Monday, August 20, 2012

More Media Madness -- This Time It's CBS

Last night (August 19), a friend called to tell me he'd just seen a report on CBS News titled "New York State to Allow Fracking," in which a farm couple from the Southern Tier of New York, not far from my own home, were interviewed. They described how much they're struggling and said that fracking would keep them afloat (actually they expect it to make them rich). The woman said, "It's like sitting on top of a bank with $1 million dollars, and you can't access that money."

My friend complained that the only rebuttal to this story was from Dr. Sandra Steingraber, my colleague and fellow antifracktivist, an environmental biologist and author who has written and spoken so eloquently about the health implications of fracking as well as of many other industrial activities that contaminate our environment. And, my friend said, Steingraber was "talking about xylene and toluene and other chemicals nobody knows about. She couldn't hold a candle to that farming couple. Of course everyone would sympathize with them [the farm couple] and not her."

My friend, a smart, educated, antifracking investigator himself, concluded, "You should get another spokesperson [instead of Sandra Steingraber]"

Without having seen the "news" report, I knew exactly what had happened. The "reporter" or producer of the piece wanted to draw sympathy to the plight of the pro-fracking farmers and make the opposition to fracking seem arbitrary and useless. I asked my friend to think about how the story was presented and see how much time was devoted to the pro-fracking side versus how much was given to the pro-environment and pro-health side. He reflected for a minute and then said, "Yeah, right, they hardly showed anything about the antifracking movement. Most of the story and most of the camera time were spent on the farm couple, who were made to seem very likable and hard-working."

Then, chagrined, my friend said, "Wow. I can't believe it. I know how the mainstream media works, but I didn't pick up on that. Even I got sucked into this, thinking this was a balanced report. And of course it's not Sandra's fault. She's always great."

But not if edited in a deliberately misleading way.

The headline of the story was pretty horrifying, too: "New York State to Allow Fracking." The piece then opened with the claim that "CBS News has learned that New York is about to okay fracking, and will issue guidelines after Labor Day." There was no attribution, and apparently no attempt to speak to Governor Andrew Cuomo or DEC head Joe Martens.

The whole thing was a travesty of journalism, but alas, not in the slightest out of the ordinary. I looked at the video of this CBS "news" report and immediately found a dozen things to pick apart: the headline; the unsourced claim; the heartstring-tugging barn fire the family had suffered a few years ago; the darling baby calves; the quote from the farmers about the money being a "great blessing"; the benign cartoon making fracking operations look clean and safe; a quote claiming that the DEC would put in place the "strictest standards in the nation"; the wording of the "reporter's" question to Sandra Steingraber ("The energy secretary says fracking can be done safely. The president says fracking can be done safely. Are they wrong?") and his deliberately disparaging and supercilious look during the segment; the choice of quote from Sandra Steingraber, which out of context seemed weak; the final statement from the farmers saying "everything in Pennsylvania is great, just they have more new tractors"; and the kicker (ending) quote from the "reporter," that "There are more than half a million wells across the country" (implication being, those pesky antifrackers are talking out of their arses).

This segment was a joke. But unfortunately, many viewers, especially those less connected than my friend who at least was able to call me to throw out a question, couldn't distinguish between a good story and a bad.

This is the S.O.S. way the "news" media have been "telling the story" since fracking began. I think it was about three years ago when I first noticed and began writing about the misinformation and outright lies the mainstream/corporate media were propagating. I won't take the time here -- I have more important things to do, especially if there is any truth to the report that fracking is about to begin here in New York -- to debunk this particular CBS piece.

But watching something like this, it should be no surprise that so many New Yorkers and others believe the B.S. being fed them by the mass media, which is gobbling up and spewing out the B.S. being fed to it by the industry and corrupt politicians. And it's not just corporate media that are at fault here. The so-called "public" radio is also to blame and in many ways, to my mind, much more culpable because people expect that source to be more reliable. It is not.

Oh, and as a crowning gem, the CBS News story online ad is from BP about how important the environment is to it. It would be laughable if so many people and ecologies weren't suffering and wouldn't continue to suffer from that corporation's wrongdoings. There's nothing funny about that.

Here are a few prior pieces on the subject:

15 Gas Industry Claims and Why They're Wrong.  They spend tens millions
of dollars a year to convince lawmakers and the public that "natural" gas is great. Let's take a look at the propaganda.

"Public" Media Joins "Gang Green" in Colluding with Frackers. NPR's serenades to the gas industry are getting more and more blatant. Let's pick apart some of these egregious transgressions from journalistic integrity.  

How Mainstream Media Fuels Rabid Anti-environmentalism.  The corporate-state collusionist framing is working. It's not just a few "Tea Party crazies" in Virginia who now think sustainable development is a plot against "the American way." And MSM isn't helping.