In recent weeks, the conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcast Group has aired multiple news segments -- embedded in local TV newscasts or in its weekend Full Measure program -- pushing pro-fossil fuel propaganda instead of engaging in an honest discussion about jobs in the energy industry. This went on even as Texas’ fossil fuel-reliant energy generation failed during a historic winter storm, which prompted right-wing media outlets to falsely blame renewable energy instead.
Fox News led the way in lying about the Texas blackouts during the storm, going to bat for the fossil fuel industry by falsely blaming frozen wind turbines and green energy policies for statewide power outages. And the network made such false claims well over 100 times in a three-day period. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joined in this smear campaign against renewable energy in an appearance on the right-wing disinformation channel, claiming that the Texas power failure “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.”
Sinclair amplified this smear. National correspondent James Rosen included part of Abbott’s quote in a news segment that aired during local newscasts on at least 30 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 28 states beginning February 17. And then it aired on up to 68 more local TV stations when Sinclair’s The National Desk re-aired it the next day. Notably, Rosen’s report aired in at least two Texas media markets, El Paso and Amarillo, according to a transcript search of the Kinetiq video database. (While Sinclair was amplifying this smear, local media in Texas were aggressively debunking it.)
But Sinclair’s propaganda in favor of fossil fuels has not been limited to the Texas blackouts. One of the main themes of its energy coverage since mid-January has been the myth of energy independence -- especially the claim that the U.S. reached this mythical status under President Donald Trump’s administration due to expanded oil and gas drilling.
- On January 27, Sinclair chief political correspondent Scott Thuman advanced this myth that the U.S. was energy independent under Trump and quoted a fossil fuel industry representative defending increased U.S. oil and gas production.
- Thuman repeated this myth in a February 14 segment for Sinclair’s weekend program, Full Measure, which was heavily critical of President Joe Biden’s moratorium on new oil and gas drilling leases on federal land. This segment included a farcical claim that the moratorium could lead to more U.S. wars over fossil fuel resources around the world.
- Rosen also pushed this myth in a February 18 national news package, claiming that 2019 “marked the first year since the Eisenhower era … that the U.S. produced more energy than it consumed -- a benchmark of energy independence America had last achieved in 1957.”
- In a February 25 national news package on the confirmation of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Thuman cited critics of the Biden administration’s energy policies, saying that the administration may “erase vital progress made in becoming an energy independent country.”
The right-wing myth that the U.S. became energy independent when it began exporting more oil than it imported ignores the truth that the only way to become truly energy independent is to hasten the transition to a cleaner energy economy. Because oil is traded on the global market and the U.S. still imports oil from the Middle East, continued reliance on fossil fuels will not lead to energy independence.
Such claims also ignore the climate and national security issues associated with increased dependence on fossil fuels; extreme weather and rising seas caused by our warming climate can worsen global instability and are a threat to U.S. national security.
Another frequent and misleading theme in Sinclair’s recent energy coverage is the idea that we need to expand fossil fuel production to hasten an economic recovery.
- During Thuman’s February 14 Full Measure segment, he discussed and quoted at length claims from pro-fossil fuel interviewees that a decline in production would prove devastating to the economy.
- Rosen’s February 18 segment quoted a representative from the fossil fuel industry-funded U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggesting that fossil fuel production will be necessary for economic recovery.
In fact, more than 250 oil and gas companies have gone bankrupt in the U.S. since 2015, which is in part why the industry’s stock sector is the worst-performing on the Standard & Poor ratings over the last decade. ExxonMobil was dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in August -- despite the massive subsidies and weakened regulations the Trump administration gifted the fossil fuel industry during his tenure. Not only did the oil and gas industry fail to rebound under Trump, but it continues to hemorrhage jobs, with more than 100,000 lost in 2020.
And Sinclair’s recent energy coverage also continued to push a related theme: the myth that the canceled Keystone XL Pipeline would have generated tens of thousands of jobs.
- A January 21 news segment by Rosen pushed the false claim that the pipeline would have produced 10,000 jobs.
- A February 10 segment from Rosen also quoted a Chamber of Commerce representative who claimed that the pipeline's cancelation would mean “potentially tens of thousands more jobs ... could be affected.”
The truth is that these claims were debunked years ago -- and right-wing media’s inflation of supposed jobs from the pipeline at times grew so absurd that at one point Fox claimed it would create 1 million jobs. In fact, an exhaustive study by the State Department concluded that the Keystone XL project would have largely created temporary positions during its construction and resulted in just 50 jobs, including “35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors,” if it was ever completed.
The bottom line is that clean energy is the fastest-growing industry in America, producing jobs that pay well above the national average, have good benefits, and can’t be outsourced to other countries. Because of this, the Biden administration is planning a huge investment in clean energy jobs and specifically proposing a plan to assist communities and workers dependent on polluting industries that are in rapid decline. But rather than report these facts, Sinclair has instead helped smear renewable energy and spread the propaganda of the fossil fuel industry.
Update (2/26/21): This article has been updated with an additional example.