Still in search of ways to attack the federal government's investments in green technology, Fox Business baselessly claimed that the battery for the all-electric Tesla Model S "conks out after about 16 miles." In fact, the car is noted for its 200-mile battery range, which is superior to that of other electric vehicles on the market.
Positive developments about Tesla Motors' fortunes have been selectively covered by media of late, and the increasing likelihood that the company will be a long-term success has led some outlets to seek ever more inventive ways of criticizing the Department of Energy loan that it received (or pretend it never got a government boost at all). On Thursday's edition of Varney & Company, Fox Business reporter Elizabeth MacDonald aptly illustrated this phenomenon, claiming that Tesla Motors and Space X founder Elon Musk "has got to fix the Tesla [Model S] battery ... which conks out after 16 miles or about a half-hour of usage."
However, the Model S has actually been touted as a potential "game-changer" for its stated range of either 206 or 265 miles when fully charged (depending on which of the two batteries owners choose). At a consistent 55 mph clip, the larger battery can exceed a 300-mile range. Actual numbers may vary, as Tesla points out, according to "driving conditions and how you drive and maintain your vehicle," but the company's online tool shows a range of just over 150 miles for the smaller battery even at 65 mph, at freezing-point temperatures, with heat and headlights turned on and windows rolled down (i.e. less-than-favorable mileage conditions). The notoriously tough car reviewers at Consumer Reports, which earlier gave the Model S a near-perfect rating, cautioned that the car's actual range may not always align with the stated range, but reported nothing close to what MacDonald claims.
In 2011, MacDonald also appeared to pull a figure out of thin air to attack green energy investments, claiming that Evergreen Solar received "$43 million in federal money," when the bankrupt company had actually not received any federal money, according to The New York Times.
UPDATE (5/31/13): Elizabeth MacDonald acknowledged Friday on Varney & Company that she "gave incomplete information" on the battery range of the Model S, noting that one hour of charging using a mobile connector will add 31 miles to the car's range, while the fully-charged 85 kw battery has a range of 300 miles.
Fox News and Fox Business previously portrayed electric carmaker Tesla Motors as another "failure" of the Obama administration's green energy investments. But since it is now clear that the company is doing well, both networks have developed amnesia about its federal loan, with Tucker Carlson claiming that "they don't take any government subsidies at all."
Tesla recently reiterated its plans to repay a loan granted through the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program ahead of schedule. This followed a series of positive developments, including the company's first quarterly profits and a shining review of the Model S sedan by Consumer Reports. Financial services firm Morgan Stanley recently told Raw Story that "Many funds approach an investment opportunity by first asking: does the company do something better or cheaper than anybody else? Tesla is beginning to convince the market it may do both."
But no matter how Tesla fares in the coming years, it seems likely that Fox News will change its reporting to follow suit. In 2012, Fox News' claim that Tesla was a "failed" company was eventually adopted by the campaign of then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Later, Fox News admitted Tesla was a "success", eventually forgetting its federal loan in the process.
Video created by Max Greenberg and John Kerr.
The success of Tesla Motors complicates Fox News' narrative about green energy investments, but the network has a strategy: simply ignore the fact that the company received a federal loan.
Tesla, a leading electric automaker, received a $465 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program in 2010. The company has since become a fixture in car magazines and one of the most conspicuous successes of the Obama administration's green energy policies, recently announcing that it intends to pay back the loan five years ahead of schedule and reporting its first quarterly profits. On the heels of the latter news came word that the notably tough reviewers at Consumer Reports had given the Tesla Model S sedan a 99 out of 100 rating, proclaiming "we've never seen anything quite like the Model S. This car performs better than anything we've ever tested before."
On Friday, Fox News reported the quarter one profits -- "encouraging" -- and the positive review, pronouncing the automaker a "huge success."
One major problem: somehow, Fox News neglected to mention the federal loan guarantee program that helped Tesla obtain vital capital to develop the Model S. By contrast, Fox News has repeatedly used a negative Consumer Reports review of Fisker's hybrid electric Karma sedan as a hook to attack the Obama administration's green loans, without mentioning successes like Tesla or the money that Congress set aside to cover losses, knowing that not every company would succeed.
In recent weeks, Fox News has admitted that electric carmaker Tesla Motors is a "success story" -- but now the network suddenly has amnesia about the federal assistance that helped it succeed.
On Friday, Fox News anchor Jon Scott hosted Wall Street Journal automotive industry reporter Joseph White to discuss Fisker, an electric carmaker beset by financial troubles after receiving support from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program. Scott suggested Fisker is representative of the DOE's loan guarantee program, adding: "Meantime, there's another company, Tesla, smaller company, did not get a government loan as far as I'm aware ... Tesla seems to be making a go of it so far."
