This year saw clean energy technologies become cost-competitive with fossil fuels and gain prominence worldwide. The fossil fuel industry, desperate to stymie clean energy's continuing expansion, enlisted conservative media to do their bidding and attack clean technologies in every shape and form. From stoking fears about public transit being a form of "government control," to providing one-sided stories falsely predicting clean energy's downfall, here are the media's six most absurd attacks on clean energy this year.
1. 60 Minutes Produces "Poor Piece Of Journalism" To Attack Clean Energy
In January, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report titled, "The Cleantech Crash," which attempted to label clean energy a "dirty word." The report was widely criticized by reporters, government officials, and clean energy advocates alike for offering a one-sided look at renewable energy and narrowly focusing on a few failures while ignoring the majority of clean energy's success. Two of the guests interviewed in the report later criticized it for selectively airing their comments to provide an overly negative portrait of the industy and for "fail[ing] to do the most elementary fact checking and source qualification."
Further, the report made no mention of climate change, which as energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out is "the whole point of cleantech, after all: using the promise of technology and innovation to try to wean our economy off of fossil fuels."
A 60 Minutes report on groundwater depletion brought attention to a critical issue that many regard as a national security threat, but failed to mention the inherent connection between water scarcity and climate change.
The November 16 edition of 60 Minutes featured a segment on the threat of groundwater scarcity titled "Depleting the Water." In it, host Leslie Stahl covered the severe droughts around the world that are leading people to extract fresh water from the ground at unsustainable rates, warning that "the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water."
But Stahl completely ignored climate change, which is projected to increase the severity and frequency of such droughts and is inherently linked to groundwater scarcity. A United Nations climate science report concluded earlier this year that manmade climate change will reduce groundwater resources "significantly in most dry subtropical regions," and a 2013 study from Simon Fraser University determined that climate change may already be exacerbating water shortages in many areas around the globe.
The 60 Minutes segment highlighted that California's "record-breaking drought" is inducing farmers to drill for water in underwater aquifers at unsustainable rates -- without mentioning that this drought that has been directly linked by scientists multiple times to manmade climate change. Stahl also highlighted severe droughts across southern Asia and in the Middle East, regions that the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other scientific institutions have projected will experience worsening droughts as the planet warms.
Stahl's comment that groundwater shortages may lead to political unrest also has roots in global warming. As Stahl pointed out, many aquifers that are being severely depleted are in "volatile regions" such as in Iraq and Syria. Many military officials have warned that unabated global warming could exacerbate wars and terrorism and pose a national security threat.
The segment ended by asserting that if no action is taken, California's aquifers could end up completely depleted. But the only responses to the drought that the news magazine covered were a process in which sewage water is recycled into freshwater and a recently enacted law that regulates groundwater. 60 Minutes didn't discuss ways to combat climate change, which would work to prevent catastrophic droughts from happening in the first place.
60 Minutes' failure to mention global warming -- in a segment focused on a problem related to manmade climate change -- follows the news magazine's widely panned report on clean energy, which also made no mention of climate change.
Fox News' Special Report left out necessary context when previewing former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's upcoming interview with 60 Minutes in which he stated, "it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq."
During his September 19 coverage of Panetta's statement, host Bret Baier depicted Panetta's account of the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as the latest in "a very public back-and-forth between the White House and the Pentagon." Baier added, "Now this weekend, 60 Minutes has an interview with former CIA director and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in which he will say the U.S. should not have pulled out all of its troops out of Iraq in 2011":
But Baier failed to mention that the Iraqi government refused a deal to allow U.S. military forces to stay in Iraq. As the New York Times reported in 2011, "Iraqis were unwilling to accept" the terms of a Status of Forces Agreement to leave thousands of troops as a residual force. Fox News has repeatedly failed to mention this important detail.
During his 60 Minutes interview with Panetta, CBS' Scott Pelley provided the crucial bit of context that the Iraqi government "didn't want the U.S. force." Watch:
From the June 8 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Lara Logan is reportedly back at work at CBS News' 60 Minutes after a six-month leave of absence, even as questions linger over the network's investigation of her botched Benghazi report.
Logan and her producer Max McClellan took leaves of absence in November following an internal review into their October 27 report on the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, which the network was forced to withdraw. Logan's report was based on the unreliable testimony of an "eyewitness" named Dylan Davies and crumbled once it became clear that he had lied about being present at the besieged diplomatic compound during the attack, telling the FBI he had never been there. That triggered a firestorm of coverage, with media observers suggesting that the debacle had permanently damaged the brands of CBS News and 60 Minutes. The CBS internal review found that Logan's story "was deficient in several respects."
