Image: Screengrab from Comedy Central
When you see a Daily Show clip on TreeHugger (or on any other site, really), you know what to expect: Jon Stewart 'blasting' a Fox News pundit or Republican politician for doing something ridiculous. Jon Stewart attacked the idiotic allegations of ClimateGate, explained to the Tea Party why we need environmental regulations, and chastised BP's recklessness in the wake of the Gulf Spill.
But the show's take on the failed solar company Solydra left me a little puzzled. It's still hilarious, of course. Watch:
Watching Stewart's segment, you're led to believe that a) the folks at Fox News are right: the Obama administration recklessly wasted $500 million of taxpayer money on a project that b) should have been vetted more carefully. That c) this is indeed a huge boon to his opponents, and Obama was wrong to back Solyndra (and by extension, take risks on nascent solar companies).
So let's break it down. As for b): There is evidence that Obama rushed the approval process for Solyndra's loan guarantee. The Bush administration had begun the process, and was speeding it along, too. But fast-tracking a project, even one that fails, isn't exactly scandalous.
In order to turn this into a 'scandal' the chattering classes had to lean on a) -- that this was a reckless waste of taxpayer dollars. It's not! Loan guarantees don't always work out -- and the government understands that. The whole idea is to give riskier projects needed capital so they can get off the ground. It's why we dole out billions and billions of dollars in loan guarantees for nuclear power projects, some of which never come online. But you don't see the GOP whooping about failed nuke proposals, because as a rule, Republicans support more nuclear power. It's unfortunate that Obama chose to highlight a project that ended up failing, but the fact that he mentioned Solyndra in some speeches doesn't make this any more scandalous.
As Kevin Drum says, "Conservatives have been trying to paint [Solyndra] as a big scandal of some kind, despite the fact that: the company had plenty of private investors too; it's the only DOE loan that has failed so far; and there's no real evidence that anyone in the White House did anything worse than push OMB to speed up their decision-making process a bit in 2009."
Again, hardly a scandal! But Stewart's segment plays along with the 'scandal' as presented by Fox and co. And it's only the media getting this one wrong -- and failing to point out that yes, some companies fail, but all the other administration's clean energy investments are on track, and that the renewable power industry is still growing faster than almost any other sector -- that is allowing c) to be true. This will only become a scandal that plagues Obama if the media is complicit in turning it into one.