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Politico Manufactures Attack On Energy Secretary Steven Chu That GOP and Murdoch Media Run With

By Climate Guest Contributor on March 2, 2012 at 9:50 am

"Politico Manufactures Attack On Energy Secretary Steven Chu That GOP and Murdoch Media Run With"

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Politico headlineby Jocelyn Fong, reposted from Media Matters

A Politico story fueling misguided attacks on Energy Secretary Steven Chu is not borne out by what actually occurred. The article titled, “Chu: DOE working to wean U.S. off oil, not lower prices,” claimed:

The Energy Department isn’t working to lower gasoline prices directly, Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday after a Republican lawmaker scolded him for his now-infamous 2008 comment that gas prices in the U.S. should be as high as in Europe.

But this report is based on an assumption made by Politico reporter Alex Guillen about how Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-MS) was going to finish a question. If that wasn’t bad enough, Politico doubled down with another article today about Newt Gingrich — who cited Guillen’s story — calling for Chu to be fired for the remarks.

[UPDATE: Politico's Morning Energy today: "This report is false," a DOE spokeswoman said. "In the hearing Tuesday, the secretary repeatedly reiterated his concern about the impact that increased prices at the pump are having on families and that we continue to do all we can to provide relief. That said there are no quick fixes, which is why this administration has taken steps to continue to expand production, dramatically increase the efficiency of the vehicles we drive, and invest in alternate fuels - all with an ultimate goal of reducing our reliance on foreign oil and protecting American families from the ups and downs of the international oil market" -- JR.]

Here’s what actually happened in the hearing (fuller video and transcript below):

REP. NUNNELEE: But is the overall goal to get our price–

CHU: No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil to — to build and strengthen our economy and to decrease our dependency on oil.

But here’s Politico’s version of what happened:

“But is the overall goal to get our price” of gasoline down, asked Nunnelee.

“No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied.

Guillen built his story on what he assumed Nunnelee was asking and gave no indication that the question was, in fact, ambiguous. There is good reason to believe that Chu thought Nunnelee was actually asking, “Is the overall goal to get our price up to European levels,” since this was Nunnelee’s previous question:

NUNNELEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Secretary for being here. Before you were nominated, you were quoted as saying, quote, “Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” I can’t look at motivations. I have to look at results. And under this administration, the price of gasoline is doubled. While bumping $4 a gallon in North Mississippi, today the price of gasoline in Europe is about $8 a gallon, and the people of North Mississippi can’t be here.

So, I have to be here and be their voice for them. And I have to tell you that $8 a gallon gasoline makes them afraid. It’s a cruel tax on the people of North Mississippi as they try to go back and forth to work. It’s a cloud hanging over economic development and job creation, and it appears to me this administration continues to drag its feet on oil exploration on fossil fuel development and recovery. How do you respond to that?

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the Heritage Foundation, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Nunnelee subsequently cited the Politico article to claim that Chu “admitted his goal isn’t to lower gas prices.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) repeated the claim in a floor speech, as did Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) while promoting his book.

And of course, Fox enjoyed the opportunity provided by Politico’s bad reporting:

  • Fox Nation posted the headline: “Obama Energy Chief Bombshell Admission…” and quoted Guillen’s report.
  • Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry asked Jay Carney whether the White House agrees with Chu’s testimony that “the overall goal of the President’s energy policy is not to lower gas prices” in Wednesday’s press briefing. (Carney responded: “I’m not aware of that statement or the characterization that you give it.”)
  • After airing a clip of the exchange, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly said, “The question was: Is the overall goal to get our price of gasoline down? And the answer was no. That is raising some eyebrows today.”
  • Neil Cavuto asked on his show, “Did the energy secretary just say the administration’s goal is not to bring down the gas prices at the pump?” and brought on Sen. Ron Johnson to say, “this president has an energy policy and it is not to utilize America’s natural energy resources” (via Nexis).
  • Fox News’ The Five aired the video from the hearing, with Greg Gutfeld framing the clip by saying: “They asked him about, is your primary goal to lower gasoline prices?” Eric Bolling added: “Is your goal getting gasoline prices down? In the first word, the only relevant word that Chu said is … his first word was ‘No.”
  • Fox News Congressional correspondent Mike Emanuel said on Special Report that “the President’s energy secretary was on the hot seat when Mississippi Republican congressman, Alan Nunnelee, asked if the Department of Energy is actively trying to lower fuel costs” (via Nexis).
  • Bill O’Reilly said on his show: “The question was do you want to lower the oil prices and he said ‘no.’” O’Reilly added, “the bottom line on this is that Chu doesn’t want oil prices to come down. He wants them to actually go up” (via Nexis).
  • On Fox Business, Lou Dobbs said: “Tonight, a stunning admission from the Obama administration — the goal of its energy policy is not to lower gasoline prices, even as prices hit new record highs” (via Nexis).