According to the Associated Press on June 4, "CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair said Wednesday that Logan is back. She had no details on when the correspondent resumed work and what stories she is working on."
In a statement, Media Matters founder David Brock said:
The flawed 60 Minutes report on Benghazi permanently damaged the credibility of both the show and of CBS. A New York magazine report made clear that a lion's share of the blame for massive errors in that report belongs to Lara Logan. CBS indicated that they were serious about rebuilding its brand and taking accountability. Having Logan back on 60 Minutes shows the exact opposite.
From the May 11 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the May 8 edition of TawkrTV's The Bill Press Show:
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News veterans and journalism ethicists are urging CBS News to reopen the investigation into the discredited 60 Minutes Benghazi report following new questions about correspondent Lara Logan's actions and concerns that an earlier internal review did not do enough to reveal all the facts.
CBS was forced to launch an internal review into its discredited 2013 story after it was revealed that former security contractor Dylan Davies, whose claims were featured prominently in the report, had lied about his actions on the night of the attacks. 60 Minutes came under fire for failing to adequately fact-check Davies' claims, and not disclosing that a related book he had written had been published by Threshold, an imprint owned by CBS' parent company.
The internal review by CBS News resulted in Logan and producer Max McClellan being placed on indefinite leave, but it included no independent reviewers and no change in 60 Minutes personnel. Speculation has arisen that Logan could return to the program later this year.
But this week, New York magazine uncovered new internal details about the report and how it got on air, several of which were inconsistent with what was found in CBS' internal review and revealed more questionable reporting tactics by Logan. According to New York, Logan relied heavily on a highly partisan source, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, when crafting her report, while internal CBS office politics allowed the story to air without standard vetting - neither of which were disclosed by the initial internal review.
Such new disclosures have prompted demands by longtime broadcast journalists for a further review, including several who suggested bringing in an independent outsider to investigate. They also raised new questions about whether Logan could ever return to 60 Minutes. Media Matters chairman David Brock sent a letter to CBS executives earlier this week calling on the network to reopen its investigation into the botched report.
"I think that the questions that have been raised in the New York magazine piece are pretty devastating stuff," Lawrence Grossman, former NBC News president from 1985 to 1988, said in a phone interview. "I think CBS ought to take a look, as they probably are, and reevaluate particularly now that the whole Benghazi thing is surfacing again. And their role in what they have to do to come out to their viewers and say they made a mistake or that their emphasis was wrong or however they want to handle it. It's definitely worth reconsidering."
Asked if CBS News should bring in an outsider to investigate, Grossman said, "It certainly would be preferable I think, but if they put a bunch of major inside people on the case and were transparent about the findings, anything like that would be helpful ... I probably would just put together a panel to look into the whole thing and come up with recommendations."
Kevin Smith, chair of the ethics committee of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), agreed.
"Yes, I think CBS would be best at reviewing this again," he said via email. "I think they owe it to the public to not just correct the mistakes but be transparent about how this unfolded and who was involved. It's a painful, but necessary first step in recovering its credibility."
For David Zurawik, TV and media critic at the Baltimore Sun, more review is the best option.
"Transparency, transparency, transparency," he said in an interview. "What does it hurt to bring someone in, what does it cost you? If I was [CBS News Chairman Jeff] Fager, I would absolutely, unless I knew there was something I had to hide, I would find a stellar unimpeachable retired journalist to come in."
Inconsistencies between a CBS News internal review following a botched 60 Minutes report on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and a New York magazine article revealed open questions about the program and the journalistic standards practiced at the network.
Media Matters chairman David Brock is calling on CBS to reopen its investigation into the flawed 60 Minutes report on Benghazi after a New York magazine report raised questions about the validity of CBS' original findings.
CBS came under significant criticism for its October 27, 2013 60 Minutes report on the attacks, in which correspondent Lara Logan prominently featured testimony from an eyewitness who later turned out to be untrustworthy. The segment also included several misleading right-wing talking points. After initially defending the report, CBS pulled the report, apologized to its viewers, and promised a thorough investigation into what went wrong.
The results of CBS' review came into question on May 4, when a New York magazine article revealed problems with the investigation and raised new questions about the journalistic practices that the network employed.
In a letter to CBS that was posted by Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, Brock called on CBS chairman Jeff Fager to reopen the investigation, highlighting discrepancies between the network's review and the New York magazine article and pointing to open questions that still have gone unanswered.
Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national community of over 850 business leaders, is calling on CBS to correct their most recent 60 Minutes report, "The Cleantech Crash." Simultaneously, a climate change advocacy group is calling for CBS to appoint a public editor to investigate its one-sided story, which followed a string of poor reporting from the program.
