MSNBC gets a lot of things right. In fact, it may be the best mainstream media outlet when it comes to focusing on what’s important and when it comes to keeping nonsensical political spin off its shows. However, it seems the outlet doesn’t know energy.
I complained a month ago about poor coverage of the Trump solar tariffs, but I was still shocked by a recent statement from an objective, numbers-focused analyst on the MSNBC team.
Steve Rattner is known for being a numbers guy, for bringing illuminating and authoritative charts in to provide a bigger picture to a story, and for keeping an objective and even-headed mindset, but he totally dropped the ball on the solar tariffs in a recent segment. The chat was mostly about Trump’s proposed steel tariffs, which at the end prompted Steve to bring up the tariffs Trump put on solar panels and washing machines earlier in the year. He noted, “there are arguments why [the solar and washing machine tariffs were] not a bad thing. It’s part of pushing back and so on. It sounds like it was done fairly thoughtfully in the White House. This was different.”
Yikes! No, the solar tariffs were not thoughtful and in some respects were even more ridiculous than the steel tariffs. You may recall that tariffs were put on some imported solar panels during the Obama administration in response to Chinese dumping and subsidies. These more recent ones implemented by Trump had nothing to do with that. The rationale — essentially never used by administrations before to implement any such tariffs — was just that Chinese solar panels were cheap and thus hurt two US manufacturers (one of which was a subsidiary of a Chinese solar manufacturer and the other of which was a subsidiary of a German solar manufacturer). The vast majority of the US solar industry was opposed to the solar tariffs. Since the bulk of the 250,000+ solar jobs in the United States are not in the manufacturing industry, the expected downstream effects were seen as much worse than any temporary benefit for two minor manufacturers who apparently just can’t compete. Tens of thousands of US solar jobs are projected to be lost. The tariffs make no sense for the United States.
I assume Rattner was conflating the solar cell and solar panel cases of years ago with this one, and I assume he just didn’t bother to get all the facts and didn’t realize the US solar industry is bigger than the US steel industry (150,000 or so jobs) or US coal industry (50,000 or so jobs). I assume, like usual, this wing of the mainstream media didn’t learn that clean energy is a massive industry now and deserves at least as much attention as the still noteworthy steel industry.
Ignoring or discounting the hottest economic growth markets in the country is short sighted, but it’s what the mainstream media does again and again. To repeat, I’m a big fan of MSNBC and much of its coverage. However, it needs help understanding the energy world and reporting on it in a way that includes context, facts, and long-term vision. This is just another reminder of why outlets like MSNBC need to hire or routinely bring in real energy experts, not broader analysts who don’t follow the fast-changing energy world, especially when energy matters are on the table.
The comments that spurred this article are at the very end of the segment below.