The Oklahoman

Newspaper, Chesapeake Under Fire

Image of Aubrey McClendon

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.

The State’s Dark Side

Image of Picasso work

One has to wonder how the editorial writers at The Oklahoman live within their surreal, fictionalized world of false claims and glaring contradictions.

It has to be spooky to reside on the unstable abyss in which the opposite of what one thinks and says is often exactly the truth in the most obvious ways. It has to go far beyond the personal cost of disseminating propaganda into darker regions of human experience and reality.

The recent example of the antithetical reality of The Oklahoman editorial page is this: Despite all evidence to the contrary, it recently argued that President Barack Obama was given a warm welcome during his trip to the state. What’s more, it followed this up with a sarcastic, biting editorial about the president, arguing his trip here was worthless.

Let’s go over the facts. Obama arrived in Oklahoma City last week and then traveled to Cushing to announce he was going to try to expedite the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline, which will carry oil from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. The announcement was good economic news for the state in particular and its overall energy industry.

It was understandable that the governor and other prominent Republicans didn’t greet him at the airport. The state received short notice of the trip. Gov. Mary Fallin was on vacation. The lieutenant governor was apparently away on business in Washington. What does this matter, anyway? Why quibble over perceived protocol.

But what The Oklahoman completely dismissed or ignored in its “warm welcome” claims is that the president was greeted with verbal media hectoring from four prominent business leaders, the vacationing governor and, of course, the newspaper itself. The theme from all of them was that the president had so much to learn from self-serving, ultra-conservatives when it comes to energy policy.

Despite this The Oklahoman editorial page had the audacity to claim, “Obama received a warm welcome on his arrival Wednesday night at Tinker Air Force Base and again in Cushing,” and later claimed that it was “nonsense” to think the president was given a rude welcome.

But what about the verbal hectoring from the Oklahoma power structure, led by The Oklahoman, which I wrote about here? It’s one thing when schedules don’t match; it’s quite another when Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy, Larry Nichols of Devon Energy and Tom Ward of SandRidge Energy go out of their way to compose a selfish missive, published in NewOK.com, that criticized the president on the day of his arrival. That’s rude. Nichols even appeared in a mean-spirited huff on at least one local television station as he criticized the president. That’s rude.

When Fallin and her staff take the time, even when the governor is on vacation, to issue a statement that claims, “President Obama’s rhetoric is matched with a policy record that is aggressively anti-energy,” which is completely untrue, well, that’s rude, too. When the Oklahoman piles it on with an editorial that borders on the absurd (“So demagogue all you want about undertaxed oil barons. Just remember that you didn't arrive here on a solar-powered aircraft.”), that’s rude.

Do The Oklahoman editorial writers think that Obama and his staff weren’t aware of the rhetorical fire?

Here’s an approach that would NOT have been rude and inhospitable: Simply concede good-naturedly political differences and then welcome the president to the state. Better yet, say nothing. Obviously, the state is going to give its electoral votes to Obama’s opponent this election. What’s the point with the hectoring? It actually turns him into a political martyr.

Meanwhile, the same newspaper which claimed Obama received a warm welcome followed up his visit with an editorial yesterday that argued when it comes to the pipeline the president is “enthusiastic about appearing to be enthusiastic,” further noting that the “pledge to expedite construction on the southern leg was neither needed nor worth a trip to Oklahoma.”

This is what the newspaper is obviously saying: Don’t ever come here again, Mr. President. That’s more rudeness.

Political beliefs are one thing, but the sophomoric and rude welcome given to the president shows a darker side to Oklahoma that often goes unacknowledged against the trope that the state’s residents are collectively nice and welcoming people. Editorial writers living on the unstable abyss—no, no, Obama got a real nice welcome here, sure did—make that dark side even more apparent to the world.

Vulgar Coverage

Image of personhood rally

“By reducing the story to one sign, the newspaper has also helped to jeopardize the health of every woman in this state. Oklahoma women, along with their physicians, should decide their health needs, not ideologically driven legislators.”—Kurt Hochenauer

The pedestrian fixation on what The Oklahoman has called a “vulgar” sign at the recent anti-personhood rally is just another way conservatives are marginalizing and attacking women here in Oklahoma.

Do any women who work at the newspaper use birth control? (I’ll go out on a limb here and bet that some do or have in the past.) That’s a legitimate question given how the newspaper covered the rally, at least judging from the NewsOK.com content.

The rally at the state capitol Tuesday, which attracted about 1,000 participants, was held to protest Senate Bill 1433, which has passed the senate. The anti-abortion bill grants rights to a fertilized egg in a woman’s womb. The bill, if passed, could outlaw forms of birth control, especially Plan B, and complicate the in vitro fertilization process for women trying to get pregnant. It could also lead, and this is not hyperbole, to an eventual ban on contraception here. Does anyone think conservatives will stop their assault on women's bodies if this bill passes?

State Sens. Constance Johnson, an Oklahoma City Democrat, and Judy Eason McIntyre, a Tulsa Democrat, spoke at the rally. For a brief moment, after she spoke, McIntrye held up a sign brought by the protesters. The sign proclaimed, “If I wanted the government in my womb I'd fuck a senator.” It lasted no more than a few seconds. I know. I was there right in front of her when she help up the sign.

The rally lasted three hours and featured many speakers, including endocrinologist Dr. Eli Reshef, who spoke about the problems the proposed law would create for women trying to get pregnant using in vitro fertilization methods.

So how did The Oklahoman cover the story? This was one headline on a NewsOK.com story: “Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, of Tulsa, protests anti-abortion bill with F-word.” The story under the headline, which carried Megan Rolland’s byline, didn’t even note Reshef's comments or other speakers. It didn’t even include comments from participants, some of whom were college students worried about birth control access.

For good measure, The Oklahoman followed up with an editorial calling the sign “vulgar” and arguing McIntyre’s action—again it lasted no more than a few seconds—a part of numerous “juvenile antics” among legislative Democrats.

Let’s set the record straight here: (1) McIntyre didn’t bring the sign. She simply saw it and waved it for a few seconds. (2) The crowd roared in approval when she waved the sign so it was unlikely the sign offended the vast majority of rally participants. (3) If the editors of The Oklahoman found the sign so “vulgar,” as they described it, then why did they run a photograph of it on their site?

Are the reporters and editors at The Oklahoman so detached from the real world that they don’t see the use of the f-word throughout our culture, especially on television or in films? Are they really that narrow-minded and pedestrian and offended? Or are they simply supporting the personhood bill?

So it’s the other way around. The way The Oklahoman covered the rally is vulgar. This is not just word play. The newspaper’s reductionist coverage and the bill are direct attacks on any woman who has ever practiced birth control in Oklahoma or has used the in vitro fertilization process to get pregnant or has had an abortion.

By reducing the story to one sign, the newspaper has also helped to jeopardize the health of every woman in this state. Oklahoma women, along with their physicians, should decide their health needs, not ideologically driven legislators.

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