September 2012, Week 3


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Sat, 15 Sep 2012 00:00:21 -0400
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Brought to You by...Big Oil?

Washington Post hides industry sponsorship of energy


The Washington Post had a two-page spread in its
September 11 edition devoted to a "debate" on energy
policy. But industry critics were missing from the
picture. Why? Perhaps because the oil industry,
undisclosed to Post readers, was sponsoring the

"Ahead of 2012 Vote, Energy Generates a Lively Debate,"
read the headline on page 14. Washington Post Live
editor Mary Jordan explained, "Huge natural gas and oil
finds...have drastically changed America's energy
outlook." She went on to note, "Gas burns cleaner than
coal," before admitting that "there are environmental
concerns with 'fracking.'"

The two-page spread that followed was presented as an
election-year discussion of U.S. energy policy. As
Jordan explained, the debate grew out of discussions
held at both the Republican and Democratic conventions.
Those forums were sponsored by the Post and the
Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

But the Post failed to credit another sponsor:
Vote4Energy.org, whose logo appears on the Post Live
website that features the forums. What is Vote4Energy?
It's a project of the American Petroleum Institute, the
main lobbying group of the oil and gas industries.

So if you're wondering why the Post's feature failed to
include bonafide critics of the energy giants--voices
that might speak out against fracking, strongly advocate
for renewable energy or take climate change seriously--
that would seem to be the answer. Some of these issues
were raised, but mostly in passing.

Instead, the Post featured excerpts from the invited
guests. On the Democratic side, that meant Montana Gov.
Brian Schweitzer--an enthusiastic supporter of
fracking--and Rep. Ed Markey (Mass.), who seemed to
endorse more gas drilling, along with Alaska Sen. Mark
Begich, who touted oil and gas drilling in his state
before mentioning renewables. On the Republican side,
readers heard from Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas and Bill
Maloney, a candidate for governor of West Virginia, who
declared global warming to be "nothing but a hoax."

The right was also represented by the Heritage
Foundation's Kim Holmes, Margo Thorning of the Koch-
backed American Council for Capital Formation and Karen
Harbert of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Industry views
were provided by Melissa Lavinson of Pacific Gas &
Electric, Kevin Book of Clearview Energy Partners and
David Holt of the Consumer Energy Alliance, an industry-
aligned advocacy group. There were also comments from
Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations, Paul
Bledsoe of the Bipartisan Policy Center and Josh Freed
of the centrist think tank Third Way.

Entirely missing from this "debate" were
environmentalists or any strong critics of the fossil
fuel industry.

In a video of the discussion at the Republican
convention posted on the paper's website, Emily
Akhtarzandi--the Post's "strategic partnership
executive"--credited the American Petroleum Institute in
her opening remarks, saying the group "saw value in
making today's conversation possible."

Indeed they would; arranging a "debate" that excludes
your critics participating is very valuable. And so is
seeing that one-sided discussion spread across two pages
of the biggest newspaper in the nation's capital.

It's not the first time the Post has been caught selling
itself to corporate sponsors. In 2009, the paper cooked
up a plan to have publisher Katharine Weymouth host
"salons" at her home at which, for $25,000, corporate
underwriters could rub shoulders with politicians as
well as Post reporters and editors (Extra!, 9/09). Draft
marketing materials promoted the project as a chance for
industry reps to "build crucial relationships with
Washington Post news executives in a neutral and
informal setting."

After Politico (7/2/09) broke the story, the resulting
uproar scrapped the plan before it got off the ground.
This time around, the paper has gotten even more brazen,
selling not access to journalists but essentially two
critic-free pages of advocacy presented as news.

Shouldn't Post readers have been told that what they
were reading was less a news feature and more like an

Interestingly, the paper published a letter last month
(8/4/12) complaining about the Post's failure to cover a
large anti-fracking protest in D.C. that ended at the
offices of...the American Petroleum Institute.

Ask the Washington Post to explain why it failed to
disclose that its September 11 energy feature was
essentially sponsored by the oil industry.

Washington Post
Patrick Pexton
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