NYT and GOP’s Keystone Talking Points

New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer (2/2/12) accurately reports how Republicans want to frame the disputed over the Keystone XL pipeline. But she does almost nothing to challenge that framing.

Under the headline, “For GOP, Pipeline Is Central to Agenda,” Steinhauer explains:

Republicans are framing Keystone as an urgent jobs and energy project at a time of high unemployment and creeping gasoline prices, and trying to portray Mr. Obama as giving in to hard-left environmentalists in an election year at the expense of addressing both.

Instead of challenging that narrative, the Times bolstered it, alluding to what Republican presidential candidates are saying about Keystone and quoting from Keystone-supporting Democrats.

“This week, Democrats moved to blunt the Keystone attacks,” the Times went on–which merely set up more quotes from potentially Keystone-friendly Democrats like Senator Harry Reid, who wants the project to keep the oil in the U.S.

The Times then went back to Republican PR:

For Republicans, the pipeline is a political trifecta. It unites most of their party and divides the Democrats. It is also fairly easy to explain to voters, and it hits on the key concerns of many Americans: jobs, energy independence and fear of economic competition with China, which Republicans have said will be the recipient of the Canadian oil without the Keystone plan.

You can challenge that “trifecta,” but the Times mostly passed on that option. The only hint of skepticism comes late in the article:

The number of jobs that could be created by the Keystone expansion–supporters say 20,000–is disputed. But many companies and labor unions around the country were counting on the expansion and had already made materials or hired workers to gear up.

The numbers are disputed. How so?

As we’ve talked about before, this is arguably the key issue here. An outside estimate from Cornell says 2,500-4,000 jobs. The State Department says 5 or 6 thousand.

It’s not difficult to cite these numbers, or to ask Keystone proponents to explain where they’re getting their much higher estimates (hint: from the company). This is especially important in a piece about how this issue will be an important part of the Republican presidential campaign strategy.

The Times notes near the end:

A wild card is whether workers invested in the project will serve as an echo chamber for the Republicans’ criticism.

Today the New York Times certainly served that function.

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.