This morning, the Washington Post hosted a panel discussion on Energy and the Economy at the Butcher and Brewer Pub here in downtown Cleveland. The paper has taken over the restaurant during the Republican National Convention to host parties and speaking events in a Post-branded space underwritten by sponsors including CSX, Lyft, Oppenheimer Funds, the Cleveland Clinic, and the American Petroleum Institute. Today’s event kicked off with some opening remarks that would have been entirely forgettable were it not for the fact that they were delivered by Jack Gerard, President and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, as he stood under the logo of the Washington Post, to introduce a panel discussion about energy.
Post editorial writer Stephen Stromburg, who was moderating the panel, then introduced Haley Barbour as a two-time governor of Mississippi and former chairman of both the Republican Governors Association and the Republican National Committee. Barbour is indeed a Class I Supergiant in the GOP firmament. But Stromburg made no mention of Barbour’s more recent biography: Barbour is a paid shill for Chevron Oil, the nuclear lobby, and other energy companies.
We can only speculate about whether those affiliations have anything to do with Barbour’s contention that Obama’s efforts to curb greenhouse emissions are foolish and futile because “Our country is not what is driving up greenhouse gases” and that America owes the world no further action on climate change because “We’ve already led.” Federal regulation of carbon extraction, Barbour said, is a big mistake.
“It would be better for the federal government just to get out of the way! They want to tell Wyoming how to drill oil wells?” he said.
One might think that The Washington Post would take pains to disclose that Barbour isn’t just a GOP greybeard offering folksy observations from a lifetime in conservative politics, but an industry flack with a position to sell. That didn’t happen. But let’s leave that for the moment, because Barbour wasn’t even the most absurdly inappropriate person the Post offered a platform to this morning.
That honor probably belongs to Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who appeared with Stromburg on a panel immediately after Barbour.
“Have you ever met anybody who wants to pay more at the pump, who wants to pay a higher electric bill? Or a higher home heating bill? The answer is no,” Blackburn said. “The earth is no longer warming, and has not for the about past 13 years, in fact it has begun to cool.”
Blackburn’s unreconstructed climate-change trutherism appeared to take Stromburg aback, and as he struggled to collect himself, he punted to his other guest, Jay Faison. The founder of Clearpath, a 501c(4) that’s peddling a much more sophisticated brand of propaganda for energy interests.
“At ClearPath we stand against bureaucracy, crony capitalism, and big government,” reads Clearpath’s website, under a banner headline that reads “How Fracking Strengthens America.”
“I don’t think we need to agree on climate change,” Faison said during the panel. “Whether we agree on the risk or not, there are a lot of things we can do in the energy system that would create more jobs, more affordable energy, less pollution, and lower carbon emissions.”
Blackburn was undeterred. “The point is, it’s not a settled science,” she replied. “There’s a debate in that arena. There are those who have say it’s cooled, it’s leveled off.”
Stromburg struggled to inject some reality into the conversation. “We actually don’t have to litigate the science here this morning,” said the representative of the Washington Post, an internationally respected newspaper, “but I think there’s a vast bulk of climate scientists who would disagree.”
Blackburn was, (ahem), just getting warmed up, as she continued to challenge the great lie that climate change might have anything to do with the fossil fuel industry. “We have naturally produced ozone in the Smoky Mountains,” she argued. “You also have to take into consideration farmland, where you have biogenic carbons!” The Environmental Protection Agency, she said, is “out in front of its skis” as it calls for emission reductions that are impossible to achieve.
And so on, until the event concluded. Did the Post present any speakers to dispute Blackburn’s assertion of an impending ice age? It did not. Were there any guests invited on stage to prevent any perspective that would do anything to advance the agenda of the American Petroleum Institute? There were not. Welcome to an uncomplicated and uncritical presentation of Big Carbon’s talking points, as presented by the Washington Post!
After the talk, I asked Stromburg why he neglected to mention Barbour’s industry ties in introducing him. Stromburg and a Post editor he had been debriefing with referred me to Kristine Coratti, Vice President of Communications for the Post.
“The Washington Post built that editorial panel,” Coratti told me. “It’s a completely independent editorial operation. API [The American Petroleum Institute] has nothing to do with what the Washington Post does on stage. They have no say, they have no input. All they had was the opportunity to make a few introductory remarks, which is the activation that they asked for.”
Wait, I asked, so it was the Washington Post’s independent editorial decision to put forward a slate of speakers committed to advancing the extraction industry’s agenda with no counterbalance?
Actually, Coratti, said, the balance of the conversation was skewed by unforeseen logistical problems: “We actually had a third person who couldn’t make it because her flight got cancelled,” she told me. “Her not showing up was definitely an issue.” This person, I learned, was Karen Harbert, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. Really, I asked? Harbert would have offered a counterpoint to the relentlessly pro-extraction message the Post was hosting?
Coratti tried a new tack: The Post’s panel series this week is built around the framework of the GOP platform, she argued, so the conversations necessarily exist within the ideological bounds of the party’s positions. “The whole point of these events that we have running is to discuss the party platform,” Coratti said.
“Our editors are actually really, really particular about making sure that these conversations are balanced,” Coratti said. “We have an independent editorial position,” she said. “We have our sponsors, just like any other space in this town.”
Later, Coratti approached me again with a further clarification, having just spoken with Post editors.
“They tried to get someone with wildly different views, but none of them were actually going to be here this week,” she said. “The hardest part of a live event like this is the scheduling issues. The most important thing is they wanted to create a dynamic conversation and it didn’t have anything to do with sponsors.” I thanked her for following up on my questions for me. “This kind of thing panics me,” she told me, “because we’re really particular about having this kind of optics.”