Executive Summary: Washington Post reporters Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin wrote a story for the website’s Wonkblog headlined, “The biggest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers.” The story was essentially false. It was based on easily disproved data from a progressive activist organization. Eilperin has close ties to both the environmental advocates opposing the Keystone pipeline, and desperately trying to turn public opinion against it. She also has tied to the White House. John Hinderaker, on Powerline, his respected conservative politics blog, exposed the Post story as a blatant misinformation with a likely political motive. The reporters responded with a jaw-dropping rationalization, and are currently being excoriated by the Post’s readers online.
The Facts: The Post article by Mufson and Eilperin begins:
You might expect the biggest lease owner in Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands, to be one of the international oil giants, like Exxon Mobil or Royal Dutch Shell. But that isn’t the case. The biggest lease holder in the northern Alberta oil sands is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the privately-owned cornerstone of the fortune of conservative Koch brothers Charles and David.
The Koch Industries subsidiary holds leases on 1.1 million acres — an area nearly the size of Delaware — in the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, according to an activist group that studied Alberta provincial records. The Post confirmed the group’s findings with Alberta Energy, the provincial government’s ministry of energy. Separately, industry sources familiar with oil sands leases said Koch’s lease holdings could be closer to two million acres. The companies with the next biggest net acreage positions in oil sands leases are Conoco Phillips and Shell, both close behind.
What is Koch Industries doing there? The company wouldn’t comment on its holdings or strategy, but it appears to be a long-term investment that could produce tens of thousands of barrels of the region’s thick brand of crude oil in the next three years and perhaps hundreds of thousands of barrels a few years after that.
The finding about the Koch acreage is likely to inflame the already contentious debate about the Keystone XL Pipeline and spur activists and environmentalists seeking to slow or stop planned expansions of production from the northern Alberta oil sands, or tar sands. Environmental groups have already made opposing the pipeline their leading cause this spring and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the Koch brothers Charles and David “un-American” and “shadowy billionaires.”
These are Democratic and anti-fossil fuel talking points, not legitimate reporting. Nor are they true. Powerline, in an extensive, factual evisceration, showed that the Keystone Pipeline has nothing whatsoever to do with the Koch brothers, and that the story, rather than being aimed at informing Post readers, is instead partisan propaganda in the guise of journalism,under the banner of one of the nation’s most respected newspapers. Koch is not the largest leaser of tar sands land; Koch will not use the pipeline if it is built; the Keystone Pipeline would harm the Kochs’ interests, and the Koch brothers have not taken a position on the pipeline’s construction for that reason.
The response of the reporters to Hinderaker’s revelations was as disturbing as the false story itself. They wrote, again on the Post website (My comments, as usual, in bold)…
- “First, regarding the political leaning of the group that brought this story to our attention, our article makes clear its left-wing origins, the controversial nature of its earlier claims, and its political agenda.” Comment: A lie. The article says nothing about “left-wing origins.” It links to the organization, which most readers will never check, assuming, incorrectly, that the Post is an objective newspaper with ethical reporters, who check their sources and do not accept as fact whatever an organization that comports with the reporters’ personal political views feeds them.
- “Second, regarding whether Koch would benefit from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, we make clear that many of Koch’s leases pre-date the pipeline plan, that Koch has not bid for space in the pipeline, and that Koch would not be a customer. Third, if Koch’s lease holdings are 1.1 million acres, that would make it one of the region’s largest, rivaled only by Shell (1 million net acres through an Athabasca joint venture and perhaps 1.3 million net acres altogether), Cenovus Energy (1.5 million net acres), and perhaps Canadian Natural Resources (717,000 net undeveloped acres plus an undetermined number of developed acres). Shell declined to release its total acreage figures.” Comment: None of which rebuts or attempts to rebut Hinderaker’s conclusion: the story was designed to link the Left’s boogeymen billionaires to the Keystone Pipeline using false data and misleading innuendo.
- “If Koch’s lease holdings are “closer to two million,” as has been said by industry sources we consider highly authoritative, then Koch is indeed the largest lease holder in the province.” Comment: Hilarious. The story already tells us what kind of “sources” these reporters treat as authoritative. What sources? If that was a more accurate number, why didn’t they use it in the original story?
- “The Powerline article itself, and its tone, is strong evidence that issues surrounding the Koch brothers’ political and business interests will stir and inflame public debate in this election year. That’s why we wrote the piece.” Comment: Unethical Quote of the Month! I cannot improve on Jonah Goldberg’s characterization of this despicable statement of Bizarro World journalism ethics in the National Review:
“By this logic any unfair attack posing as reporting is worthwhile when people try to correct the record. Why not just have at it and accuse the Kochs of killing JFK or hiding the Malaysian airplane? The resulting criticism would once again provide “strong evidence that issues surrounding the Koch brothers’ political and business interests will stir and inflame public debate in this election year.”
