Climate

Solyndra Is “the Royal Wedding of Energy Stories” — and Politico Proves the Point

http://img2.timeinc.net/people/i/2011/specials/royal-wedding/moments/prince-william-3320.jpgPolitico ran a story this week, “Liberals unhappy with Solyndra focus.”  It mentions Climate Progress by name and cites the data we posted on the disproportionate coverage the loan to the failed solar company received.  Thanks for that, Politico!

But long before then, it mischaracterizes progressives and the complaint that we made.  The piece opens:

Liberals and environmental activists desperately trying to change the narrative away from Solyndra are simultaneously working to throw the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under the bus with another energy trouble spot.

The Nation, The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Grist, Climate Progress and Media Matters have run editorials and articles in recent weeks bemoaning the “out of proportion” Solyndra coverage and drawing attention to the State Department’s pending review of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline that would connect Canada’s Tar Sands to the Gulf Coast.

Uhh, no.  I’m going to repost the full debunking of this spin by Dave Roberts at Grist below, but here is his dead-on key point:

The whole point of the critique has been to expose the fact that another group of people, a group unremittingly hostile to Obama and clean energy, are desperately trying to focus the narrative on Solyndra — and they’re succeeding!

… Republican talking points are delivered as first-order news. Liberal talking points are wrapped in meta-news about liberals and their talking points. It makes liberals sound defensive and manipulative, and it’s condescending as sh*t.

Indeed, maybe my opening sentence should have been “Politico desperately trying to defend its excessive coverage of Solyndra.”

When cable news was criticized for excessive coverage of the Royal wedding, many used that opportunity to just do another Royal Wedding story — on whether the coverage was excessive.  Crafty folks, those media mavens.

UPDATE:  Daily Kos has a good analysis of how Politico’s coverage is skewed toward treating Solyndra — but not Keyston XL — as a scandal.

The Politico quoted me correctly later on, but missed the point — the coverage actually was (and still is)  disproportionate:

The liberal blog Climate Progress — run by the Center for American Progress — earlier this month dubbed Solyndra “the royal wedding of energy stories.”

It counted 190 mentions of Solyndra from Aug. 31 to Sept. 23 spanning 10 hours of coverage on the major television networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC — while in the same time period, the Keystone XL pipeline didn’t get a single mention on the networks.

I do media criticism on Climate Progress.  My point was that the coverage was, in fact, excessive, as with the Royal Wedding:

So Pew Research found that the media over-reported the Royal Wedding but under-reported rising gas/oil prices.  Darn you Pew Research for desperately trying to change the narrative to things the public actually care about!

Here is what the inimitable Dave Roberts has to say on the subject:

Politico doesn’t quite get it: The real problem with Solyndra media coverage

Apparently, enough people have been kvetching about the media’s coverage of Solyndra that Politico felt obligated to do a story on the complaints. I appreciate that the paper gave its critics, including me, space to make our case, but reporter Darren Samuelsohn has characterized my views and aims in ways I do not entirely agree with, so I want to clarify a few things.

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I, for one, am not “desperately trying to change the narrative away from Solyndra.” The whole point of the critique has been to expose the fact that another group of people, a group unremittingly hostile to Obama and clean energy, are desperately trying to focus the narrative on Solyndra — and they’re succeeding!

This is a Politico perennial. When Republicans tried to manipulate media narratives about the Solyndra bankruptcy, they were dutifully quoted in stories with headlines like, “Republicans Call Solyndra Biggest Deal Ever.” When liberals and environmentalists objected, they got stories like, “Liberals Try to Make Media Stop Calling Solyndra Biggest Deal Ever.” Republican talking points are delivered as first-order news. Liberal talking points are wrapped in meta-news about liberals and their talking points. It makes liberals sound defensive and manipulative, and it’s condescending as sh*t.

Anyway, the point of the criticism has been that the insider press has given Solyndra a level of coverage that wildly exceeds any reasonable assessment of its significance. And it has created an atmosphere of scandal that wildly exceeds any actual, proven wrongdoing or lawbreaking (of which, as I keep pointing out, there is still none). The press has done this in response to a Republican PR push that would seem grossly manipulative if its targets didn’t seem so eager to go along with it.

Samuelsohn also writes that I and my fellow critics are “working to throw the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under the bus with another energy trouble spot,” meaning the Keystone XL pipeline. That is just … no.

First of all, I mentioned the Keystone XL controversy in passing in one of the many posts I’ve written about Solyndra coverage, but my main point has always been that the coverage has been flawed on its own terms, not that the Solyndra collapse is inferior to some other, better scandal.

Second of all, insofar as I and others are concerned about Keystone XL, it has to do with the enormous stakes for the real world, not just for whether the White House or Hillary Clinton win the next few news cycles. This is what’s so frustrating about Politico and the culture of insider political news: They treat everything as though it’s a melodrama unfolding in Washington, D.C., pitting people and alliances against one another in an eternal Machiavellian pissing match.

