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CNS' Fossil-Fueled Bias

The Media Research Center receives a notable part of its income from the oil and gas industry, and that manifests itself in articles at that shill for the industry.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/17/2011

The Media Research Center receives no small amount of its funding from oil industry sources. For instance, it has received more than $400,000 from ExxonMobil.

The MRC has also benefited from the largesse of oil and gas billionaire T. Boone Pickens. Most notably, as detailed in the MRC's 2007 annual report, Pickens -- a member of the MRC's board of trustees -- gave a $1.5 million challenge grant to the MRC for the creation of its Business & Media Institute. As a result of that donation, MRC vice president Dan Gainor -- last seen ironically and hypocritically obsessing over the philanthropy of George Soros -- holds the title of T. Boone Pickens Fellow.

Such funding by those in the oil and gas industry appears to be delivering tangible returns. For instance, MRC chief Brent Bozell's Nov. 9 column is dedicated to his "old friend" Pickens, with whom Bozell spent time in his skybox at the football stadium of Pickens' alma mater, Oklahoma State University, to which Pickens has given hundreds of millions of dollars (to the extent that said stadium is named after him). Bozell made no mention of the money Pickens has given to, or his personal relationship with, the MRC.

It also manifests itself in another way: favorable, uncritical coverage at the MRC's "news" division, A ConWebWatch review of CNS articles this year found several that may as well have been written by the industry itself.

The lead promoter for the oil industry at CNS is Penny Starr, who has a predilection for parroting the claims of the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying and promotion arm of the oil industry. A May 26 article by Starr demonstrates her bias by uncritically reporting 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 made no effort to seek out anyone who might be critical of the API's claims.

That's just one of many examples of Starr's shilling:

  • In a Jan. 5 article, Starr 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.
  • 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 the proposed Keystone XL 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 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%.
  • A June 10 article devoted whopping 12 paragraphs to uncritically repeating API's arguments in favor of Keystone XL pipeline. Only two paragraphs mention EPA concerns about the pipeline.
  • By contrast, a May 12 article by Starr that 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.”
  • Touting the Keystone XL pipeline in a Sept. 1 article, Starr wrote that "the latest results from the Canadian Energy Research Institute that shows the combined benefits of all present and proposed oil importation projects from Canada could result in 600,000 jobs and generate $775 billion in U.S. Gross Domestic Product between now and 2035." In fact, API commissioned a previous study from CERI, and it's likely that it commissioned this one as well given the API's promotion of it.
  • In a Nov. 4 article on "anti-oil activists" who planned a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline, Penny Starr made sure to point out that "TransCanada claims, however, that 'billions of gallons of oil are safely transported by pipeline' and that protecting the environment is a priority."
  • A Nov. 7 article by Starr echoed her earlier API parroting on oil company ownership by detailing a new API-commissioned report to make the point that "Less than three percent of shares in 173 publicly-traded, U.S.-based oil and natural gas companies are owned by corporate management, contrary to the perception that a very small number of wealthy people are the major beneficiaries."

Starr is only the most prolific industry promoter at CNS. A June 23 article by Susan Jones trumpeted the "job creating" Keystone XL pipeline while noting that "Actor Danny Glover, a perennial protester, plans to march with other liberal activists outside the White House in the summer heat to protest a proposed oil pipeline that would bring crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries in Texas, creating tens of thousands of jobs in the process."

Jones wrote that "protesters mention oil leaks" -- then devoted three paragraphs to how the pipeline's developer, TransCanada, responded to a leak on another pipeline it operates, quoting a TransCanada press release on how "the integrity of Keystone is sound."

A Nov. 9 article by Jones claimed that "Virginia's two U.S. senators, both Democrats, and the commonwealth's Republican governor are pressing the Obama administration to reconsider its decision to omit Virginia from its 5-year offshore drilling plan."

A Nov. 11 article by Jones followed Starr's footsteps in touting inflated job-creation numbers for the Keystone XL pipeline, asserting that it would "create 20,000 new jobs." Later in the article, Jones uncritically quotes the head of the company that is proposing the pipeline making more job promises:

"We remain confident Keystone XL will ultimately be approved," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer. "This project is too important to the U.S. economy, the Canadian economy and the national interest of the United States for it not to proceed."

“Keystone XL is shovel-ready,” Girling said. “TransCanada is poised to put 20,000 Americans to work to construct the pipeline - pipe fitters, welders, mechanics, electricians, heavy equipment operators, the list goes on. Local businesses along the pipeline route will benefit from the 118,000 spin-off jobs Keystone XL will create through increased business for local restaurants, hotels and suppliers.

In fact, even this lower job number is highly questionable. As Media Matters detailed, the TransCanada-funded study that generated those numbers uses an opaque and suspicious "person-years" job claim to come up with those figures. Meanwhile, others point out that TransCanada's job numbers are wildly inflated, claiming instead that the pipeline will generate no more than approximately 5,000 construction job and as few as 50 permanent jobs.

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert mocked similarly inflated job projections coming from Fox News personalities: "Those numbers come fresh from the pipeline those experts built from their ass straight to the airwaves."

In CNS' case, the source appears to be external: the pipeline of cash from oil interests to its parent, the MRC.

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