The Grand Rapids Press. For Nevada, we included the Las Vegas Sun, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Reno Gazette-Journal, and the Nevada Appeal. For North Carolina, we included The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer, The Fayetteville Observer, the Asheville Citizen-Times, and the Greensboro News and Record. For Pennsylvania, we included the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Tribune Review, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Patriot-News, and The Times-Tribune. For Wisconsin, we included the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the La Crosse Tribune, and The Sheboygan Press.

    We included articles, which we defined as instances when Trump's transactional promise to oil executives to loosen Biden Administration environmental regulations in return for $1 billion in campaign donations was mentioned anywhere in the text in any section of the paper. We included editorials and op-eds but not letters to the editor.

    We also reviewed transcripts from the Kinetiq video database for local, broadcast television news in the largest media markets to reach each of the states Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin for any of the terms “Trump,” “former president,” or “Mar-a-Lago” within 20 words of any of the terms “oil,” “donor,” “executive,” “billion,” “industry,” “fossil,” or “fuel” or any variations of either of the terms “environment” or “CEO” from May 9, 2024, through May 16, 2024.

    We included television media markets for Phoenix (for Arizona), Atlanta (for Georgia and North Carolina), Detroit (For Michigan), Salt Lake City (for Nevada), New York (for Pennsylvania), and Minneapolis-St. Paul (for Wisconsin).

    We included mentions, which we defined as instances when Trump's quid-pro-quo offer was mentioned by any speaker in any segment.