But there is a real world. Solyndra and Keystone XL are real things in it, not just dueling narratives. And by any conceivable metric — energy, money, pollution, corruption — Keystone XL is a much more significant phenomenon. Solyndra was a bum loan that will be forgotten within a year as the solar industry continues its explosive growth. Keystone XL is a huge, dirty, expensive pipeline that would run down the middle of the country; it’s being pushed through via a rigged process; and its consequences for our energy system and our climate will last for decades. Considering those stakes, why would I or anyone else give a damn about who is “under the bus” in D.C. this week?

A perfect example of this insider mentality popped up today in National Journal (which unfortunately seems to be trying to match Politico hype-for-hype these days). In a story about how the Senate has not had its own flurry of Solyndra hearings to match the (duplicative) flurry of Solyndra hearings in the House, we get a Republican flack complaining about how Senate Dems aren’t taking up the issue:

“We had seven hearings on the [BP] oil spill within two months,” said Robert Dillon, spokesman for Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “That’s the difference of what they’re doing on Solyndra and what they did for Deepwater Horizon.”

Can you imagine the perspective from which this comparison makes sense? The BP oil spill was the country’s biggest environmental disaster ever, with 11 dead rig workers, legitimate charges of criminal negligence, and a whole regional economy disrupted. Solyndra was a relatively small company that got a single government loan and went bankrupt. Yet for Dillon, this is a tit-for-tat, a game. You got your hearings, we should get our hearings.

I’ve spent time in Washington, D.C., so I’m somewhat familiar with the bizarre, distorting bubble effect that comes with staying there too long. But when you’ve come to the point that you’re making facile comparisons between the Deepwater Horizon spill and the Solyndra bankruptcy, when you’re seeing them both through the lens of which party is scoring points on the other, you need to take a f’ing vacation.

And if you’re a reporter who’s taking that comparison seriously, dutifully writing a story on it, you have lost your goddamn perspective.

That’s the real complaint about Solyndra coverage and the real complaint about the self-referential Beltway media cycle — not only that it is driven and shaped by conservatives, but that it has completely lost touch with the real world.

— Dave Roberts, Grist

6 Responses to Solyndra Is “the Royal Wedding of Energy Stories” — and Politico Proves the Point

  1. prokaryotes says:

    The post appearing at CP should be posted at every mainstream media, in related categories, as well.

    As long this isn’t being done, we have a situation comparable with the dark age. The lame stream media actively censors environmental related coverage, by ignoring it or twisting the facts (Faux). This is the most important coverage, because it concerns everybody, because we breath and live in this very small environment.

    Our environment can not be restored in a life time, ecosystems which are the basis of economic growth take 100.0000 years to develop. Since the introduction of CFC’s (Chlorofluorocarbon), something artificially to the natural world, stayed in the atmosphere and accumulated, destroying the Ozone layer at the poles. Destroying almost all Ozone, because CFC’s are one of the most reactive substances known by man.

    The alternative HCFC’s which replaced them, amounts to the same effect, even though they are a bit less damaging to the Ozone shield.

    According to Isaac Asimov, water could have been used, but business people did not liked the idea, because water could not be patented.

    Isaac Asimov had a Master degree in Chemistry.

  2. Joan Savage says:

    The kind of endless talk show that conservative news provides doesn’t seem to have a liberal parallel. The near-instantaneous delivery means their narrative shows up first.
    Joe Romm and David Roberts end up in the roles of defensive quarterbacks, limiting the damage. The good news about solar has to get the jump, the kick-off, the offensive team to take it to a successful goal.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    From the end of Krugman’s blog today about Muller’s Earth temperature project at Berkeley:

    “Oh, one more thing, relevant to both this story and today’s column: landing in my inbox this morning was

    POLITICO Playbook, presented by the American Petroleum Institute
    Uh huh.”

    Krugman’s post is here:
    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/more-people-who-cant-handle-the-truth/

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    If I may hammer Krugman’s obvious point a little: oil money, via the API, is buying favorable press coverage at Politico.

    Oil money drenches today’s press.

  5. mulp says:

    Where is the focus on the $8 billion loan for two nuclear reactors?

    Living in NH and still paying for the stranded costs of Seabrook, the costs that remained when the PSNH bonds as well as other utilities took a huge haircut, PSNH shareholders were wiped out, Seabrook sold off at about 15% of the cost to construct it, I consider the $8 billion loan to be extremely high risk. Of the 104 nuclear plants started before Jimmy Carter signed the electric power deregulation mandate, every one lost money, and I’m guessing 80% defaulted on bonds, and a large number of utilities went bankrupt and were liquidated.

    In the three decades since, with conservatives virtually demanding the government subsidize the nuclear power industry by running roughshod over the economic rights of private citizens: central planners in Washington dictating the location of plants overriding the opposition of the community (NIMBY), tort “reform” that exempts the nuclear industry from more than a token liability for harm, and major subsidies to the fuel and waste stream processing, often concealing in nuclear weapons modernization.

    What is needed is a Tea Party based attack on Obama’s subsidies of nuclear energy, a Tea Party call for the impeachment of Sec Chu for making an $8 billion loan for an obsolete technology that has never been successful even with strong government central planning.

    That the Obama support of nuclear power is 15 times worse that his support for solar electric power…

    Let’s get the Tea Party making the “green” arguments.

    Then focus the Tea Party on the heavy handed taking of US private property by eminent domain for the private profit of a Canadian corporation.