White quickly corrected Scott, pointing out that Tesla actually received the same type of government loan guarantee that Fisker did. Indeed, Fox News previously used government assistance for Tesla as an example of supposedly "Failed Green Energy Policies," a characterization then-presidential nominee Mitt Romney later echoed.
However, recent events have forced even Fox News to admit that Tesla is a "success story." Tesla's Model S electric sedan was named car of the year by both Automobile and Motor Trend and is en route to exceeding corporate sales goals. The company has also announced that it turned a profit in the first quarter of 2013 and plans on paying back its DOE loan five years early.
UPDATE (4/26/13): When covering a negative review of Tesla's car, however, Jon Scott did remember that Tesla was government-funded, stating in February 2013, "we are all sort of co-owners of Tesla -- that company got hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars as part of the president's, you know, green energy thing":
Fox News is using the struggles of electric automaker Fisker to smear the stimulus, even though the company received its loan from a completely separate Bush-era program, and both have created jobs.
On Thursday's Fox & Friends, Fox Business correspondent Charles Gasparino incorrectly claimed that Fisker received stimulus money, adding "when you use stimulus money, you're supposed to create jobs":
However, the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program is separate from the 2009 stimulus package signed into law by President Obama. Rather, it was enacted with broad bipartisan support in 2007 to award loans encouraging "meaningful improvements in fuel economy performance." More than half of that money went to improve the technology of conventional gasoline-fueled vehicles, but some went to support pioneering hybrid and electric cars. Since then, some of the latter, like the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf, have been successful.
While the primary focus of ATVM was different than that of the stimulus, the program has still supported more than 35,000 jobs.
A Bloomberg article on troubled electric automaker Fisker reports that the company's co-founder was first encouraged by the Department of Energy to pursue its federal loan guarantee, but never clarifies that those overtures, as well as the loan program itself, began during the Bush administration.
However, Bloomberg failed to note Fisker's statement that he was approached about the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program during the Bush administration, even as it quoted a Republican congressman suggesting the Obama administration had chosen the company inexplicably. From Fisker's testimony:
In January 2008, Fisker Automotive showed the concept car for the Kanna at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Soon after, I was approached at a sustainability conference in California by Mr. John Mizroch, the then-Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. We discussed the technology that Fisker Automotive was developing and he encouraged the company to apply for a loan from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program (ATVM). Fisker continued its conversations with the Department and the company applied for a loan at the end of 2008. At that time, we already had significant financial backing from private investors.
The Associated Press is making an unsupported claim that the Obama administration knew electric automaker Fisker was missing milestones required for its loan guarantee well before it froze the loan in mid-2011 by taking newly obtained documents out of context.
The AP article, published the day of a House hearing on the loan guarantee granted to the troubled company, appears to be based on what a Department of Energy official characterized in an email to Media Matters as "selectively released" documents from Republican politicians leading that hearing.
The article's lede claims that the documents "show that the Obama administration was warned as early as 2010 that electric car maker Fisker Automotive Inc. was not meeting milestones set up for a half-billion dollar government loan, nearly a year before U.S. officials froze the loan." However, neither of the documents it cites substantiates that claim.
The first document was an internal email speculating that Fisker could miss a milestone that it met five days later, as AP noted six paragraphs in:
Aoife McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said the June 2010 email was taken out of context.
"The document shows that one person at a meeting discussed the possibility that Fisker might not meet a financial commitment" required by the Energy Department, McCarthy said in an email late Tuesday. DOE received the needed certification five days later and subsequently made the loan payment, she said.
The second document is from April 2010 -- before the loan agreement had even been officially closed -- and thus before milestones had kicked in, as a DOE official explained in an email to Media Matters (emphasis added):
Nearly three years ago, as reporters shifted their focus away from the Gulf oil spill, they managed to overlook a pipeline spill that happened just 10 days after the BP well was capped. Their oversight was a boon to a non-profit with only seven full-time employees, which recently beat leading national newspapers in the race for the national reporting Pulitzer Prize for its investigative reporting on that spill.
The non-profit InsideClimate's award-winning report on the oil spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River, titled "The Dilbit Disaster: Inside The Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of," noted that the national press was uninterested in the spill:
Despite the scope of the damage, the Enbridge spill hasn't attracted much national attention, perhaps because it occurred just 10 days after oil stopped spewing from BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, which had ruptured three months earlier. Early reports about the Enbridge spill also downplayed its seriousness. Just about everybody, including the EPA officials who rushed to Marshall, expected the mess to be cleaned up in a couple of months.
