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Friday, August 1, 2008

Gas prices, coastal drilling, and the search for ‘accountability journalism’ - The Carpetbagger Report

Under the leadership of the Associated Press’ DC bureau chief, Ron Fournier, reporters are now “encouraged to throw away the weasel words and call it like they see it when they think public officials have revealed themselves as phonies or flip-floppers.” The AP now prefers more of an aggressive, plain-spoken style of writing that Fournier often describes as “cutting through the clutter.” Fournier calls the broader trend “accountability journalism” and “liberating…the truth.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at this new AP article, by Mike Glover, to see how “accountability journalism” is coming along.

Barack Obama is once again betting that his eloquence can persuade price-weary consumers — read that as voters — to take the long view and not jump at a short-term fix when it comes to soaring energy prices.

It worked in his presidential primary contest against New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton when she proposed a “gas tax holiday” for the summer, a pitch he opposed despite its popularity with many voters. But that was in April before gasoline shot past $4 a gallon.

Virtually all polls now show dealing with energy prices high atop the agenda of voters.

At issue for Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, is opening up offshore drilling to boost production, a move McCain and others GOP lawmakers say would increase supply and help control soaring gasoline prices. Opponents, including Obama and many other Democrats, say new offshore oil would be years away from reaching consumers and even then would make little difference in prices and the ongoing U.S. need for foreign oil.

I kept waiting for the truth to be “liberated,” but the “accountability” must have been left on the cutting room floor.

The forced neutrality of this article is a classic example of something we see every day — Republicans say “X”; Democrats say “Y.” There’s an objective truth the reporter could share with the public, but because reality has a well-known liberal bias, the article decides not to “cut through the clutter.”

The premise of the article isn’t necessarily a bad one — Barack Obama opposes coastal drilling, despite polls showing increased support for the pointless gimmick. Obama is sticking to his guns, when it would be pretty easy to do what John McCain did: shamelessly and cynically flip-flop when the political winds shifted.

“Please be in favor of offshore production,” Steve Hilton, a retired federal government worker in Lebanon, Mo., implored Obama during a tour of a diner there Wednesday.

“I’m in favor of solving problems,” Obama responded. “What I don’t want to do is say something because it sounds good politically.”

Obama doesn’t pander, preferring to treat voters like grown-ups. That, in and of itself, is a good idea for an AP piece.

But the article is afraid of its own shadow. Obama is “betting that his eloquence can persuade price-weary consumers.” Actually, “eloquence” has nothing to do with it — Obama is betting that voters see through a transparent scam, and realize the simple, demonstrable fact that drilling protecting coast lines won’t actually lower gas prices. It’s not about rhetoric; it’s about reality.

The AP piece should help the reader understand what’s actually going on. It does the opposite — McCain and Republicans says coastal drilling would “help control soaring gasoline prices”; Obama and Democrats say offshore oil wouldn’t reach consumers for years and “would make little difference in prices and the ongoing U.S. need for foreign oil.”

Who’s right? We know who’s right; the AP knows who’s right. Why not “cut through the clutter” and offer the public a little “accountability journalism”?

Indeed, the piece makes this out to be an entirely partisan issue. It’s not. Bush’s own Energy Department — not exactly comprised of Sierra Club and MoveOn.org members — has said unequivocally that coastal drilling would not cut gas prices in the short term, and wouldn’t produce gas at the pump for nearly a decade. McCain’s chief policy advisor has suggested the same thing, and in a moment of accidental honesty, McCain personally conceded that his proposal is about giving consumers a “psychological” boost, instead of an actual boost.

But instead of “liberating the truth,” the AP suggests the Republicans’ claim is completely legitimate. It’s not.

Why are so many struggling Americans confused about this policy? Because we have outlets like the AP running articles like this one.

Gas prices, coastal drilling, and the search for ‘accountability journalism’ - The Carpetbagger Report

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