Despite what The Oklahoman editorial board believes, it’s absolutely morally wrong and unethical for a government official to pass off a letter written by a corporate employee as his own work.
First, it’s blatant plagiarism if the government official doesn’t acknowledge it’s not his own writing and language. Second, it’s a gross abuse of power by the government official to promote the interests of one set of corporations over another set of corporations or over individuals. Third, the fact the government official has consistently received campaign contributions from donors aligned with the corporation who provided him the letter is obvious quid pro quo, or, simply, the corporation in effect, directly or indirectly, paid him for his actions.
Plagiarism, abuse of power, a suspicion of bribery, you won’t find these terms in an editorial today in The Oklahoman, which criticizes The New York Times for its critical coverage of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, pictured right, for his cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry in this state. In effect, The Times coverage leads us almost to believe that Pruitt is actually a surrogate employee of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy while getting paid by taxpayers.
And, apparently, that’s perfectly fine with The Oklahoman editorial board, which includes the newspaper’s top editor, Kelly Dyer Fry, and other top leaders and writers at the newspaper, none of whom have the power like she has to try to reshape and repurpose the newspaper’s op-ed page and allow it to reflect the cultural and political diversity of the state and, in general, the Oklahoma City area.
(Full disclosure: Fry is the mother of my two grown children. We divorced in 1995.)
The Times published a story Saturday under the headline “Energy Firms in Secret Alliance With Attorneys General” that pretty much made a strong case that some states’ top legal officers are colluding with oil and gas companies to fight federal regulations that might impact their bottom line.
The story led with Pruitt, who apparently once sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency that claimed it was “overestimating” the air pollution created by new gas well drilling. Here’s the big catch: Except for a few word changes, the letter was written by a Devon Energy employee, and Pruitt failed to note that fact upfront, according to The Times. Isn’t that plagiarism?
The Oklahoman editorial board followed up with its own heroic journalistic efforts on the issue by offering up a commentary that called the coverage by The Times “. . . a case study in media bias and unthinking analysis.” The editorial doesn’t even specially mention the Devon letter Pruitt sent. It only notes, “The Times makes much of Pruitt’s office recycling material provided by private industry experts.”
This is blatant rhetorical subterfuge and craven distortion. A state Attorney General sends a federal agency a letter under his own name and office and fails to disclose it was mainly written by someone else at a corporation and that simply becomes “recycling material.” No, it’s plagiarism. Why didn’t Pruitt simply forward the Devon letter to the EPA and simply say he agreed with its contentions?
Why Devon? Can any company in the state give a letter to Pruitt promoting their interests and ask him to send it to a federal agency under his own name and office? If he refuses to do so, then is that an act of possible discrimination if not a form of harassment and favoritism? Isn’t that legally actionable from companies that want the same treatment from Pruitt but can’t get it?
The Times notes:
Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.
Just a cursory glance at Pruitt’s campaign records on the Oklahoma Ethics Commission site shows he accepted $5,000 from the Devon Energy Corporation Political Action Committee on April 24, 2014. The contribution is after the Devon letter he sent under his own name, of course, but the quid pro quo couldn’t be clearer.
It’s one thing for a politician to promote the general interests of an industry. It’s quite another to pass off a letter written by an official at one company as your own work and then accept $5,000 from that company’s political action company for your campaign. If that isn’t quid pro quo, what is? If that doesn’t arise to at least some suspicion of bribery, then what does?
And, all this is just fine with The Oklahoman, which not only gives Pruitt a pass on this obvious conflict but also, in essence, encourages more of this type of collusion in the future.
For decades, top officials at The Oklahoman have appeared to define “journalism” as the criticism and belittling of out-of-state reporters who hold our politicians and corporate leaders accountable for unethical actions. It’s simply tragic we must get our news from outside the state.
Pruitt’s actions as described by The Times are unethical. Let’s hope he attracts more attention from news organizations outside the state so Oklahomans can know the truth about him and his cozy relationship with oil and gas companies here.