The pipeline that leaked in Michigan was carrying bitumen extracted from tar sands and diluted with liquid chemicals, including the known human carcinogen benzene. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry the same type of crude. InsideClimate reported that officials initially were not aware that the pipeline was carrying diluted bitumen, or dilbit, and the characteristics of this heavy crude -- namely that it sunk to the river floor rather than floating like conventional light crude -- compounded challenges for the clean-up crew. Officials had to learn how to clean it up as they went along, helping make it the most costly pipeline spill on record.
Just last month, another pipeline carrying dilbit spilled in Arkansas, and this Saturday will mark the 3rd anniversary of the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which led to the largest offshore oil spill in history. A Media Matters study found that even after the recent Arkansas spill, media have continued to overlook the risk that the Keystone XL pipeline could spill dilbit into the large aquifer or the sensitive ecosystem it will cross. Pew Research found that less than a month after the BP oil well was capped, only 3 percent of news coverage focused on the spill, even though 44 percent of Americans said that they were still following the story more closely than any other issue.
These repeated plunges in coverage belie the impacts of oil spills, which are ongoing. Three years later, the BP spill is still harming many species critical to the Gulf's food chain. And as a The New York Times editorial stated, "The toll on the gulf and its marine life may not be known for years. The herring population of Alaska's Prince William Sound did not crash until three years after the Exxon Valdez spill."
The dearth of long-term investigative reporting on oil spills also obscures the need for policy reform, which reports like InsideClimate's have exposed:
A Media Matters analysis of news coverage of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline since the 2012 election shows that the media continue to largely ignore the risk of an oil spill, while promoting the economic benefits of the project. Meanwhile, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal have dismissed Keystone XL's climate impacts, instead serving as a platform for the pipeline's champions.
Republican Representative Joe Barton denied manmade climate change by citing the biblical story of Noah's flood, yet no major news outlet except for the online publication Buzzfeed has noted his comments.
Rep. Barton stated in a hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that climate change could be natural because the biblical story of the Great Flood, wherein God told Noah to build an ark to prepare for the flood, occurred prior to the Industrial Revolution:
I would point out, though, that people like me that support hydrocarbon development don't deny that the climate is changing. I think you can have an honest difference of opinion on what's causing that change without automatically being either all in, it's all because of mankind, or it's all just natural. I think there's a divergence of evidence. I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change. And that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy. So, in any event -- I would ask the gentleman from the Canadian government if you agree with the professor at the other end of the table that if we don't do Keystone, that these projects won't be developed to get the oil to the West Coast of Canada and on to Japan and China?
Bloomberg published a 650-word plus article about the hearing, but ignored Barton's comments. Buzzfeed noted his comments but did not note that they run counter to 97 percent of actively-publishing climate scientists, who agree that recent climate change is mostly manmade.
The press' failure to call out distortions of science does a disservice to the public, many of whom are under the mistaken impression that global warming either isn't happening or is mostly natural:
Rep. Barton has repeatedly suggested that climate change is entirely natural and misled on climate science, including commissioning a reportedly plagiarized report casting doubt on climate change. He has also received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies.
UPDATE (4/11/13): The Huffington Post, MSNBC's First Look, and ABCNews.com have covered Barton's remarks. ABCNews.com stated that a "group of extreme athletes, however, disagree" with Barton, but did not note that the vast majority of scientists also disagree with him.
An Orange County Register editorial used the struggles of the electric car company Fisker to claim that all green energy technology is a poor investment for the government.
In the editorial (behind paywall), the paper cites several green energy companies that have not produced desired returns to support its argument that government should stop investing in green energy technology:
Either way, Fisker provides a business-school-worthy case study in how not to invest in start-up companies in nascent industries.
Indeed, in a presentation this past fall at MIT's annual EmTech conference, Bill Banholzer, chief technology officer for Dow Chemical, cautioned investors that it was mistake to throw money at green energy start-ups, which promise to bring disruptive technologies to market.
Mr. Banholzer's PowerPoint included a slide with a dozen green energy companies, including the aforementioned Solyndra, A123 Systems, which was to supply state-of-the-art lithium batteries to Fisker and other electric car manufacturers, and other much-hyped start-ups.
Congress should explicitly forbid the Obama administration from making any further "investments" in green energy companies, the failures of which should not come at the expense of taxpayers.
While the PowerPoint presentation by Banzholzer -- whose Dow Chemical just lost a suit over the $1 billion in tax deductions the company tried to put into tax shelters forcing it to pay a 20 percent penalty -- highlighted the failures of several green energy companies, this anecdotal evidence obscures key facts about the green energy industry as a whole. Due to increases in federal investment, the U.S. clean tech industry has grown rapidly. The cost of solar panels has dropped significantly over the last several years and is on track to be as cheap as our current electricity by 2020. Wind turbine manufacturing and installed wind capacity have also grown significantly. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, "US wind turbine manufacturing has grown 12-fold" since 2005 while "costs have been reduced by 90% since 1980."
