The Keystone Cops At The MRC And CNS
The Media Research Center made a short film making distorted claims about the end of the Keystone XL pipeline, and its "news" division keeps pushing the fiction that the pipeline would keep gas prices low.
By Terry Krepel
At the end of last year, the Media Research Center released a short propaganda film with the unsubtle title "Killing Keystone XL: How Biden Destroyed American Energy Independence." The MRC described it thusly:
On his first day in office, President Biden revoked the Keystone XL Pipeline permit via Executive Order 13990. With the stroke of a pen, Biden canceled a project that would have boosted U.S. GDP by more than 3 billion dollars, carried 830,000 barrels of oil daily from Canada to the U.S., and directly and indirectly provided up to 26,000 jobs 11,000 of which were instantly lost. Climate Czar John Kerry, lent a sympathetic voice to the plight of the newly laid-off workers, “Go to work to make the solar panels.” President Trump greenlit the project in 2017, after years of delay from the Obama administration.
That number of 26,000 jobs is wildly inflated. Only about 4,000 jobs could be credited to construction of the pipeline -- nearly all of which would have been temporary -- and numbers of "indirect" jobs are speculative at best. One clip in the film uncritically showed Donald Trump even more wildly claiming that the pipeline would create "48,000 jobs."
That sets the tone of the film, which is little more than an anti-Biden, pro-oil industry propaganda piece. Given that the MRC has accepted funding from fossil-fuel interests, that's not surprising.
Nearly the entire first half of the 14-minute film is news clips purporting to detail the history of the pipeline. It's heavy on Fox News clips, as you'd expect, but interestingly, there are also selected clips from other "liberal media" outlets that the MRC spends millions of dollars a year to inculcate mistrust in. There are also clips of Trump administration officials declaring that the U.S. became an "net exporter" of oil under Trump -- another slippery, misleading claim. And all the talk about the pipeline purportedly bringing energy independence to the U.S. ignores the fact that it has been argued that a significant amount of the oil products generated from crude transported through the pipeline would be exported.
The latter half of the film briefly features the product of MRC employees Eric Scheiner and Ben Graham (son of MRC executive Tim Graham) visiting "hard-hit towns in South Dakota and Montana to interview residents and business owners to learn first-hand how Biden’s callous decision to shut down the pipeline has negatively impacted these communities." The first clip of of an official from a local electric cooperative complaining about "stranded assets" of electrical equipment left behind after the pipeline was halted -- but there was no mention of the fact that this equipment can easily be repurposed or sold. There were also complaints from local businesses and political officials about job and spending losses from the pipeline -- but that money was going to stop even if the pipeline continued because construction jobs would have moved on and eventually stopped after the pipeline was built.
The film concluded with another package of news clips that pushed the bogus, unproven narrative that the pipeline's cancellation led directly to higher gas prices.
So, yes, a propaganda film. So much so, in fact, that it got an airing on pro-Trump propaganda outlet One America News. And the propaganda appears to extend to how popular it is. A Jan. 5 email claimed the film has "over 1 million views," but the YouTube version of the film to which the email links stated slightly more than 11,600 views when ConWebWatch checked at the end of January, and the version on right-wing video site Rumble claimed only 4,881 views at the same time. That's roughly 986,000 viewings that MRC hasn't accounted for and are likely not made up by the OAN airing, where ratings are apparently so miniscule that its main distributor, DirecTV, dropped the channel.
CNS runs with talking point
The MRC's "news" division CNSNews.com, was predictably outraged like a good right-wing apparatchik when President Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline shortly after taking office. A January 2021 article by managing editor Michael W. Chapman, for example, complained that then-nominee for secretary of transportation Pete Buttigieg said that workers who had been employed in building the pipeline can get other jobs and laughably portrayed Republicans as a defender of unions in trying to save those jobs. Another article that month by Melanie Arter quoted a Republican senator claiming that the pipeline's cancellation will raise gas prices.
As oil and gas prices rose during 2021, that last talking point has gained prominence. After Biden released oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a bid to lower prices -- something CNS demanded he do then dismissed it when he did -- Craig Bannister wrote in a Nov. 29 article:
The U.S. could be getting 900,000 barrels of oil a day if President Joe Biden hadn’t stopped the Keystone XL pipeline, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, says.
Just one problem: Fact-checkers have found no evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would have any impact on gas prices in the U.S.
A Feb. 4 article touted the MRC's mini-propaganda film:
During a screening and panel discussion of the Media Research Center’s new documentary on the Keystone XL pipeline, House Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) detailed how the canceling of the pipeline by President Biden is hurting workers and the economy in Nebraska. He also stressed that it was “outrageous” for Biden to support Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Again, the MRC's little film wildly overstates how many jobs the pipeline would have created, and it censors the fact that much of the petroleum products created from pipeline oil would be exported -- not made for use in the U.S.
The article went on to quote participants -- which excluded supporters of the pipeline's discontinuation -- speculating over Keystone's impact on gas prices while ignoring evidence that it would have no impact.
Despite its lack of actual proof of a link between the pipeline's cancellation and higher gas prices, CNS continued to suggest one anyway. A Feb. 11 article by Susan Jones on Biden pledging to work to lower gas prices pointedly referring to him as "the man who canceled the Keystone XL pipeline." Jones further suggested a link in a Feb. 16 article:
In his push for green energy, Biden has targeted fossil fuels, signing executive orders pausing oil and gas leasing on federal lands and scrapping the Keystone pipeline as soon as he took office.
