Fossil Fuels Industry Coverage: No news if it’s bad news

April 2nd, 2013 · No Comments · economy, energy policy, environment, journalism, regulation, role of government

By Arthur Alpert

Look for the Albuquerque Journal to run an Op Ed soon that extols the oil and gas industry for its outstanding safety record, in particular.

How do I know this? I don’t. But the newspaper’s pattern makes it a sure thing. Where oil and gas are concerned, the editors consistently run opinion pieces by industry apologists. Sometimes, they even identify the authors accurately.

And while the newspaper’s Op Ed affection for the oil patch never flags, the editors find news accounts of the industry’s negative effects on air and water and living creatures of no news value – except when the insults are too humongous to ignore.

Thus, when last Friday an Exxon Mobil pipeline leaked, “a few thousand barrels of Canadian heavy crude oil near Mayflower, Ark., prompting the evacuation of 22 homes and reinforcing concerns many critics have raised about the Keystone XL pipeline that is awaiting State Department approval,” the Journal passed.

No news there. Keep moving.

Nor were editors impressed that this “major” spill (per the EPA) was of low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil – a blend produced in the Athabasca region of Alberta, where the oil sands are located.

Or, that the company and other responders were battling to keep the crude oil from leaking into Lake Conway, a popular recreation and game-fishing spot.

That information was in a March 31Washington Post story by Steven Mufson, available to the Journal.

But hey, it’s just one spill, right?

Well, in fact, no. A few days earlier a Canadian Pacific Railroad train carrying oil sands crude from Alberta to Chicago derailed near Parkers Prairie, Minn., spilling 357 barrels and drew attention “because the State Department’s new environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL said that if the pipeline were blocked, oil sands crude would still be able to reach markets via railroads,” according to the Post.

No news there, either. Let’s move right along.

Still, ignoring stories that demonstrate fossil fuel costs (beyond prices and subsidies) does not fulfill our daily’s responsibility to the oil and gas industries. It must carry positive messages, too.

So expect another essay soon from Marita K. Noon of CARE, the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy. Regular readers may remember that my colleague, Denise Tessier, has evaluated her expertise here, here and here.

Or perhaps there’ll be a Mark Mathis sighting; he founded CARE.

Last time the Journal published a Mathis Op Ed (Jan. 28), the editors hid his key associations from readers.

They described Mathis an “energy analyst” and director/producer of the documentary film, “SpOILed”. They forgot to say the movie was financed in part by oil and gas interests and failed to credit him with founding CARE, also financed by oil and gas interests.

Mathis himself is unashamed of his industry ties. My reading suggests he’s proud of CARE, appreciates fossil fuels and is persuaded we’re giving the oil and gas industry the short end of the stick.

His transparency is admirable, but I see why the Journal won’t adopt it.

Why would an editor tell readers, for example, that Kenneth Brown – author of an amazing Op Ed, Sunday, March 31, which posited Americans rejected Governor Romney’s “sensible” economic proposals because they were “bored stiff” – once was Research Director at the Rio Grande Foundation, spawn of CATO.

Making readers wary just won’t do.

So look for a pro-fossil fuel Op Ed any day now and pay special attention to the ID; it will obscure the author’s association with the industry.

Because, you see, the Journal’s beloved transparency evaporates into thin (maybe polluted) air when oil and gas or laissez-faire economics are at issue.

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