Obama's 'War on Coal' Isn't Real–But It's Really in the Newspaper

Published on
by
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

Obama's 'War on Coal' Isn't Real–But It's Really in the Newspaper

It'd be nice if newspapers covered policy fights as if reality mattered. But corporate media generally prefers to cover politics as a form of public relations–which involves the creation of a reality that you think will help your side win.

For Republicans, this means discussing Barack Obama's environmental policies as a "war on coal." And in today's New York Times (7/2/13), reporter Trip Gabriel covers that story not as someone trying to explain reality to readers, but as someone helping to make the Republican case.

"GOP Sees Opportunity for Election Gains in Obama's Climate Change Policy" is the headline, and Gabriel explains that after Obama's recent climate speech, green groups "rejoiced." But, wouldn't you know it, "many Republicans were just as gleeful." Why? Because they believe that this will cost Democrats some support in the next election cycle:

Elected officials and political analysts said the president's crackdown on coal, the leading source of industrial greenhouse gases, could have consequences for Senate seats being vacated by retiring Democrats in West Virginia and South Dakota, for shaky Democratic incumbents like Mary L. Landrieu of energy-rich Louisiana, and for the Democratic challenger of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

Now, the assumption here is there is a serious Obama "crackdown on coal." To many environmentalists, his policies have been anything but war-like when it comes to the coal industry. And after the speech, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz sent the message very clearly that the administration "expects fossil fuels, and coal specifically, to remain a significant contributor for some time" (Reuters, 6/30/13).

But to the New York Times, the GOP's political posturing and rhetoric matter more than this reality. "Republicans immediately went on the attack against Democratic House members in mining states," readers learn. According to one person quoted, Obama "was already the most anti-coal president we've ever had, and now he's doubled down." It's not until deep into the article that Gabriel indicates that the premise of the whole argument could be a little shaky:

Despite repeated accusations that the Obama administration uses environmental regulations to wage a "war on coal," the steep decline in mining jobs in recent years has also been driven by powerful market forces–mechanization of mining and the conversion of coal-fired plants to cheaper natural gas.

In other words, it's not so much that the Obama White House that has declared a war on coal as it is the natural gas industry.

The Times piece is remarkably similar to a GOP press release (6/26/13) on the very same issue, sent out right after the Obama speech. In it you see an array of industry-friendly Democrats and Republicans taking aim at the White House. And both the GOP and the Times cite the same obscure factoid about how the new regulations will kill thousands of jobs.

Here's how the Times put it:

Environmental groups applauded the initiatives even as one report said 37,000 jobs at coal-fired plants were threatened.

Wow– applauding the destruction of 37,000 jobs!

But what is "one report," exactly? The research comes from the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank started by former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. The current director is former McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who has also done stints at the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. The group has a 501(c)(4) arm, the American Action Network, that spends millions of dollars on campaign ads for Republican politicians. Donor lists for the Forum appear to be confidential; the Network has reported receiving $4.5 million from the pharmaceutical industry, among other corporate donors.

In other words, this is information you might want to know if you're trying to figure out where this "report" is coming from.

Why would the Times not reveal the source of this critique of environmental regulations–to not even name the group that produced the research? And if that factoid was important, why not point out that the coal industry accounts for thousands of deaths every year? That would be reality-based, which is evidently less important than partisan posturing and GOP election strategy.

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the activism director at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra, and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly" (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

Share This Article

More in: