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Washington Post Hits Bottom of Media-Bias Hole, Keeps Digging

John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog took the Washington Post down, hard, on Thursday for foolishly accepting a false report from a left-wing activist group and running it as a "news" story.  Hinderaker's debunking of the article, an exercise in anti-Koch Brothers propaganda, is a thing of beauty... not least because he only needed a few minutes on the Internet to prove the central claims of the story false, namely that the Kochs are allegedly the biggest leaseholders in Canadian oil sands, and are therefore a sinister power behind the drive to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

In truth, the Koch holdings are a very distant third or fourth, at best, even though the Post cheerfully ran propaganda from its left-wing buddies that tries to scare the reader with a "graph" that makes a subsidiary of Koch Industries tower above big oil companies like Exxon and Chevron.  And if the "gatekeepers" of the mainstream media had used their "multiple layers of fact-checking" to actually read all the material from the very group they were touting, they'd have seen that the group's own research demonstrates Koch Industries would lose money if the Keystone pipeline were built.

As Hinderaker observed, the Washington Post writers sort of tiptoe around the idea that some of the claims made by its star "activist" group are dubious, but the main thrust of the article is that the entirely false report they're pushing has some serious merit.  It's a master class in pure media bias, working from a few core assumptions (left-wing activist groups are selfless tellers of the truth; the Koch Brothers are selfish world-conquering super-villains) and illustrating how left-wing groups can upload garbage into the mainstream media system by simply sending a couple of emails to friendly outlets.  The resulting MSM coverage tends to push left-wing propaganda with a central narrative of implied validity, even if a caveat or two gets tucked into the story, a dozen paragraphs down.  And, of course, they don't describe the sources of these planted stories as liberal or leftist; they portray the groups as non-partisan, selfless "activists" with pure motives.

On Friday, the Washington Post decided to respond to the Powerline takedown... and flatly lied in its response, several times.  

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. 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. 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.

The first statement in this response is a lie.  Go to the original Washington Post story and search for the words "liberal," "left," or even "progressive."  You will not find them.  Nowhere is the group that supplied the Post with its bogus report described as anything other than "activist."  Here is the entirety of the section entitled "Who is IFG?":

The group describes itself as a think tank that began in opposition to the North American Free Trade Association and the World Trade Organization, which it says “were viewed as the globalization of corporate power and an inherently unsustainable economic model.” In the 15 years since the big WTO brawl in Seattle, the IFG has taken on issues regarding the environment, indigenous people, and climate finance. It says it gives “voice to local social movement critiques of the economic system and offer alternative visions.”

The material about Koch and its oil sands leases has been provided to The Post by Victor Menotti, who was arrested during the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle back in November 1999. But he says the IFG concentrates on research and education, not direct action. http://depts.washington.edu/wtohist/interviews/Menotti.pdf

The group receives funding from a variety of non-profit foundations, including Park Foundation, Tides Foundation, Janelia Foundation, Tarbell Family Foundation, Cloud Mountain Foundation, Klein Family Foundation, Susie Tompkins Buell Foundation, Buckley Foundation, and European Climate Foundation.

The politically savvy reader who recognizes names like the "Tides Foundation" can infer the nature of IFG, but note that the Post doesn't even describe those groups as anything other than politically neutral "non-profit foundations."  Contrary to the false claims made in the paper's response to Powerline, they actually worked hard to scrub any sense of political bias from the description of IFG - they uncritically related the group's description of itself, adding the lone sour note that the guy who fed them the fraudulent report they presented as credible got arrested in 1999.  

There's also a passage where the Post mentions that "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.'"  Notice how Reid's disgusting slander is repeated uncritically, with the implied credibility of linking him to unnamed "environmental groups," and they don't even bother to tell you which party Reid belongs to.  Also, it's cute how they go out of their way to name both Koch brothers again.  As Saul Alinsky advised: "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."

By contrast, the very first mention of Koch Industries in the story - beneath a huge photo of David Koch, for your Two Minutes Hate pleasure - describes it as "the privately-owned cornerstone of the fortune of conservative Koch brothers Charles and David."  

