Politico Slams ‘A $2 Billion Solar Mistake—From The Media’

Solar Panels are shown. | AP Photo

AP Photo

Monday’s news that yet another solar company that received Energy Department backing is filing for bankruptcy protection at first looked like the Obama administration had funded another expensive loser.

But unlike Solyndra’s high-profile and costly flameout, this time the news came with a twist that tripped up wire services, talking heads and members of Congress.

The company, Solar Trust, never took the money….

Even The Associated Press and Reuters got it wrong.

When the media latches on to a narrative, mistakes happen. Why? Confirmation bias sets in, so reporters and editors don’t do the same amount of due diligence as they would on a story that strikes their intuition — their nose for news — as incorrect.

The media mistakenly believes unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases are unlikely to have a catastrophic impact, so they downplay the story and play up the 1 in 20 articles that doesn’t show  the situation is more dire than scientists thought.

Now, the media erroneously thinks solar power is flaming out and that government support for solar isn’t a good idea. They have wildly overhyped Solyndra, ignoring anything that would undermine the narrative, such as the December Bloomberg report that concluded: “The focus on Solyndra is not proportional to its impact.”

So I suppose it’s no surprise that leading news outlets got the Solar Trust story wrong. Politico notes in its story, “A $2 billion solar mistake — from the media” that the error underscores “the eagerness of many in the media to discover the next Solyndra.”

Precisely. In this case, their error was abetted by the right-wing disinformation machine:

Right-leaning blogs and websites seized on the news with headlines blaring about $2 billion of taxpayers’ money lost — even if the accompanying story correctly noted that Solar Trust never got a dime.

“One year ago this outfit got $2.1 billion in taxpayer loans,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program Tuesday. “So down the tubes. Solyndra was solar panels, and now Solar Trust of America has filed bankruptcy.”

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) took to Twitter on Tuesday to lament the failure: “This costs us $2.1 bill. Equal to all ‘Big Oil’ tax breaks last yr.”

But we expect those folks to get stories wrong —  that’s what they do for a living. The mainstream media is supposed to be better than that:

The AP had to correct a Tuesday story in which it said the project had ultimately received the DOE guarantee. The AP issued a correction on Wednesday.

Reuters’s original story Monday did not make it clear Solar Trust never got the money. It put out an updated story on Wednesday specifying that fact.

Solar Trust’s project in Blythe, Calif.— which would have been one of the largest solar farms in the world — received a conditional commitment for a $2.1 billion loan guarantee from DOE in April 2011.

The deal, almost four times as large as Solyndra’s, got star treatment from administration officials. Energy Secretary Steven Chu lauded it in a White House blog post, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar attended the project’s groundbreaking ceremony in June. (It’s located on federally controlled land).

But in August, Solar Trust essentially walked away from the deal.

Reporters and editors need to double check all stories —  particularly the ones that strike them as obviously true. That’s why they have the old journalistic shibboleth: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”


10 Responses to Politico Slams ‘A $2 Billion Solar Mistake—From The Media’

  1. M Tucker says:

    “The mainstream media is supposed to be better than that.”

    Yeah, they are supposed to be better but really never have been. MSM is about controversy and they will take up conservative or Republican causes whenever the situation calls of it. The only thing liberal about the MSM is their liberal use of trumped up controversy and they have never really been about facts or informing the public. The public must struggle to be factually informed. One must always keep a skeptical mind especially when the shouting matches get heated.

  2. mike kanellos says:

    Actually, as a reporter, I believe there is another factor in addition to confirmation bias going on here. Hit mania. You only get promoted or boost your profile in a newsroom if your stories get hits, so there is a natural tendency to move toward sensational. Solyndra captured the imagination of the public and thus sent off a frenzy for covering the company or finding the next Solyndra. One reporter at a major daily newspaper told me that he couldn’t cover anything but Solyndra for two months.

    Thus, when Solar Trust emerged it was a chance for reporters to reinvigorate their profile.

    LIke it or not, DOE failures are seen in newsroom as the energy world’s equivalent of Apple: a story guaranteed to get attention.

  3. Tim says:

    Is it correct to say, “But we expect those folks to get stories wrong — that’s what they do for a living”? Or is it, “But we expect those folks to lie — that’s what they do for a living.”

    Did Rick Santorum believe it when he said, “I think it’s seven or eight of the California system of universities don’t even teach an American history course. It’s not even available to be taught,” or did he know it was a lie? When you just make things up, isn’t it a lie? I don’t know that Santorum doesn’t have sex with sheep, so is it OK for me to say that he does?

  4. Sasparilla says:

    This shows how deep a hole the solar industry is in regarding coverage by the US Media from the starting point of any story – the U.S. media want U.S. solar industry failure. Ugh.

    That means alot of things, but it sure isn’t good for the long term health of the US solar production industry – and doesn’t serve the future interests of the country.

    It also hints the mainstream media is following the lead of News Corp. and other compromised “news” outlets because of the success of their sensationalistic and often distorted stories. Not where we want US news media to gravitate towards.

  5. PeterW says:

    I know it has been suggested many times in the past here, but at what point do you stop wishing the media will change its ways, isn’t it time for an organized boycott of the lying mainstream media?

    Time after time, they mislead and lie. They only answer to their corporate masters. It isn’t going to change. Something needs to be done. If progressives stop subscribing to cable/satellite and if we stop visiting their websites, it would definitely affect their bottom line. It’s time to turn them off.

  6. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe wrote: “The media MISTAKENLY believes … the media ERRONEOUSLY thinks … their ERROR was abetted by the right-wing disinformation machine …”

    Nothing about this is a “mistake” or an “error”.

    On the contrary, it is deliberate, calculated propaganda — just like the coverup-by-omission of the connection between global warming and weather of mass destruction.

    And you have got the roles of the so-called “mainstream” media and the so-called “right-wing” media backwards.

    The reality is that the deliberate lies of the right-wing media are abetted by the mainstream media, which sanitizes and legitimizes the lies for a general audience.

    It’s time to stop pretending that this systematic pattern of (1) denying the reality of the global warming threat and (2) attacking the renewable energy industries is somehow spontaneously arising all across the corporate-owned media, as the result of “mistakes” and “errors” that simultaneously afflict multiple, major media organizations.

    It is nothing more or less than a deliberate campaign of deceit, on behalf of the fossil fuel corporations.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Western MSM, as Chomsky and Herman showed in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, is a propaganda system, a means of indoctrinating society to the benefit of the rich, who own the MSM, lock, stock and stinking barrel.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    They either lie, or they are so dumb that they cannot learn from experience. The same non-facts appear over and over, despite being repeatedly exposed as incorrect. The invariable pattern tells us that this is no unhappy accident.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The people who own the MSM are the same 1% who own the fossil fuel industry, that is valued at 25 trillion. There’s the truth of it, and the sufficient explanation for why the MSM will always attack renewable energy.

  10. catman306 says:

    If you listen to NPR’s Morning Edition this morning you heard a story about Australian, Rupert Murdock’s powerful propaganda machine and how it controls the flow of disinformation on the continent.

    Later in the hour a story citing a Fox News opinion poll as a source for information.

    My jaw dropped.