Needless to say, Jones offered no evidence that any Biden energy policy, including the Keystone XL shutdown, has been directly linked with the increase in gas prices. And she censored evidence that U.S. oil companies have been slow to increase domestic oil production and have not rushed to expand drilling on land leases they already own.
Russia invades, CNS doubles down
Russia's invasion of Ukraine increased CNS' interest in pushing that narrative, combined with attacks on President Biden.
Craig Bannister used a Feb. 25 article to quote former Vice President Mike Pence declaring that "President Biden should authorize the Keystone XL pipeline and oil and gas leases in the United States of America." As we've noted, Biden has issued more drilling permits on federal land than Donald Trump did; also, the pipeline will take years to complete, so it would not help Americans now.
In another Feb. 25 article, Bannister quoted GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan dramatically demanding that Biden "“Get your boot off the neck of American energy producers” because you’re committing “national security suicide,” calling for the approval of Keystone.
On March 1, Melanie Arter uncritically quoted former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley asserting that Biden could make up for cutting off Russian oil "in one instance by opening up the Keystone Pipeline" -- again, ignoring that the pipeline would take years to build. Arter also spent a March 8 article reproducing a Q&A between Psaki and hostile Fox News reporter Peter Doocy in which Psaki pointed out that "if President Biden reversed his executive order and allowed the Keystone Pipeline to go forward, it would not affect gas prices faster than getting the entire country off of fossil fuels."
Jones devoted a March 9 article to repeating Republican senators pushing Republican talking points on oil and gas, starring you-know-what:
"And I would say to the President, why not American energy?" Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told a news conference.
Jones did not correct the senators' false insinuation that issuance of oil and gas leases on federal land remains prohibited, or that oil from Canada was not "American energy."
Arter served up another Psaki-Doocy Q&A on March 9, in which Psaki accurately pointed out that "if President Joe Biden allowed construction to continue on the Keystone XL Pipeline, it won’t address the high price of gas right now."
In a June 14 article, Bannister complained that "Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the sole reason that gas prices are up, President Joe Biden claimed Tuesday," adding that "As president, Biden has taken steps to thwart domestic oil production, such as canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and ending the sale of new oil leases" but not offering any evidence that any of those are to blame for gas price increases.
Jones served up a June 22 complaint that Biden wants a gas tax holiday and the fact sheet the White House issued in support of one:
Notably, the fact sheet specifically mentions/blames "Putin" for gasoline price hikes four times, neglecting to mention that gasoline prices began rising as soon as Biden took office -- shutting down the Keystone Pipeline, canceling oil and gas leases, and pressing ahead with his green energy plans.
Again, no proof was offered to link any of those actions with any specific increase in gas prices.
Intern-pestering using Keystone
One round of CNS' intern-pestering in the spring 2022 semester came after the Russia invasion of Ukraine, when intern Emily Robertson asked senators, “Should the United States prohibit petroleum imports from Russia and if not why not?” She got 23 senators to respond, most of them Republican, and even got a roundup article out of it. But the boilerplate text included in each article also stated this:
With President Joe Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, the United States is no longer energy independent. Rather, it relies upon other countries for energy resources such as gas and oil.
First, that statement is logically and factually wrong. The oil the pipeline would have carried would have come from Canada, so it wouldn't have contributed to America being "energy independent." Second, it's likely that much of the oil that came through the pipeline would be exported, which also would not have contributed to American energy independence.
The boilerplate in each article also claimed that "The effect of the pipeline cancellation has led to higher gas prices." Again, there's little evidence the pipeline would lower gas prices or that the cancellation of the pipeline caused gas prices to rise.
In mid-July, CNS interns went on another congressman-pestering mission to asked biased questions of senators designed to advance right-wing narratives. Four senators -- Mitt Romney, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Sherrod Brown, all Republicans except Brown -- were asked, "Is it appropriate for President Biden to travel to Saudi Arabia and meet with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman?" The boilerplate copy in each article brought up the Keystone ghost again:
When campaigning for office in 2020, Biden said, “I guarantee you, we’re going to end fossil fuels.” Once in office, Biden took action to reduce domestic oil production, including revoking the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was expected to carry 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta oil sands crude to Nebraska, according to CNBC.
The boilerplate didn't mention that most of the petroleum products made from the oil that would be exported, not saved for use in the U.S. Additionally, some of that proposed oil volume from Canada to the U.S. is already being transported by rail to the Gulf Coast.
(Update 9/2/2021: The question was also asked of several other senators -- Rob Portman (R), John Kennedy (R), Lindsey Graham (R), Ron Johnson (R), Bill Hagerty (R) and Dianne Feinstein (D) -- but without the Keystone boilerplate.)
Another intern article allowed Republican Sen. Steve Daines to virtue-signal on the question by referencing Keystone, in addition to the boilerplate:
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) disapproves of President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia this week in an attempt to combat inflated gas prices, asserting that Biden first needs to meet with U.S. oil producers to discuss “how we can increase production and to restore the Keystone Pipeline.”
Like the others, this article failed to report that the most of pipeline's products would likely be exported. It seems that CNS is more interested in teaching its interns how to peddle right-wing talking points then to engage in factual journalism.