The second statement made by the Post in its own defense is technically true.  They noted the practical objections to the insinuation that the conservative Koch Industries, owned by conservative Charles Koch and his conservative brother David Koch, have some secret plan to benefit from the Keystone pipeline.  And then they take all their objections right back, giving the "activist" group's claims to the contrary the implied credibility of the last word:

The link between Koch and Keystone XL is, however, indirect at best. Koch’s oil production in northern Alberta is “negligible,” according to industry sources and quarterly publications of the provincial government. Moreover, Koch has not reserved any space in the Keystone XL pipeline, a process that usually takes place before a pipeline is built.  The pipeline also does not run anywhere near Koch’s refining facilities. And TransCanada, owner of the Keystone routes, says Koch is not expected to be one of the pipeline’s customers.

Still, the activist group that is publicizing the figures about Koch holdings in the oil sands – the International Forum on Globalization – is arguing that Koch will benefit indirectly. The IFG contends that the Keystone XL pipeline will create competition among rail and other pipelines and lower transportation costs for all oil sands producers, bolstering profit margins and making additional reserves economically viable.

“IFG’s intention is to demonstrate the Koch-Keystone connection,” says IFG’s Victor Menotti.

(Emphasis mine, just in case the Washington Post decides to start exercising some editorial oversight, and needs a little help understanding what their writers have done here.)  The very existence of the Post article itself imputes credibility to the IFG claims.  After all, the headline was not "Left-wing group issues report falsely claiming Koch Brothers are major players in Canadian oil sands," and the structure of the story did not briefly present their claims followed by a hard-fact debunking.

The third claim in the report, finally admitting just where Koch Industries' holdings in oil sands might stack up against other big players in the region, is desperate backpedaling easily smacked down by reminding readers of the frigging headline of the original article.  Here, let me put it in boldface and capital letters for the benefit of any Post editors who might be reading this:

THE BIGGEST LEASE HOLDER IN CANADA'S OIL SANDS ISN'T EXXON MOBIL OR CHEVRON.  IT'S THE KOCH BROTHERS.

Note how they personalized it to "the Koch Brothers," not even "Koch Industries."  And even the paper's defensive walkback goes out of its way to say hey, you never know, maybe it's really more like two million, and even though we can't prove that, if it was true that could make them the biggest lease holder.  Please refer back to the headline I have boldfaced and capitalized above, and tell me if you see any reservations, any allowance that the Kochs "might be" the big player, or that it's just a dubious claim by a left-wing organization.

Having hit the bottom of a media bias hole, they kept digging; the paper is left even more embarrassed and discredited after the response they issued.  They tried to double down on a report Powerline effectively destroyed... and then they have the unmitigated gall to finish up by trying to pat the critics who devastated them on the head: 

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.

No, the Powerline article is strong evidence that the mainstream media cannot be trusted to adequately vet information supplied by groups it finds politically agreeable, especially when the story ties into one of the primary Democrat narratives in an election year: the ongoing demonization of the Koch Brothers.

Update: As you might expect, John Hinderaker's response to the Washington Post's response is quite lively.  He doesn't even spend much time comparing the latest from the Post to the original article, and calling them out for obvious misrepresentations, as I did.  Instead, Hinderaker escalates the confrontation by asking some hard questions about the reporters who wrote the propaganda piece, brings up Tom Steyer - one of those invisible liberal billionaires the media never bothers to mention when it's busy ranting about the Satanic influence of the eeeeeeeevil Koch Brothers - and notes that one of the very same "reporters" produced a cotton-candy puff piece about Steyer that studiously avoided mentioning his very real, very solid financial interests in killing the Keystone pipeline, which just happen to align conveniently with the environmental radicalism Steyer bankrolls.

Furthermore, the "reporter" in question has ties to far-left organizations, including one that Tom Steyer is heavily involved in, and the Obama Administration.  "This kind of incest is common in Washington," Hinderaker writes.  "You can't separate the reporters from the activists from the Obama administration officials from the billionaire cronies."  Readers would be wise to keep that in mind when they read anything the mainstream media writes about any of the hot-button Democrat issues in the 2014 campaign.



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