After having seen the powerful documentary Gasland that shows the impact of “fracking” on households across the United States, including flammable tap water and cancer clusters that are the inevitable outcome of natural gas drilling byproducts, I have begun to pay closer attention to news coverage, including my hometown papers in Upstate NY where energy companies are attempting to buy support from impoverished land owners.
So with that in mind, I read the article “When a Rig Moves In Next Door” by Clifford Krauss and Tom Zeller Jr. in the Business section of today’s NY Times with keen interest. As is so often the case with the newspaper of record, it has to maintain the illusion of objectivity, so necessary for its market niche: college-educated professionals who vote Democrat, watch PBS, listen to NPR, drive a Lexus, and donate money to the ACLU or mainstream environmentalist organizations. It simply would not suffice for Krauss and Zeller Jr. to write the sort of thing that you would hear from Rupert Murdoch hirelings, even if it amounts to the same thing more or less.
The article reports on the riches gas drilling has bestowed on Louisiana:
By the 2000s, De Soto, with a population of about 28,000, was one of the poorest parishes in the state.
Then came the shale.
“People went to bed one night poor and woke up the next day rich, enabled to buy a Cadillac and pay cash,” said Mayor Curtis McCoy of Mansfield, the parish seat. “It’s kind of like the show ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ ”
Farmers who once lived check to check are now extremely comfortable, if not downright wealthy. New cars, recreational vehicles and trailers are parked in nearly every driveway. Vinyl siding has been applied to weather-beaten cottages and clapboard houses.
But to make sure that he maintains the aura of objectivity, Krauss reports on the negative consequences as well:
The Haynesville area has not been spared from drilling accidents, experiencing several over the last two years that might make residents howl in some other parts of the country.
Nearly 150 homes had to be evacuated in the neighboring Caddo Parish in April, when drillers of an Exco Resources well struck a shallow pocket of gas, causing a blowout. Exco says methane was already in the drinking water, and suggests that further study is needed to determine whether some gas came from the well.
Careful readers will note, I’m sure, that he is sure to turn a negative into a positive: “further study is needed to determine whether some gas came from the well.” You almost need to study Hegel to master all the contradictions contained in the article.
I especially enjoyed his reporting on how some environmentalists are for gas drilling despite the inflammatory water faucets and cancer clusters:
Some environmentalists support fracking and other means of extracting natural gas because gas emits a fraction of the carbon of either oil or coal. They also prefer it because it could replace coal as the nation’s principal source of electricity and provide a lower-carbon bridge before renewable energy sources can be developed on a larger scale.
You don’t have to be working at FAIR to ask the question which environmentalists. Back in junior high school, our social studies teacher explained what good reporting is all about. It has to address the questions of who, what, when, where and why. The NY Times is fully capable of answering these questions when it is in the interests of the class it speaks for, just as it is capable of fudging them when it is not. I was not surprised to discover that a google search on “environmentalists support fracking” only turned up links to Krauss and Zeller’s article. Maybe they are the environmentalists they are talking about, since both contribute to Green, a Blog about Energy and the Environment at the NYT.
In the course of finding out more about Clifford Krauss, I discovered that he is someone who has been responsible for shoddy reporting in an entirely different arena. Along with Simon Forero, Krauss was writing articles about Hugo Chavez that were compliant with American foreign policy imperatives. In an article “High Stakes: Chávez Plays the Oil Card” from April 10, 2007, Krauss informed his readers:
We are on a collision course with Chávez over oil,” said Michael J. Economides, an oil consultant in Houston who wrote an influential essay comparing Mr. Chávez’s populist appeal in Latin America with the pan-Arabism of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya two decades ago. “Chávez poses a much bigger threat to America’s energy security than Saddam Hussein ever did.”
Needless to say, Krauss did not bother to cite anybody like Mark Weisbrot or Eva Gollinger.
Along with Forero, he has also been presenting Chevron’s case in Ecuador most assiduously: Chevron Offers Evidence of Bribery Scheme in Ecuador Lawsuit.