"The Cleantech Crash" aired on the January 5 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, and shortly thereafter drew wide criticism from members of the clean energy industry and among energy reporters. In the segment, correspondent Lesley Stahl wondered if clean tech has become a "dirty word," and concluded,"instead of breakthroughs, the [clean tech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops." But critics have pointed out that Stahl focused too narrowly on the failure of a few companies and ignored most of the industry's success. In an interview with Media Matters, San Francisco Chronicle energy reporter David Baker called the segment "a pretty poor piece of journalism," adding, "There are areas of this field that are hurting, but there are others that are doing very, very well."
E2 is now asking CBS producers for a correction to the "misguided" report, writing, "it was shocking for those of us who know about creating businesses, jobs and clean energy to see a respected news organization get this story so wrong in so many ways." They concluded:
The litany of factual mistakes and distortions in 60 Minutes' piece cries out for a correction. While the networks by tradition are strangers to the concept of a public mea culpa, setting the record straight would continue CBS's more responsible position of owning up to the facts.
At the same time, Forecast the Facts, a climate change advocacy group, is calling for 60 Minutes to appoint a public editor to investigate the "Cleantech Crash" segment and ensure that "all future reporting serves the public interest." The group organized a petition to be delivered to Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, asking him to "hire a Public Editor to investigate the broadcast immediately and ensure 60 Minutes' climate reporting is accurate." The petition already has thousands of signatures.
A 60 Minutes segment claiming that federal government efforts to encourage clean tech -- the production and use of alternative energy sources and more efficient technology -- have failed drew some harsh disagreement among reporters covering the energy beat who say the negative report ignored many successes and focused too narrowly on a few unsuccessful companies.
Correspondent Lesley Stahl concluded in the January 5 piece that while stimulus spending including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program was invested in the industry, "instead of breakthroughs, the [clean tech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops."
Stahl's segment has drawn criticism from observers who have noted that 60 Minutes focused on Solyndra and a handful of other failed companies whose loans made up a tiny fraction of federal loans and ignored the clean tech breakthroughs and the explosive growth in the sector that have occurred.
The report was only the latest in a series of 60 Minutes reports that have been subject to stinging critiques in recent months. The program has been excoriated by media observers and accused of "check[ing] its journalistic skepticism at the door" by The New York Times.
Journalists who cover the same energy industries took issue with the clean tech report in interviews with Media Matters, noting that it did not take into account the long-term development needs of clean energy and the many ongoing successes.
"I thought it was a pretty poor piece of journalism, frankly," said David Baker, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering clean tech and energy. "There are areas of this field that are hurting, but there are others that are doing very, very well."
Baker added that 60 Minutes' error begins with its conception of the story: "The problem really begins when you just talk about clean tech as one thing - it is a bunch of things and a lot of it is energy generation and energy use. In a report like this where you look at clean tech in general, you have difficulty because it is not the same for each sector."
"The other biggest problem with the CBS story is it looked at some of the flops and really seemed to turn a blind eye to the success," he continued. "That is one of the most fundamental mistakes Lesley Stahl and her producers make."
Baker pointed to several west coast examples of successes, including the recently created California Solar Ranch, the largest solar plant in the nation that went online late last year.
"We are going to have a huge amount of power going on the grid from solar," Baker explained. "Some of those projects were funded in part through the Department of Energy loan program, the same one that funded Solyndra."
Things continue to get worse for 60 Minutes' already retracted Benghazi report and its discredited "eyewitness" Dylan Davies. Gawker's J.K. Trotter reports that CBS News and Simon & Shuster may have failed to properly vet significant "discrepancies" in Davies' accounts of his military background.
60 Minutes' October 27, 2013, segment about the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, collapsed after it was revealed that Davies had given conflicting accounts of his actions that night. CBS News eventually pulled the segment and released a "journalistic review" finding that the report was "deficient in several respects" and "did not sufficiently vet Davies' account of his own actions and whereabouts that night." Correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan were put on a leave of absence.
Two days after the 60 Minutes report aired, Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions -- which is owned by CBS Corporation, a blatant conflict of interest -- released The Embassy House under the Davies pseudonym Morgan Jones. The book was pulled from shelves shortly after CBS retracted its segment, but a number of inconsistencies in the book have raised questions about whether Davies' publishers and CBS News adequately vetted Davies before promoting his dubious story.
Gawker's J.K. Trotter has uncovered further discrepancies in Davies' account, this time related to claims about his military service. Trotter notes that while Simon & Schuster highlight the rank of "Sergeant Morgan Jones," "there is zero evidence Davies obtained the rank of sergeant in the British Army." Furthermore, "Davies and his editors seem to disagree about the length of his military service." During the book Davies claims to have served for fourteen years, but the book's jacket and website both say he served for only twelve -- "So either Davies is lying about his enlistment date, or Threshold Editions is lying about their own author."
