Friday, September 25, 2009

Shilling for Shale, Fronting for Fracking, What a Gas...Naturally

(graphic was featured on NPR's website)

As commenters have noted, Tom Gjelten and Peter Overby brought NPR ME listeners a three part commercial from their sponsor ANGA. It's worthwhile to take a look at the comments beneath each story's web link (Part I, Part II, and Part III) and click on "Most Recommended." Let's just say shale ain't the only thing getting drilled... For example, part II of the series had Gjelten claiming that most of the drilling and fracking is done by "mom and pop" operations. An NPR listener wrote
"Another poorly researched piece. The main companies working the Marcellus Shale in NE Pennsylvania include: Chesapeake (7,600 employees), Hess (13,500 employees), and of course Schlumberger (87,000 employees). Fortuna Energy is a subsidiary of Talisman (2,388 employees). These companies have global reach and oil as well as natural gas interests. Cabot (notorious for environmental violations and fracturing fluid chemical spills around Dimock, PA) has 560 employees - again, no 'mom and pop' operation."
On the infomercial sidebars that accompany the NPR stories you can see the following:

The perversely named American Clean Skies Foundation is a front organization for the same mom and pop Chesapeake Energy corporation mentioned by the listener [if in doubt, click on the "About US" tab on the "Clean Skies" page, and look at the chairman, Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy Corporation!] Oh, and that friendly sounding, Ground Water Council, is the organization of STATE ground water regulators, which are the very organizations that gas drillers want to deal with to get around federal environmental rules!

This gas series began without any critical reservations whatsoever, touting the shale gas reserves as a nearly limitless supply of clean energy, where the only concern is the economic feasibility of fracking it out of the shale rock. Given the firestorm of criticism evidenced in the comments section under each of the stories, NPR obviously tried to run some hasty last minute, "balancing" operations. They expanded the "series" page to include a May 27th piece more critical of fracking and tacked on a web article also. The final report of the series offers this sad little gassy seep of concern:
"Well, remember, Steve, from one our earlier pieces, to get gas out of shale rock you've got to fracture the rock. They do this by blasting water into it. The concern is that that might cause some contamination of drinking water supplies. There are chemicals that are used in that water."
Would have been nice to include some of those concerned stakeholders in this series, like real journalists do. Apparently that would have ruined the three-day, 20-plus minutes of drill baby drill hype that NPR wanted to frack us with.


Anonymous said...

You know, at a real news organization, people are fired for transgressions far less than what these NPR "journalists" have done here.

Overby, Inskeep and Gjelten are not only disgusting, but I'd bet they have actually violated even NPR's pathetic "ethical standards (to say nothing of the clause that is part of every Congressional funding bill that forbids use of public funds for propaganda)

But of course, no one at NPR will ever be fired or even reprimanded -- or even give this the attention it deserves -- because the CEO is a PR hack (a "Schiller", if you will) and the ombudsman is in charge of (mis)leading the flock (a Shepard)

Juan "Toss" Ensalada said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juan "Toss" Ensalada said...

I can't think of a clearer or easier example of connect the dots here. What NPR will undoubtedly do is hide behind their reports as objective and deny any quid pro quo.

What I'd like to know, but will never find out, is how this "story" idea went from NPR's development department or marketing and public relations department to the news desk?

Then, once it got to the news desk, how did it end up with the national security desk? Weeks ago, we noticed Gjelten doing reporting about the financial meltdown, as if it was a national security issue. And now he turns up on the energy beat? As if DC isn't awash in enough money to buyout Congress (2 wars, health care, etc.) that Overby is slumming for natural gas?

It seems to me that NPR brought out two old news whores to give this story gravitas. Or who knows, maybe big natural gas (little, if you believe the reports) specifically REQUESTED these two propagandists to shill for the industry BECAUSE they thought their combined experience could carrying the one-sides fairy tales?

Perhaps also, NPR didn't give the story to the primates over at Planet Monkey BECAUSE there are REAL economic reasons WHY natgas supplies are up, prices are down and NPR's "mom-and-pops" are worried about stock options.

Not that the staff at Planet Monkey could really understand, research, analyze, or report a story with real economic issues and implications, that is...

Anonymous said...

What NPR will undoubtedly do is hide behind their reports as objective and deny any quid pro quo."

And as far as their website goes, they will claim it is merely a "coincidence" that the ads (that's really what they are, ads) for natural gas appear on the sidebar when you click on the NPR Frick 'n Frack piece.

NPR always has a "cover" and about 99% of the time, the ombuttsman is the one who provides it.

Porter Melmoth said...

I can imagine a little speculative boardroom scene, inspired by 'Network' (1976!), where CEO Ned Beatty lectures anchorman Peter Finch:

CEO: 'If we don't get an advocate in the middlebrow media world, NationalisticGas is COOKED.'

YesMan: 'Is NPR middlebrow enough?'

CEO: 'Perfect! Get me Viv Shill on the line. Viv? Now listen: here are my terms. We need good PR for our new scheme for our future...blah..blah..blah..