So one can only surmise that as a watchdog of American energy corporations’ vital interests in Latin America, it was only natural for him to adopt the same fighting stance in places like Louisiana or Pennsylvania.
But it is in Sandinista Nicaragua where Clifford Krauss sharpened his propaganda skills working for the Wall Street Journal prior to landing a job at the Times. On May 18, 1987 Krauss wrote a piece for the WSJ with the unwieldy title Central Issue: If the Contras Collapse, U.S. Faces Bigger Task In Containing Marxism — Officials Fear an Adventurism By Nicaragua Sandinistas Similar to That of Castro — The Likely Refugee Problem. It pretty much dispenses with any pretensions toward impartiality that would be necessary for the NY Times readers and presents an analysis that might have been written by a State Department flack:
No one knows the future of Nicaragua. The image of a triumphant, militaristic, Marxist-Leninist Nicaragua torments antiCommunists. Others think the Sandinistas will broaden civil and economic liberties once the Contra pressure is released. Some observers speculate that Managua will face serious internal political pressures from the Nicaraguan public and from within the Sandinista party itself once the war fades and domestic crackdowns are no longer justifiable. The Sandinistas’ future may be profoundly affected by whatever commitment the Soviet Union makes in Nicaragua, and by the moves Washington makes.
“We don’t have a wall to stop Sandinista ideology or subversives,” complains William Hall Rivera, the Honduran president’s chief of staff. “It won’t be a fight over land, but over minds.” He adds: “We’ll need a Marshall Plan.”
In the early 1960s, President Kennedy faced an arguably comparable situation. Fidel Castro quickly consolidated his revolution in Cuba, defeated a U.S.-organized counterrevolutionary force and attempted to export his ideology to the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia. His adventurism failed, partly because Washington pushed Alliance for Progress social programs and military training in Latin America, but mostly because of indigenous anti-communism in the hemisphere.
Krauss is an Edward J. Murrow Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), a policy review body filled to the rafters with inside-the-beltway pundits and NY Times reporters. Whatever qualms I might have about Murrow’s own connections to power, he had the guts to take on McCarthy at a time when Krauss would have likely been raising a ruckus over atom spies.
In an interview he gave to the CFR, Krauss answered the question about the most important story he covered in his career:
No question, the most impactful story I ever covered were the wars in Central America during the late 1970s and 1980s. The fall of Somoza, the Sandinista revolution and Contra counter-revolution, and the revolutions and U.S. policy in El Salvador and Guatemala were dramatic events that brought an otherwise remote part of the world into focus for Americans and the world. It was a challenging story for many of us young reporters because we carried lessons and baggage from the Vietnam era. Some were pertinent to this story, while others were not, and we had to sort it out. The Cold War loomed large, of course, with Cuban and even Soviet bloc involvement. But there were also crying human needs and suffering that needed to be addressed, and revolutionaries not particularly sympathetic to American interests (to put it mildly) sometimes appeared to be the only ones eager to address them. In the end, good reporting was needed to break through the simplistic perceptions of both left and right. I was attracted to Central America at first because of my own Vietnam experience as a high school and college student, and I left with a much more nuanced view of the world. As for Central America, it’s still a mess, but the foreign correspondents are essentially gone.
You’ll note his self-justification that “In the end, good reporting was needed to break through the simplistic perceptions of both left and right.” And the older but wiser bullshit about a “more nuanced view of the world”. Such formulations reflect the “sensible” way that American ideologists see themselves, from Krauss’s thumb-sucking apologetics for gas-drilling corporations to Jon Stewart’s idiotic rally. As a way of maintaining the status quo, there is no better tactic for persuading the affluent middle class that its interests are the same as the people who own the NYT or Comedy Central (Time-Warner actually). But when the status quo amounts to job loss, foreclosure, deteriorating water and air, pension uncertainties and ever-escalating health costs, that status quo will begin to appear more and more inadequate. That will most certainly begin to persuade the formerly complacent that radical change is not only desirable but necessary.