Setting aside the fact that Politico violated basic reporting practices with its initial article, this kind of manufactured controversy is exactly what I was talking about last week when I begged for better journalism on gas prices.

Politico has acknowledged elsewhere that without massive intervention in the market, the U.S. government cannot significantly or reliably move the global price of oil. So why would it be a story if Chu had said it wasn’t his goal to do that which isn’t possible? In reality, Chu’s response — “the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil” — is the only thing we can do to reduce our vulnerability to price spikes, and Politico should have said so.

From the February 28 Appropriations Committee hearing:

REP. ALAN NUNNELEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Secretary for being here.

Before you were nominated, you were quoted as saying, quote, “Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” I can’t look at motivations. I have to look at results. And under this administration, the price of gasoline is doubled. While bumping $4 a gallon in North Mississippi, today the price of gasoline in Europe is about $8 a gallon, and the people of North Mississippi can’t be here. So, I have to be here and be their voice for them. And I have to tell you that $8 a gallon gasoline makes them afraid. It’s a cruel tax on the people of North Mississippi as they try to go back and forth to work. It’s a cloud hanging over economic development and job creation, and it appears to me this administration continues to drag its feet on oil exploration on fossil fuel development and recovery. How do you respond to that?

CHU: Well, I think absolutely, what we should be judged on what we’re trying — what we are doing, and I should be judged on my track record when I became Secretary of Energy. And when this administration started, we were in a free-fall in a recession and the price had plunged from roughly a $140 a gallon down to or barrel –$140 a barrel down to little under about $40 a barrel.

And we — and the solution to this, I mean, we will do everything in in our powers to, and we agree that there is great suffering when the price of gasoline increases in the United States, and so we are very concerned about this, and as I have repeatedly said, in the Department of Energy, the — what we’re trying to do is diversify our energy’s bio transportation so that we have cost-effective means — natural gas is great, and so we’re pushing on natural gas for transportation.

Electrification is great because then that offloads in electrification –we’ve just in the battery research that we’ve funding, we’ve had some pretty spectacular breakthroughs, one just announced yesterday that looks like it’s going to at least decrease the cost of these batteries twofold and maybe more. Biofuels, a very aggressive program, started in the previous administration but continuing, again, to diversity that supply of transportation fuel.

And so, these are things we are doing, and we are very focused on that because we understand the economic impacts that has in all Americans and our economy.

NUNNELEE: But is the overall goal to get our price–

CHU: No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil to — to build and strengthen our economy and to decrease our dependency on oil. For the first time, you know, in the last eight years, through a lot of policy put in this administration and previous administrations, you know, our oil production has increased for the first time in its highest level in eight years. It’s the import — the fraction of it is the highest level in 16 years.

We think that if you consider all these policies including energy efficiency, you know ,we think that we can go a lot — a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and diversifying our supply, and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.

NUNNELEE: Thank you.

This piece was originally published at Media Matters for America.

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3 Responses to Politico Manufactures Attack On Energy Secretary Steven Chu That GOP and Murdoch Media Run With

  1. Anderlan says:

    Nunnelee has a point about Chu’s previous outlook, and it is easily dismissed. For the record every extra penny that Europeans pay on gas tax, they DO NOT PAY in taxes on work and investment!

    • sault says:

      Exactly, and every Eurocent of fuel taxes they pay that lowers demand for fuel and makes alternatives to oil more appealing saves them many more Eurocents in healthcare costs and property damage due to pollution. That the high fuel taxes support some of the best transportation infrastructure in the world is another added bonus.

  2. Sasparilla says:

    Thanks for posting this explanation.

    I heard a GOP governor repeating the same lie – Chu wants to raise oil prices to European levels – on CNBC to a national audience this morning during an interview regarding the presidential election.

    The fossil fuel industries and GOP have wanted Chu out of there for a long time – besides trying to make hay for the election as well. If they could push Obama to kick Chu out they would be very happy.