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Saturday, May 28, 2011
CNS' Starr Shills for Oil Industry

The Media Research Center has received $412,500 in funding from ExxonMobil since 1998. This money presumably manifests itself in things like reporter Penny Starr essentially doing PR work for the oil industry through "news" articles.

Take, for example, a May 26 article by Starr that uncritically reports on a PowerPoint presentation given by the John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying and promotion arm of the oil industry:

Armed with a Power Point presentation to illustrate the state of American energy, John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute (API), said the majority of “big oil” and natural gas ownership is in good hands – the hands of the American people.

According to a report published in 2007 by Sonecon, an economic advisory firm that analyses U.S. markets and public policy, corporate management owns only 1.5 percent of the U.S. oil and natural gas industry.

The rest is owned by tens of millions of Americans through retirement accounts (14 percent) and pension funds (26 percent).  Mutual funds or other firms account for 29.5 percent ownership and individual investors own 23 percent of oil stock holdings.

Institutional investors hold the remaining 5 percent.


As for the profits made by U.S. oil and natural gas companies that have been cited by congressional Democrats as reason to end tax incentives for the industry, Felmy put those earnings in perspective when it comes to high gasoline prices.

“If you took 100 percent of the earnings of the oil industry, you’d save 30 cents on the gallon,” Felmy said.

Starr makes no effort to seek out anyone who might be critical of the API's claims. Failure to pursue such an journalistic effort, one can easily assume, is why ExxonMobil is giving the MRC all that money.

Starr also shilled for the oil industry in a May 20 CNS article, in which she also repeated the API line about ownership and taxes. Starr also tried to play gotcha with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill -- who has been leading a call to investigate possible price-fixing of gasoline by U.S. refineries -- by asking her if she knew how many oil refineries were owned by the top five oil companies. She didn't know, which caused Starr to gloat that "the five largest oil companies own 23 percent, or less than one quarter, of the 141 oil refineries operating in September 2010."

A more meaningful figure than the number of oil refineries owned, however, is the amount of refinery capacity controlled. According to Public Citizen, the five largest oil companies control 56.3% of domestic oil refinery capacity; the top ten refiners control 83%.

Starr does seem to be relying on the API as her main source on oil-related issues. A March 17 article featured "reaction from the oil and natural gas industry on both sides of the U.S. and Canadian border," including the API, on federal delays in approving a new oil pipeline between the two countries. Starr touted how "pipeline advocates" claim the pipeline will bring "economic growth and revenue growth through taxes on the project."

Starr plugged the API again in a January 5 article, in which she touted API president Jack Gerard's claim that "if the Obama administration and Congress would allow the industry access to domestic oil and natural gas reserves, the United States would get the energy it needs, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the government would add more than $1.7 trillion to its coffers." Like the earlier article featuring the API's Felmy, Starr sought no dissenting views.

By contrast, a May 12 article by Starr which began by stating that "Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), a great-grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller who once controlled 90 percent of U.S. oil production, criticized the CEOs of the top U.S. oil corporations for being “out of touch” and compared their business practices to Saudi Arabia at a hearing on Thursday of the Senate Finance Committee," made sure to include Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch's statement that Democrats were trying to “exploit high gas prices for political gain” and that they have “no energy policy whatsoever.”

With Starr serving as the oil industry's shill, it seems ExxonMobil is getting its money's worth.

Posted by Terry K. at 12:25 AM EDT

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