On Keystone XL, Mainstream Media Displays Major Bias Towards Oil Industry

YouTube/Screen capture

Environmental advocates and concerned citizens had to fight to draw any attention at all to the proposed construction of the massive Keystone XL oil pipeline. Now, when the media covers the debate, they're hardly mentioning the environmental concerns that first brought the Keystone to the nation's attention.

A new Media Matters analysis paints a pretty depressing picture of how the tar sands pipeline is being portrayed in the press. This graph, from the report, pretty aptly explains why:

Media Matters/via

MM found that when the project is covered on TV (where most folks get their news, because who reads anymore?) the issue that leaps to the fore is job creation—which is crazy, because even in the industry's optimistically inflated, press release-friendly numbers, they're talking about 20,000 jobs. From a $7 billion project. Of course, TransCanada itself has revealed that it believes its project will create only 5,000 jobs, and the only independent analysis carried out thus far showed the Keystone XL would yield only 500-1,400 permanent jobs.

Speaking of which:

Media Matters/via

Yes, that's right. It turns out that the vast majority of the mainstream media unthinkingly parrots the industry's talking points on the employment figures. And here's the most damning graph of all:

Media Matters/via

Oil-indebted politicians, pro-petroleum pundits, and industry shills were given the lion's share of the limelight when it came to presenting the story. This surely had an impact on the way that the Keystone narrative was sculpted for the average American. If they don't hear about why the pipeline would be such bad news for the climate, how it could contaminate the country's biggest aquifer, how it's utterly destroying pristine boreal forest in the north, how it results in destruction that looks like this:

Jungbim via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-NC 2.0

Then they're clearly not getting the whole story.

Remember, most Americans are just now learning of the Keystone XL, after it became a centerpiece during the wrangling over the payroll tax cut bill. Now it's become a full-fledged campaign issue, with the GOP rallying behind it, pushing the message of job creation and energy security. And as we see from the study, the way the media frames the story, the environmental concerns are apt to slip into the background. Instead, they harp on the illusory jobs and erroneously give credence to the notion that the Keystone XL will bolster energy security (it won't, the oil will be put on market and shipped 'round the world).

No wonder the GOP is so eager to team up with those Canadian oil execs, to hatch a plan in Congressional back rooms to keep the pipeline alive: They know that the media will take their side.

Tags: Canada | Oil | Tar Sands | United States

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