Significance: The incestuous, undisclosed, conflicts of interest that link so many journalists, pundits and news organization by blood, marriage or other close relationships to the Democrats and the Obama administration have long been noted in the conservative media, but the public is still largely ignorant of the phenomenon. Perhaps this bright line example of how political operatives and the government unethically influence the reporting of news will promote appropriate concern. Here is Hineraker on Juliet Eilperin’s thick conflicts:
“…she is married to Andrew Light. Light writes on climate policy for the Center for American Progress, a far-left organization that has carried on a years-long vendetta against Charles and David Koch on its web site, Think Progress. Light is also a member of the Obama administration, as Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy on Climate Change in the Department of State. The Center for American Progress is headed by John Podesta, who chaired Barack Obama’s transition team and is now listed as a “special advisor” to the Obama administration.”
Does the fake article about the Kochs reveal the reporter’s conflicts?
Is the Post obligated under basic principles of journalism ethics to make sure this is done?
Should a reporter with Eilperin’s biases and entanglements be permitted to report on these topics?
Ethics Dunce: The Washington Post. How disgraceful. The Post doesn’t even have an ombudsman any more to complain to. A news organizations that permits this kind of betrayal of trust deserves to be discounted and ignored until it can prove that its management has rededicated itself to the mission of honest journalism.
Ethics Dunces: Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin. They were so arrogant comfortable practicing slanted, biased reporting for a liberal publication that they assumed there was no limit to the permissible manipulation of the truth partisan purposes.
Ethics Hero: Hinderaker. His post and the research behind it constituted a public service, as well as a service to truth, fairness, and perhaps, if the incident prompts the response it should, journalism itself.
Unethical Quote of the Month: Mufson and Juliet Eilperin. As noted above:
“The Powerline article itself, and its tone, is strong evidence that issues surrounding the Koch brothers’ political and business interests will stir and inflame public debate in this election year. That’s why we wrote the piece.”
This is truly the canary dying in the journalism ethics mine.
Ethics Heroes: Washington Post readers. There are well over 250 comments to the “response” by the reporters, and all but a few pathetic attempts to change the subject are merciless. Some examples…and who know, some of them may well have come from Democrats with integrity:
- So these pundits wrote an incorrect headline that would have not been news anyway as if they had just discovered a government coverup. They based this headline on a left wing forum and embelished it with innuendo intended to tie the Koch’ to KeystoneXL They continue in this rebuttal to spread dis-information to try and deflect the fact that they have been caught red handed. Political speech disguised as news… Goebbels would be proud.
- The story here is the irresponsibility of the “journalists” in question. How were they allowed to publish this in the first place? Why aren’t they doing true investigative journalism? Why are they taking up a cause of the lunatic Left? There’s something clearly wrong at WaPo and it’s probably too late too fix.
- The people have consistently expressed their preference that the Keystone Pipeline be approved and built. If you really want government of the people, you would support the pipeline. Do you?
- The original Mulfson/Eilperin article was an untruthful, clumsy attempt to change the pipeline issue to a referendum about the Koch brothers, and their defense above is beyond ridiculous.
- So an issue that will “…will stir and inflame public debate in this election year…” is worth writing about? When do I see an article on Obama’s citizenship or Clinton’s involvement in Whitewater or Reid’s pederastry? Not in the interest in truth but in stirring public debate. Freakin’ amateurs. Go home and cry to your hubby, or his boss, or the billionaire that sits on the board of hubby’s organization and that you push the agenda for, because liberal billionaires need all the hand-outs they can get.
- Yep. The questions about Obama’s gangster government are something for an investigative journalist, someone obviously missing from the WaPo staff. And a real environmental reporter would at least point out the added risks of transporting petroleum by rail instead of pipelines. But Steven and Juliet aren’t interested in journalism or the environment. They know that good Democrat activists writing for WaPo are supposed to generate phony articles based on lies that meet the approval of the DNC.
- You wrote the piece because the issue will inflame public debate. That is an insane statement. It sounds like crazy fun – let’s write something ridiculous and wrong because it will inflame public debate, which, of course, we all want to encourage. Please, oh please, an adult needs to take the keys to WaPo from these guys.
- So. Let’s be clear about this. (1) You consider your unnamed sources more authoritative than the government of the Province of Alberta. (2) You don’t actually care that the Koch brothers aren’t involved. and (3) It’s okay, because at least it stirred up controversy. How, exactly, does this differ from the recent tabloid coverage of Flight 370 being found on the Moon, except that you actually thought you’d get away with it?
- You two slime molds need to work on your lies. They are too easily exposed, you mannish looking freak loads: “So in the Post’s view, it is acceptable to publish articles that are both literally false (Koch is the largest tar sands leaseholder) and massively misleading (the Keystone Pipeline is all about Koch Industries), if by doing so the paper can “stir and inflame public debate in this election year?”
Aftermath: What needs to happen? These two unethical reporters should be sacked and sent to room with Stephen Glass. The Washington Post needs to apologize to its readers and shape up. The incestuous relationship between the media and government officials must be exposed, and strict disclosure and conflicts rules need to be imposed and enforced by all media organizations. Progressives need to take a hard look at the dishonest Machiavellian tactics its organizations and allies now regard as acceptable, and question whether their movement has lost its way, as well as its ethical values.
And everyone, regardless of party or belief, should thank John Hinderaker.