Agenda-Driven Omissions: Journal Overlooks Four Major Pipeline Spills in January

February 20th, 2015 · No Comments · climate change, energy policy, journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

It drives me crazy.

After three years of reading the Albuquerque Journal closely, I know it’s not a daily newspaper (as we commonly understand the term) but a political tract in journalistic dress. Yet every time I chose to show how that works in practice, the editors provide a timelier, juicier, more egregious episode of political commissar-ship and, well, that moves me to tell you about its latest crime against fairness.

But before I can, they do it again and again. Often one issue presents plural peccadillos.

I cannot keep up.

That’s why I recently decided to cut down on my usual close reading of an article or articles and zoom out instead, the better to see the Journal narrative in sharp relief. I created a new folder, “Ignored”, on my desktop that holds about six weeks’ worth of stories the Journal didn‘t publish because – I surmise – they contradict management’s politics.

The plan was to divide the stories into categories like state and city government, environment, economics, education, oligarchy vs. democracy and such. Then I’d derive the Journal’s political narrative simply by listing the stories it does and doesn’t publish within each category.

Ah, but I hardly had time to congratulate myself when the Journal outdid itself Wednesday, Feb. 18. Sorry, we’ll get to my grand scheme another time. Because that day, the editors provided a luscious (if oily) example of how they work to advance management’s agenda.

First, they did not run a story on the explosion of oil tankers when a train derailed in West Virginia, although editors across the nation did. In this latest disaster, oil contaminated a small creek and threatened to spread to the Kanawha River, a source of drinking water for cities and towns downstream.

Instead, Journal editors opted for a second-day story from the Washington Post in which reporter Joby Warrick pointed out this was just the latest in a “type of accident that U.S. officials say is becoming distressingly common.”

It didn’t take long to grasp the editors’ ploy, for Warrick brought up the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, noting “oil industry advocates contend that pipelines are safer than rail for moving flammable petroleum, while opponents say pipelines tend to experience much larger spills.” (Warrick’s account ended with the explosion.)

This permitted the commissars to headline her story, accurately:

“Rail oil-tanker mishaps now common”.

There’s more to this episode but it’s not too early for applause. Well done! It’s not easy to all-but-transmute an oil explosion into an argument for pipelines.

Now, however, because Journal commissars do not politick by actions of commission alone, let us move to stories they somehow overlooked.

Like reporter Matthew Brown’s Associated Press story of Jan. 29 headlined:

Yellowstone River oil spill fuels Keystone debate; pipeline accidents increasing

Brown opened:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Oil pipeline accidents have become increasingly frequent in the U.S. as Congress presses the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline – a project that would pass near the spot where 30,000 gallons of crude spilled into Montana’s Yellowstone River earlier this month.”

Of course, failing to run Brown’s piece could be accidental, right? Yes, it could be. But it wasn’t.

The editors also missed Katie Valentine’s Jan. 22 piece for think progress.org/climate under the rubric:

Nearly 3 Million Gallons Of Drilling Waste Spill From North Dakota Pipeline

“Almost 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste spilled from a North Dakota pipeline earlier this month, “Valentine wrote, “a spill that’s now being called the state’s largest since the North Dakota oil boom began.”

Let’s cut to the chase:

The Albuquerque Journal somehow overlooked not one, not two but four major pipeline spills in the month of January alone. (You can catch up via Emily Atkin’s Jan, 27 report headlined, “Pipeline Explodes In West Virginia, Sends Fireball Shooting Hundreds Of Feet In The Air” at think progress.org.)

(Yes, this week’s West Virginia explosion was its second of the new year!)

So there you have it. How does a political tract in journalistic dress serve its fossil fuel industry allies? By commission and omission.

But I wouldn’t have postponed my “Ignored” project for just the case study above. The Journal’s Feb. 18 issue flaunted two more political commissar feats – one involving Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and one, our own Rep. Steve Pearce.

Next time.

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