Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How the Media Failed on Offshore Drilling


Polls indicate that more than half of Americans now believe that a prohibition on drilling for oil off the nation’s coasts is at least partly responsible for high fuel prices. The fact that this assumption is totally false is a testament to both the persistence of Republican efforts to use collective angst over the burdensome price of gas as a political wedge issue and the media’s failure to adequately inform the public of the truth.

A new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research suggests that rather than being a critical voice in its coverage of the energy debate the media has served as little more than an echo chamber for the McCain camp’s highly exaggerated claims about the benefits of offshore drilling.

Much to the benefit of drilling proponents, the mass media appears to have fallen lockstep into the Republican frame of the drilling issue, choosing to report on the debate itself instead of the rationale behind it. And so in its coverage of the drilling spectacle the press has missed the most vital component of the story – the fact that drilling would do little if anything to improve the energy situation of the United States.

Even the Administration’s own numbers show this to be the case. According the a 2007 assessment by the Energy Information Administration: “The projections in the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf] access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030,” after which…. “any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.”

Miraculously the GOP has somehow managed to make a non-issue – one that will make absolutely no difference in the price of gas -- a decisive factor in the dialog of the 2008 presidential campaign.

It’s a task they could not have pulled off without press complicity.

To be fair, the CEPR study only looked at the broadcast media, but a cursory examination of the print stories on an upcoming congressional vote on drilling show the papers aren’t doing much better.

As for the CEPR study, an analysis of 267 broadcasts between June 16 and August 9 found only one – a single broadcast – mentioned the EIA data.

"There really isn't any excuse for the media to ignore the official data on this issue," said CEPR co-director and co-author of the paper, Mark Weisbrot. "It's like reporting on the economy and ignoring the official data on GDP growth, unemployment, or inflation. No wonder the public is confused."

Yet s a result of this oversight not only has a large portion of the public been “confused,” but the Democrats have been forced respond and join in the illusion, which only lends it more credence.

Recent public opinion polls show 69 percent of respondents favored expanded drilling, and 51 percent said that they believed that "federal laws that prohibit increased drilling for oil offshore or in wilderness areas" were a "major cause of the recent increase in gasoline prices."

I’m not arguing against a dialog on offshore drilling, I’m simply saying that the decision to open the OCS to expanded petroleum exploration should be made based on fact, not fiction.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Death Machine Marches On


The clock is running out for two death row inmates whose cases have drawn a considerable amount of attention in recent weeks.

In Georgia, a state review board will decide this week whether it will follow through with the execution of Troy Davis. Davis was convicted of murder in 1991 for the killing of an off-duty Savannah Police Officer - despite the absence of any physical evidence -- solely on witness testimony. So far, seven of the witnesses who testified against him have recanted with many saying they were pressured by police to give statements implicating Davis. Some now point the finger at one of the remaining witnesses in the case as being the actual killer.

Davis's case is not unique. As I reported in July for In These Times, falsified informant testimony accounts for nearly half of all wrongful convictions in capital cases nationwide. Since 1973, 129 innocent people were released from death row - more than 50 of them sentenced to death based partly or wholly on false informant testimony.

In July 2007 Davis came within hours of execution before receiving a temporary stay of execution. On March 17, 2008, the Georgia Supreme Court decided 4-3 to deny a new trial for Davis. He is now scheduled to die on September 23 unless the review board stays his case.

Georgia is one of only three states that gives exclusive review power to an independent board - in this case the Department of Pardons and Paroles.

Across the country in Texas -- the death capital of the U.S. - a district judge in Collin County yesterday stayed the execution of Charles D. Hood on an appeal challenging jury instructions at his trial. Hood was supposed to die today by lethal injection.

Last week, 22 prominent former judges and prosecutors - including former FBI Director William Sessions - urged Texas Governor Rick Perry to put off the execution following revelations that the judge in the case - Verla Sue Holland -- had been romantically involved with the prosecutor at the time of Hood's trial. Former employees of the Collin County DA's office said the affair was "common knowledge" -- spanning from at least 1987 to 1993 - and was well under way when Hood was tried in 1990.

Now I ask you, can we as a country really continue to justify a system in which officials that engage in such professional misconduct are given the power of life and death?