Daily Kos: The traditional media’s shoddy reporting on the Keystone XL pipeline is no surprise
April 21, 2013
It’s no secret that the traditional media have done a horrendous job on climate change, ignoring it or misreporting it, even in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus, and even as the real world impacts continue and accelerate. In 2012, coverage of climate change dropped to a four year low on the Sunday talk shows, with not one person quoted being an actual scientist. Of course, when the science is so convincing, it’s difficult for the traditional media to play their usual game of creating false debates where there aren’t any real ones. On broadcast television, overall, coverage of climate change has plummeted, while newspaper coverage was no better, with climate deniers receiving more attention in the United States and the United Kingdom than in other countries, regardless of the ideological leanings of the specific papers. Which is to be expected, particularly given that the climate change deniers are so well-funded.
So, with President Obama soon to make a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, it is no surprise to learn that the traditional media once again are living up to their horrendous standards. Media Matters has the story:
Television outlets overlooked the threat of Keystone XL to the sensitive ecosystems along the pipeline route, mentioning the risk of a spill in just 20 percent of coverage since Election Day, November 6, 2012. Meanwhile, 43 percent of television coverage promoted the jobs benefits of the pipeline, and 27 percent incorrectly suggested it would reduce our dependence on Middle East oil.
And making it even worse is that the supposed jobs benefits themselves are wildly overstated. As I wrote last month, regarding the State Department’s shamefully dishonest Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the pipeline:
The earlier Environmental Impact Statement estimated no more than 500 to 900 local jobs would be created throughout the entire construction throughout the entire region, and the new SEIS estimates no more than a few dozen permanent jobs, once the pipeline has been built. A 2011 study by the Cornell Global Labor Institute found that Keystone may actually destroy more jobs than it creates, and of course neither the fossil fuels industries, nor apparently the State Department that outsourced the SEIS to the fossil fuels industry, seems to care that the pipeline will damage the economy, overall.
So, of course the traditional media coverage would focus their coverage on what the dishonest supporters of Keystone want them to focus on, despite of its dishonesty. And as the Media Matters report explains, even though a tar sands pipeline recently ruptured in Arkansas, dumping thousands of gallons of oil into a residential neighborhood and wilderness area, the media coverage of Keystone did not then increase its discussion of spill risks, and the coverage by ABC, CBS and Fox didn’t even bother to mention that Keystone would carry the same type of heavy crude. And of course, both Murdoch-owned Fox and the Wall Street Journal minimized the pipeline’s climate impact, hardly ever mentioning it, and at times flat out dismissing it. On Fox, 76 percent of those quoted support the pipeline, and only 13 percent oppose it, and not one of the politicians quoted or hosted by Fox— only one of whom, other than the president, is a Democrat—opposed it.
As for the overall reporting on Keystone’s impact on climate change? Media Matters:
Scientists accounted for less than 1 percent of those hosted or quoted by TV outlets and less than 4 percent of those quoted by the major papers. CNN was the only television outlet to quote a scientist about the pipeline, and it was Patrick Michaels — a prominent climate contrarian who receives funding from the oil industry. The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal did not quote a single scientist.
That might just be because so many prominent climate scientists oppose the pipeline, including John Abraham, David Archer, Jason Box, Ken Caldeira, James Hansen, John Harte, Ralph Keeling, Michael MacCracken, Michael Mann, James McCarthy, Michael Oppenheimer, Mauri Pelto, Raymond Pierrehumbert, Alan Robock, Terry Root, Ted Scambos, Richard Somerville and George Woodwell. As usual, the problem with traditional media coverage of anything related to climate change is that science is subjugated to the false political narrative that creates debates and controversies where there aren’t any.
If the traditional media were professional and honorable, they would research and report facts, as accurately as possible. On questions of science, they would talk to scientists. When talking to scientists, they would not give equal or even more time to those whose opinions are in a teeny tiny minority. But on climate issues, the traditional media are not professional and honorable, they almost never talk to scientists, and when they do talk to scientists they give wildly disproportionate coverage to the opinions of those who are so marginal and discredited as to be no better than flat-Earthers.
Appropriately and with great timing, this year’s Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting went not to any traditional media outlet, but to the online site InsideClimate News, “for their rigorous reports on flawed regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines, focusing on potential ecological dangers posed by diluted bitumen (or ‘dilbit’), a controversial form of oil.” InsideClimate has an entire page dedicated to Keystone, tar sands, and oil sands. The information is plentiful, even if the traditional media choose to ignore or distort it.
What should be good news is that the decision on Keystone lies in the hands of one man, and he is smart enough and diligent enough to be able to learn and act on the facts. It is up to him. There are no excuses. He can and must do the right thing, even when so many of the usual won’t.