Journal Acknowledges a Crack in the Keystone Jobs Argument

February 13th, 2012 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

To follow up on the Jan. 20  ABQJournalWatch post about President Obama’s Keystone XL pipeline decision:

The Albuquerque Journal (as predicted), criticized the president for rejecting the pipeline permit.  But its Jan. 21 editorial included in its argument a mitigating line that hadn’t appeared in any of its previous pro-pipeline positions. That line:

Opponents say the job estimate is overinflated and most of the jobs would be temporary construction gigs.

It didn’t elaborate or name those “opponents,” but the editorial at least acknowledged reports that dispute the job-creation numbers put forth by TransCanada and its subcontractors.

(The editorial, headlined “Obama 1-1 on Tourist Visas, Pipeline Project,” also complimented Obama for making it easier for foreign tourists to get visas to visit the United States. Hence the “good-decision, bad-decision” theme for the editorial.)

The editorial again repeated the “shovel-ready” reference to the pipeline, language that – as pointed out in our last post – mirrors that used by House GOP leader John Boehner and Jack N. Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. But the reference to “opponents” is a departure from previous editorials that flatly touted job creation as a benefit.

According to the media watchdog group, Media Matters, however, the Journal isn’t alone in choosing to ignore up to this point reports that questioned those job numbers.

Its “Study: The Press and The Pipeline,” analyzed Keystone Pipeline coverage as carried out by by a dozen print and broadcast media outlets nationwide, and found that:

. . .as a whole, news coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline between August 1 and December 31 favored pipeline proponents. Although the project would create few long-term employment opportunities, the pipeline was primarily portrayed as a jobs issue. Pro-pipeline voices were quoted more frequently than those opposed, and dubious industry estimates of job creation were uncritically repeated 5 times more often than they were questioned. Meanwhile, concerns about the State Department’s review process and potential environmental consequences were often overlooked, particularly by television outlets.

Despite two studies disputing industry jobs claims (by Cornell University and the State Department), Media Matters’ analysis found that:

Media Uncritically Repeated Industry Job Estimates 76 Times. Every news outlet included in our analysis uncritically repeated TransCanada’s jobs numbers at least once. The major print outlets did so 34 times – in 29% of the Keystone XL articles mentioning jobs — with the Associated Press accounting for almost half of those instances. The broadcast networks repeated these figures 4 times — one third of the times jobs were mentioned. And the cable networks did so 38 times — 45% of the coverage mentioning jobs. Fox News uncritically repeated these numbers more than all the other television networks combined.

By Contrast, Criticisms Of These Figures Were Rarely Mentioned. Criticisms of the industry job estimates were included a total of 6 times in the print coverage, or 5% of the print coverage that mentioned jobs. The cable outlets covered the criticisms a total of 9 times, or 11% of cable coverage that mentioned jobs. All together, the outlets uncritically passed along TransCanada’s numbers 5 times more often than they mentioned criticisms of those numbers.

Media Matters found that industry claims of the pipeline’s importance in terms of energy security was rarely questioned, either:

Print Media Frequently Touted Keystone XL As A Step Towards U.S. Energy Security. The purported contribution from the Keystone XL pipeline to American energy security was mentioned in 52% of print coverage, 22% of broadcast coverage, and 28% of cable coverage. USA Today, whose editorial board supports the pipeline, mentioned energy security in 67% of its coverage, more than any other print outlet. Fox News mentioned it more than all the other television networks combined. Only items in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times questioned the energy security benefits of the pipeline.

Not surprisingly, Media Matters found that:

The editorial boards of the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal have come out in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. Those three newspapers published 16 op-eds or editorials supporting the pipeline and only one opposed. All together, the print outlets published 19 op-eds or editorials in favor of the project and 10 opposed. The New York Times editorial board took a stance against the pipeline.

Media outlets examined for this study were The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press and Wall Street Journal, the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC and CBS), CNN and the primetime shows on MSNBC and Fox.

Update: The Journal published yet another pro-Keystone editorial this morning, which says that “instead of coming down on the side of job creation and energy security, (Obama) jilted one of our strongest allies in an apparent bid to curry election-year favor from environmentalists.” The editorial warns that an alternative route now being proposed through Canada — avoiding the U.S. — traverses rare temperate rain forest and culturally sensitive tribal lands and “could result in an Exxon Valdez-like disaster” in narrow channels near Kitimat, Canada, where the new pipeline would lead.

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