One of the weirdest segments I’ve ever seen published on CNN aired this past week. It was focused on a small town (population of 444) and a few people who were going to miss out economically from the Keystone XL Pipeline being canceled. There were several odd things about the video that made me think or even say out loud, “WTF, CNN?”
First of all, everyone acted shocked that the pipeline was being cancelled, as if they didn’t know it was one of the biggest political footballs in the past decade. It should have been surprising to absolutely no one that the pipeline would eventually be cancelled (again). Going even further, some people had built businesses or were counting on millions of dollars of income centered around the project going through, and then were highlighted talking about the loss as if there was no way at all of predicting this would happen and that it was risky to build one’s hopes on one of the most controversial infrastructure projects in modern US history.
The CEO of the West Central Electric Cooperative was asked how he felt when the announcement was made, and said, “Like I got kicked in the stomach.” He was anticipating generation about half a million dollars a month from a project that relied on the Keystone XL going through. That’s right — half a million dollars a month. Based on the idea the Keystone XL wouldn’t be canceled. West Central Electric Cooperative has had 99 new customers … in 30 years. (Side note: the segment narrator indicates that all of the profits would have gone back to the coop members, ~3700 people, and the CEO indicated that on average they’d get about $325/year. That pencils out to $1,202,500 a year, or $100,208 a month, approximately $400,000 a month less than the CEO indicated the project would generate for West Central Electric Cooperative. Do we want to know where that $400,000 a month goes? Probably not.)
Then there was the fact that CNN spent almost no time truly explaining why the project was canceled, why it was obvious the project would be canceled, or how letting the pipeline go through would costs innumerable risks to the climate as well as communities in the case of potential (or likely) oil leaks. It was all basically something like, “for some reason, Biden just killed this project and took away our income.” It is framed as if Biden just killed a bunch of jobs — because environmentalists. Biden said he was going to create jobs, but look what he’s doing! If you can’t sense the snark in those statements, I’ll tell you, it’s there. The false battle between “environmentalists” (not the stability of our climate, society, and human civilization) and money (there’s also money and jobs in clean energy that doesn’t ruin our precious and rare blue marble) is grating. The loss of income for a small coop in North Dakota is not due to some wildflowers being protected in the middle of nowhere, and the money isn’t vaporized by Biden’s evil ballpoint pen.
There was no talk of a greater shift to clean energy and electric vehicles and the fact that many more jobs are being created in this transition than lost, including in rural areas and small towns. Rather than explain that yes, some areas are declining economically but others are getting an economic boost, it was a completely one-sided story making it seem like there were either jobs or the environment, but not both — a false dichotomy that is probably older than Betty White. This is practically journalistic malpractice — instead of providing good, broad context and insight, it is cherry picking a few personal stories to perpetuate a mythical dichotomy that is harmful to both our economy and our environment. It is doing the opposite of what a good news company should do.
And let’s be honest — they found basically 3 individual stories in 2 tiny towns and gave them an enormous megaphone. (The second town, where a husband and wife had invested “their own money” in a wellness studio for pipeline construction workers … who wouldn’t live there long anyway, had a population of 779.) Have you ever seen CNN highlight 3 of the millions of solar, wind, and electric vehicle jobs that have been created from the same transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy? Have you seen them highlight entrepreneurs who saw where the world was headed and formed side businesses to complement the cleantech transition rather than betting that fossil fuels will be burnt haphazardly forever? Have you seen them show a balanced look at the number of jobs created in clean energy and electric vehicle technology versus those lost in oil, coal, and gas? Did the interviewer even ask, “But didn’t you notice that there’s been a full-scale movement for years to block this climate-destroying pipeline? Did you think it was a safe bet to create a business or expect your business’s income to blow up indefinitely with the assumption that this pipeline wouldn’t eventually be canceled (again)?” If there was one individual project in the whole country that was bound to close down if/when Biden won, it was the climate disaster that the Obama–Biden administration canceled a handful of years ago that Biden promised to shut down.
Getting back to the context CNN so magnanimously bungled, the narrator says, “Environmentalists had argued the pipeline and the oil would have added to climate change, and feared damage to water and wildlife where the pipeline went through.” First of all, it’s not environmentalists just claiming something. It’s basic, clear climate science. They could have said, “Science shows that the pipeline and the oil would have done great damage to the climate humans rely on for food, water, and basic livability.” Secondly, the concern regarding oil leaks isn’t just for water and wildlife! It’s also for humans and the economy! But that doesn’t fit the simplistic, ignorant, outdated narrative.
“But, stopping the pipeline has problems of its own.” Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Seriously, CNN, you’re going to put these on the same level and play this ridiculous game of false balance in 2021? And where that statement leads gets even dumber: “Like, what happens to the land that was already bought? Another concern: what do you do with all this stuff? Pipeline assets were spread across hundreds of miles, much of it now … just stranded.” This is not an April Fool’s Day joke.
What happens to the land? It stays where it is. If I asked my 4-year-old that question, she’d probably be confused at how senseless it is.
What about the stranded assets? That’s why you shouldn’t invest in stupid, harmful projects. No one has to guarantee a return on a stupid investment that was clearly going to be canceled.
It’s gets even stupider, but I’m done. I saved the video to write about it last week when it irritated me with its stupidity and counterproductive narrative. I had to watch it again just now to write this piece, and the lack of logic, context, and point is driving me nuts again. Why, CNN, why?
When it comes down to it, why did CNN run a piece like this? Did someone sponsor it or did someone high up the food chain hint that it was a special request that needed to get done for some? Is it bringing anyone together or highlighting any issues that need to be resolved? Is it just stirring up a political food fight over the fact that the world changes? Is it bringing to light anything new and useful that the world wasn’t aware of? Is it putting the clear losses of some people and some businesses in the broader light of technology change and an effort to save humanity from itself? What is the actual point? Is it an effort to make CNN look like a joke?
When CNN does so much other useful stuff, why stoop down to such poor journalistic malpractice?