As some of the most destructive wildfires in history ravage the Southwest, major newspapers in the area have documented the way climate change makes blazes more likely less than half as often as national newspapers.
Recent fires have taken a massive toll as the hottest, driest parts of the U.S. become even hotter and drier. In Arizona, 19 firefighters perished in the worst American wildfire disaster in decades, a quick-moving inferno that destroyed a small town. Months ago, fire season began early in California, and it has since been called the state's worst ever. Colorado recently experienced the most destructive wildfire in its history, bringing the total area set aflame this season within the state to about 180 square miles, larger than the area of Barbados. New Mexico and Utah have lately faced "unprecedented" and "potentially explosive" fires, respectively.
Fires like these must be sparked (by anything from lightning to a stray rifle shot), but research indicates that climate change, and the extreme heat and drought conditions it propagates in the Southwest, boosts the chances that they will happen and cause significant damage. Indeed, seven out of nine fire scientists contacted by Media Matters as part of a 2012 study agreed that journalists should detail the role of climate change in worsening risk when they report on such fires.
As the State Department nears a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the media is exaggerating its economic benefits and downplaying environmental risks to advocate for the project. Here, Media Matters takes on five of the prevailing media myths about Keystone XL.
The editorial boards of two newspapers owned by oil tycoon Philip Anschutz re-endorsed the controversial Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline project days after Nebraska's Governor approved a new route for the pipeline, but neither paper acknowledged the continued environmental danger of the project and both exaggerated the project's potential for job creation and consumer benefits.
The editorial boards of the Colorado Springs Gazette and The Oklahoman claimed that the Obama administration should approve the pipeline now that TransCanada -- the corporation seeking to build the pipeline -- has rerouted the project because it won't have a negative environmental impact. But in fact, the risk of a spill over environmentally sensitive areas remains. Keystone XL will carry tar sands oil, which is potentially more corrosive and difficult to clean up than regular crude oil, according NPR. The existing Keystone pipeline has had 14 spills, and the new route will still cross a large aquifer and, according to some groups, will still cross the environmentally sensitive sandy soil around the Sandhills.
Despite these issues, The Oklahoman editorial claimed that "U.S. customers will get the benefit" if the pipeline is built. However, the pipeline will not lower gasoline prices for consumers any noticeable amount, and some experts believe it could raise gas prices for consumers in the Midwest. Much of the oil, after being transported over American soil, will be shipped overseas.
And while The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial claimed the pipeline could create "179,000 American jobs" by 2035, these numbers are wildly inflated. That figure actually represents 179,000 "person-years of employment" -- a job for one person for one year -- and comes from an analysis funded by TransCanada that independent analysts have called "dead wrong," "meaningless," and "flawed and poorly documented." According to a Washington Post article, TransCanada admitted that the project would only create around 6,500 construction jobs for two years. Independent analyses have found even less job creation, with one study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute finding that the pipeline would create as few as fifty permanent U.S. jobs.
Editorial bias in the Gazette and Oklahoman isn't surprising -- both papers are owned by billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz. It's hard to take Anschutz's papers seriously given their distortions of the benefits oil and gas drilling, their dismissal of the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction, and their failure to acknowledge the dangers of climate change.
Philip Anschutz, billionaire oil baron-turned-media mogul, has acquired the Colorado Springs Gazette, adding the Colorado daily to a growing stable of Anschutz-controlled newspapers that includes the largest newspaper in the neighboring state of Oklahoma; and if the past is any indication, the future objectivity of the Gazette's content, especially as it pertains to energy issues, is in considerable peril.
Since being acquired by Anschutz in September 2011, The Oklahoman, especially its editorial page, has consistently advocated for energy policy positions that would line its owner's pockets. The Gazette looks poised to follow suit -- other than the goal of providing content across a variety of technological platforms, the only specific changes Anschutz has promised (through his media company Clarity Media Group) constitute a vast expansion of the paper's opinion pages, with no mention of additional resources needed to report the news.
From the Gazette's editorial board (emphasis added):
In coming weeks, expect to see exciting changes. Clarity executives plan to add pages and personnel. The opinion section will expand from one page to at least two on weekdays, and possibly more on Sundays. We will add new columnists and additional editorials. Readers should begin seeing changes very soon.
Mostly, we will work with more dedication than ever to serve our community with news and information our customers want and need. We plan to inform customers in print and on all platforms, ranging from smartphones, to tablets, to laptops and all other information mediums the public chooses to embrace today and into the future. We will inform, persuade and entertain. We will serve as a watchdog, guarding liberty and the interests of our community.
Given Colorado's importance as a (re-)emerging source of oil shale and natural gas, and given Anschutz's use of The Oklahoman's opinion pages to advocate for open drilling policies and against carbon controls, Gazette readers can likely expect a similar kind of distorted coverage and commentary. (In late November, for example, The Oklahoman's editors expressed skepticism about global warming and warned against "mixing science" with politics).
And the Gazette's current editors didn't wrap up their announcement with reassurances that their coverage would remain independent and uninfluenced by ownership -- just the opposite, in fact:
Anschutz has been successful in business, ranking high on the Forbes 400 for decades, because he works to improve the world he lives in.
We at The Gazette plan to help him expand this important role.
Of course, the Forbes 400 doesn't rank people on their contributions to society -- it's a "definitive ranking of the nation's super rich." Presumably, Anschutz has remained on the list for decades because he's skilled at making money, and he now has the Gazette to help him make even more.