Media Matters recently published a scathing critique of The Oklahoman under the new ownership of Philip Anschutz.
The article’s main point is that the newspaper distorts facts about the natural gas drilling method hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and notes its Colorado billionaire owner is involved in the gas and oil industry. The newspaper, according to the article, also supports the controversial drilling method on its editorial page.
Here’s how the article begins:
The Oklahoman‘s straight news coverage of the controversial natural gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been slanted in favor of the process under the ownership of energy tycoon Philip Anschutz, who acquired the paper in September 2011. The paper’s opinion page has been one-sided — devoid of voices warning readers about the potential health risks and environmental dangers of loosely regulated fracking activities.
All this is true, of course, and the article is worth reading, but as someone that has critiqued the newspaper for years now I can attest that the newspaper supported fracking on its editorial page under the Gaylord family ownership and has been a leading cheerleader in its new columns for the oil and gas industry for decades.
I mean this is a newspaper that has endorsed U.S. Sen. Inhofe, a toady to the oil and gas industry, and someone who leads the charge against basic climate-change science. In fact, I think it’s fair to say The Oklahoman long ago embraced fracking, which many believe damages the environment and might even be the cause of earthquakes.
So, in a sense, the article doesn’t break any new ground so much as it clarifies and organizes some recent information about the newspaper’s continuing anti-environment bias.
Perhaps, even a more telling example of the newspaper’s slanted coverage is the fact the Reuters news organization has led the way in exposing controversial information about Aubrey McClendon, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Chesapeake Energy Corp. McClendon is a huge proponent of fracking. The Chesapeake headquarters is only a few miles away from The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, but the newspaper apparently doesn’t have the journalistic talent or inclination to cover the company beyond regurgitating its official line.
Reuters has reported recently on a program in which McClendon owns a stake in each of the company’s wells. McClendon, according to the news organization, borrowed money to help purchase the stake from companies that do business with Chesapeake, and that could constitute a conflict of interest.
Now Reuters has reported on a hedge fund managed by McClendon and Chesapeake co-founder Tom Ward that has also raised questions about a conflict of interest.
McClendon has since resigned as Chesapeake’s chairman of the board of directors but continues to serve as CEO, and U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, has called for a Department of Justice investigation to determine if “there is evidence of fraud, price manipulation, conflicts-of-interest, or other illegal activities.”
Through the years, I have often heard people refer to Chesapeake as a giant “shell game,” which I always thought implied the company cleverly shifts money and assets around to make it only appear that it’s a thriving business. I expect some of my readers have heard this as well. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but now that natural gas prices have plunged, the company is losing money and McClendon is under fire, we may well find out the true worth of the company.
Of course, don’t count on The Oklahoman to do more than reprint Chesapeake’s press releases or run stories from out-of-state media outlets.
Media Matters got it right, but it’s nothing new to those of us who live here.