USA Today: Keystone Job Cops

With New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane continuing to puzzle over whether (or how) the Paper of Record should factcheck politicians, one might wonder whether other newspapers worry about the same thing.

Take USA Today (please!). Yesterday the paper reported on the very contentious matter of the Keystone XL pipeline and jobs–a favorite issue for Republicans. The paper (1/24/12) told readers:

Obama hasn’t been willing to ignore politics, says Bruce Josten, an executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He cites several instances–from the failure to reach a deficit-reduction deal with Republicans last year to the rejection Tuesday of a jobs-producing oil pipeline–as examples of Obama’s refusal to compromise.

Calling something “jobs-producing” suggests that this would be a major component of the policy in question.

Today the paper gets a little more specific in its report (1/25/12) on the State of the Union response from Republican Indiana governor Mitch Daniels:

He derided what he called “the extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands.”

That was a reference to Obama’s decision against allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to be built from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

No, it’s a reference to a myth Republicans and the oil industry are spreading about the jobs that would result from constructing the Keystone pipeline.

Last week USA Today counted 20,000 such jobs in a headline. I suppose the fact that some politicians like to claim that the pipeline would create hundreds of thousands of jobs makes the 20,000 number seem like a safe middle ground.

But that number is nonetheless dubious. Curtis Brainard has a pretty thorough rundown at CJR.org (1/24/12), explaining that the 20,000 figure comes from one estimate provided by TransCanada. Outside evaluations of the likely job numbers look different; the State Department’s estimate is 5,000-6,000, and as Brainard explains:

In September, researchers at Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute used the information in the EIS to come up with an estimate that was even more modest. Factoring in the various durations of employment, it calculated that “on-site construction and inspection creates only 5,060-9,250 person-years of employment (1 person-year = 1 person working full time for 1 year). This is equivalent to 2,500-4,650 jobs per year over two years.”

The Republican Party wants the Keystone story to be about jobs, jobs and jobs. This is much easier to do when media outlets will print whatever they say without questioning it.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.