Trotter also revealed that no one at Threshold Editions or 60 Minutes appears to have verified Davies' claim that he worked on the security detail of U.S. Major General James T. Conway. According to Conway, no one at either organization contacted him to verify Davies' account, despite Conway's importance to Davies' personal narrative:
At several points in the book, Davies recounts leading a security detail as a private contractor in Afghanistan for the (now retired) commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Major General James T. Conway.
But when contacted by Gawker, Conway couldn't verify Davies' story. "[His] name is vaguely familiar but [I] cannot put a face with it," he wrote in an email. "That is not to say his claim is not true."
Nobody at Threshold Editions--or 60 Minutes--contacted Conway to determine whether Davies' claims checked out.
"You are the first person to contact me about any of this," Conway told Gawker.
This is doubly notable because his book's marketing apparatus--including, most of all, 60 Minutes--depended on Davies' image as a dedicated, experienced, well-regarded security professional. "He's been helping to keep U.S. diplomats and military leaders safe for the last decade," is how Logan introduced him. His proximity to Conway earned a special mention in Davies' jacket biography.
Fact-checking is essentially non-existent in the book publishing world, meaning there are few safe guards in place to prevent such failure. Threshold Editions did not respond to Media Matters' previous requests for comment regarding an explanation of its procedures. Threshold representatives declined to comment to Gawker.
But 60 Minutes should have vetted Davies more thoroughly before featuring him in their segment, and their flagrant disregard for basic journalistic standards and ethics helped earned CBS News the distinction as Media Matters' 2013 Misinformer of the Year.
Gawker and Trotter, on the other hand, seem to be doing the investigative research into Davies' background that CBS News should have done before ever putting him on air.
In its latest piece of shoddy journalism, CBS News' 60 Minutes is labeling cleantech a "dirty word" by ignoring the overall success rate of clean energy investments.
In October, 60 Minutes aired a report criticizing the response to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which eventually had to be pulled as it relied on an untrustworthy "witness" who apparently fabricated his story. Two months later, the news program was widely criticized for a one-sided report on the National Security Agency's surveillance program.
In another one-sided report on Sunday, 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl concluded that "instead of breakthroughs, the [cleantech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops" after stimulus investments, including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program. However, 60 Minutes simply ignored the cleantech breakthroughs that did occur in order to advance this misleading narrative. Here are four facts CBS left out of the story:
1. The DOE Loan Program Has A 97% Success Rate. In July 2012, the former head of the loan guarantee program testified to Congress that funds that went to bankrupt companies represented less than 3 percent of the total Department of Energy portfolio. In other words, the program so far has a 97-percent success rate, far better than that of venture capitalists.
2. Solar And Wind Have Had Big Wins In Recent Years. 60 Minutes made passing mention of Tesla Motors' success after receiving a federal loan guarantee. However, it left out many other successes -- such as SolarCity -- in its myopic focus on Solyndra and other bankrupt companies. Robert Rapier, an energy expert who contributes to the Wall Street Journal and was interviewed for the special, stated on Twitter that he "gave successes they didn't air" and told 60 Minutes "the future is solar power." In 2012, renewable energy was the largest source of new electric capacity, led by wind power. These charts from the Department of Energy highlighted by Think Progress show that as the costs of solar and wind power have decreased, installations have jumped:
3. In Addition To These Strides, Cleantech Jobs Were Created. Stahl claimed that "Everything I've read there were not that many jobs created." However, she never mentioned any actual figures for viewers to assess. The loan program office estimates that its investments have created or saved approximately 55,000 direct jobs.
4. Climate Change Necessitates Cleantech Investments. As energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out, 60 Minutes did not even make a passing mention of climate change. Instead, the program touted the rise of natural gas saying that it was "relatively clean." However, experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Council on Foreign Relations have noted that without significant investment to scale up renewables, climate change will continue apace.
UPDATE (1/6/14): Energy expert Robert Rapier told Think Progress that the 60 Minutes report selectively aired his comments, leaving out his response to Stahl's first question that highlighted the successes of solar and wind power and emphasized that Stahl's question, "Clean tech is dead. What killed it?" was based on a false premise. From Rapier's interview with Think Progress:
The first question Lesley Stahl asked me - "Clean Tech is dead. What killed it?"
I immediately said, "Clean tech is not dead." There are many parts of clean tech that are doing very well - solar power is growing by leaps and bounds, prices are plummeting, wind power is growing exponentially.
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax: