Oily Propaganda on ABC World News

If you watch TV news you’re bound to see a lot of commercials for oil companies. As Miranda Spencer reported in Extra! (2/12), there are far more commercials about energy companies and natural gas than there are actual news reports about controversial industry practices like hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

But then there are the news segments that might as well be commercials. Last night’s ABC World News broadcast (5/10/12) featured a report on the oil boom in the Midwest that looked more like an ad than anything else.

“A rising number of Americans are finding a windfall right where they live,” explained anchor Diane Sawyer. She added that “new drilling techniques are finding oil in your backyard”–residents of a small town in Kansas are suddenly wealthy thanks to this “pot of gold.”

Correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi explained that oil companies were signing expensive leases with local farmers, who believe they could become quite wealthy if the drilling works: $500,000 a month in royalty payments, says one guest–a figure Alfonsi repeats with some astonishment.

Could that possibly be true? Who knows–no one actually receiving this kind of windfall is interviewed in the segment. ABC seems most interested in assuring us that people could become  “millionaires overnight.”

Alfonsi explains that “a new drilling technique that finds oil on lands once thought to be sucked dry.”  That’s all the explanation you get on the television broadcast. The Web version of the story, though, explains a bit more:

From Pennsylvania and North Dakota to Texas, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are quickly turning the U.S. into an oil superpower. By some estimates, 2 trillion barrels of oil are waiting to be drilled–nearly twice the reserves in the Middle East and North Africa.

The newer techniques can produce as much as 10 times more oil than a traditional well. Horizontal drilling works by digging 5,000 feet into the earth, then a mile across in several directions.

Using hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” crews then blast sand, water and chemicals into the rock to draw out even more oil and gas.

Why would ABC neglect to mention fracking by name on the broadcast? Perhaps because plenty of people are aware of the controversies surrounding this practice–the heavy use of dangerous chemicals and the threat to local water supplies, to name just two.

But ABC can’t be bothered with any criticisms at all. The point of the segment was that that this “could transform the Midwest into the new Mideast.”

At the end of the segment, Alfonsi declared that there could be “2 trillion barrels of oil in our backyards.” Anchor Sawyer could hardly contain her excitement: “I hope it’s in your backyard!”

Never mind the hazards of fracking–think for a second about the devastating effect this would have on the global climate, which does not even merit a mention.

ABC isn’t the first network newscast to give a big thumbs up to the “new drilling technologies” that will make us all millionaires. But this was easily one of the most propagandistic news segments I’ve ever seen.


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.