Bill O'Reilly labeled electric carmaker Tesla Motors a failure, claiming it had net losses. But Tesla has actually turned a profit, leading Fox News to label it a "success story" just last week.
O'Reilly stated that Tesla, which received a $465 million Department of Energy loan guarantee, had "$523 million in losses." But Tesla actually made a profit in the first quarter of 2013, and has arranged to repay its loan five years early. O'Reilly's figure is from a 2011 Investor's Business Daily editorial, as Raw Story first noted. In 2011, Tesla had annual net losses of $254 million, adding to previous losses, but CEO Elon Musk always saw Tesla turning a profit in 2013 once its car production ramped up.
In fact, Fox News itself labeled Tesla a "success story," and Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs reluctantly acknowledged that it was one of the "winners" of the Obama administration's clean energy programs.
Fox News reported that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found 679 renewable energy initiatives to be overlapping -- but the GAO only stated that 679 was the number of such initiatives that existed in 2010; further, the GAO explicitly stated that it could not evaluate whether the programs overlapped.
In the GAO's 2013 annual report, which seeks to identify wasteful and overlapping federal government programs, the office determined that "23 agencies and their 130 subagencies implemented 679 renewable energy initiatives in fiscal year 2010."
Fox's Special Report, however, claimed that all 679 of these programs were duplicative and wasteful. Host Bret Baier reported: "Fox has obtained the results of a new GAO report finding 162 areas of duplication or wasteful spending, adding almost $100 billion a year on top of a larger amount from two previous reports. Renewable energy programs topped them all with 679 overlapping programs."
This characterization is actually contradicted by the report itself. While the report found that a handful of wind initiatives may have "provided duplicative support," the GAO specifically stated that the office "could not comprehensively assess the potential for overlap or duplication" among the renewable energy initiatives:
Although GAO examined characteristics, such as energy source and recipient type, for the nearly 700 renewable energy initiatives identified in its February 2012 report, GAO could not comprehensively assess the potential for overlap or duplication among the initiatives because existing agency information was not sufficiently complete to allow for such an assessment.
Fox's falsehood echoes a release from Republican Senator Tom Coburn that also claims 679 renewable energy initiatives were found to be duplicative.
Fox News is now acknowledging that Tesla Motors is a "success story," but only a year ago the network declared the company "failed." This distortion played into its attempts to boost then-presidential nominee Mitt Romney's claim that President Barack Obama only "pick[s] the losers."
Discussing the Obama administration's investments in green technology, Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett recently stated that Tesla is a "success story," and Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs acknowledged on Monday night that it is one of the "winners." Tesla recently announced that it made a profit in the first quarter of 2013 after exceeding sales goals for its electric sedan, and the company plans on paying back its Department of Energy loan guarantee five years early.
But an oft-aired Fox News graphic previously listed Tesla as "failed," a claim that Romney later echoed. In fact, several of the companies that Fox News declared "failed" are still successfully operating (circled in green), and contributing to technological advances that could help us transition to a clean energy economy, as can be seen in this interactive graphic created with ThingLink:
The companies circled in yellow did not actually receive any funds from the loan guarantee programs, instead receiving either grants, tax credits, or no federal funds at all. Nevada Geothermal Power's project, at far left and not circled in the graphic above, is still operating and part of the 87 percent of loan guarantee funds under the 1705 program awarded to projects that experts say pose almost no risk to the taxpayer. By lumping all of these programs together from the more than 1,460 companies that have received such awards, Fox News was able to paint a distorted picture of the Obama administration's energy policies.
Fox News is using the struggles of Fisker, an electric carmaker that received federal loans, to claim that the government only picks "losers." But just one week prior, the network declared Tesla, which received loans from the same program, a "success story."
On Monday's edition of Fox News' America Live, Lou Dobbs treated the struggles of Fisker, which has reportedly hired a law firm to prepare for a possible bankruptcy filing and cut staff, as a reason that "we have got to get this government, and this administration, out of picking winners and losers, because all they pick are losers." In 2009, the company received a $529 million conditional loan guarantee through the Department of Energy's (DOE) Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program, of which it received $192 million before DOE froze the loan. Later in the segment, Dobbs added: "I've looked at the winners and the losers. I cannot find the winners."
Dobbs might have started by watching Fox News, which reported the previous week on Happening Now that Tesla, another hybrid electric automaker that received ATVM funds, was a "success story":
Indeed, Tesla recently announced that it turned a profit in the first quarter of 2013 and plans on paying back its DOE loan five years early. The company has seen sales of its Model S electric sedan, which was named 2013's car of the year by both Automobile and Motor Trend, exceed goals set by the company.