Viv: I have just the guy for you. I'll pull him off 'national security'. He's always wanted to be a hero, so I'm sure he'll string along...

And so forth. Pick your variations, but we can imagine the agenda behind all of this, can't we?

Porter Melmoth said...

PS: I brand NPR as 'middlebrow' because of their well-known condescension and related approaches.

Porter Melmoth said...

I actually heard Adumb Davidson give a credible (sounding) report. NPR cynic that I am, this is probably because his editor actually edited the report properly, and/or Davidson actually did the right thing and let the interviewees do most of the talking, and refrained from inflicting his 'personality' on us. The subject was those who had experience hard luck with mortgages. A.D. had only one 'mirth moment', and that was because he was happy that one of the people got a better deal on saving their mortgage.

However, since the NPR School insists on inflicting personalities on us, this example is a bizarre fluke.

Bill the Cat said...

Someone, perhaps on this board, referred to Adumb Davidson as "alpha primate in the Planet Monkey banana tree," I think.

Anyway, I was just wondering...since Adumb is Black, is that racist? The reason I ask is that NPR probably THINKS it is, even though they cluelessly wonder (out load, on air) about freepers' rendition of the president as a witch doctor.

My guess is that NPR cannot see the that humor of the "Planet Mon(k)ey" reference and the tie-in of "alpha primate" and "banana tree" have NOTHING to do with race, and EVERYTHING to do with the comparison of the NPR-economic blog as akin to a chimp washing the cat in the sink.

Juan "Toss" Ensalada said...


Give a listen to the pro-natgas panel
on The Diane Rehm Show too.

Here it is in Windows Media.

Here it is in Real Audio.

Here it is as a podcast.

Here is a series of stories from ProPublica called, "Buried Secrets: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat." Abrahm Lustgarten appeared on Democracy Now! more than three weeks ago to report about this series of stories along with a documentary on the subject.

gopurrent said...

If you go to, and search for "underwriter" you'll find an article from 1994 titled, Simpler rules sought for PBS underwriters. As Cokie might say, "that's interesting reading." That was a critical year, what with Gingrich's Contract on America and the article pretty much admits out how PBS (and NPR) took progressive steps to sell out to corporations and banks and the wealthy 1% who own 90% of everything.

Juan "Toss" Ensalada said...

I sent the NPR natgas information to:

1. MediaMatters.Org
2. TalkingPointsMemo.Com
3. FAIR.Org
4. ProPublica.Org

I have already received some correspondence back from ProPublica.Org regarding this, and I will post what I can, when I can later.


am said...

Glenn Greenwald takes a swipe at Steve Inskeep and NPR for the disheartening contrast between his aggressive "tough guy" interview (filled with references to torture) with the Iranian president this morning and the pusillanimously deferential treatment the network gives to U.S. officials in stories about torture, a term it obligingly omits from its vocabulary. The portentously grave manner Inskeep adopted during this interview was rather risible; one could almost hear him thinking, "I show them what a taskmaster I can be with a _dictator_.!"

Anonymous said...

"alpha primate in the Planet Monkey banana tree,"

Actually, that moniker belongs to David Kestenbaum, the resident nookyalur physicist.

Adumb would be one of the submissive males-- except when he shows his aggression toward females like Elizabeth Warren, of course.

but that's a displacement behavior.

It all makes perfect sense.

big!pink!fuzzy!meaculpa! said...

Bill the Cat, it was I who was the perpetrator of the 'primate' remark towards the Plantain Monkey Top Banana. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with race, color or creed - hell, I thought 'e was just another NoPR-requisite neutered caucasian with an occasional propensity for huffiness for flair's sake.

I do hope this explanation finds you agreeably.

Porter Melmoth said...

I just heard Robert Q. Smith's assessment of Oliver Stone's Hugo Chavez film. You think WE'RE snotty at this blog? Smith couldn't help but mock and snipe and complain. 'Stone didn't even ask Chavez one challenging question!' he moans.

Listen Smith, Stone's not doing public broadcasting. He's doing an independent film. That means he can make a film of Chavez' cufflink collection if he wants to. At NPR, the home of consistently challenging questions, I guess the serious reporters there just don't remember stuff like that.

The bottom line is that NPR is an institution of contempt for Chavez, and it made them squirm to see Chavez having a good time at the film's premiere. Stone and Chavez were entirely unruffled.

Sorry Smith, you're probably seething because Inskreep scored the Ahmadinejad interview this morning, and you got stuck with having to cover a social occasion.

Porter Melmoth said...

Speaking of Steven's Ahmadinejad interview, it was a classic example of NPR attempting to take a moral highground that it has only occupied because it is expedient for them to do so (e.g. they've hardly been trail blazers in such areas).

Expecting to one-up the conceited prez of Columbia Univ, who attempted to put the Iranian leader in his place last time, Inskreep cooly adopted a meddlesome tack, expecting his interviewee to come clean or something.

Now I'm not a big Ahmadinejad fan (I've said before that he is a too-perfect villain for Neocon needs; I've even speculated that he's a CIA plant to make Iran eligible for 'regime change'!), but I'd like to see an impartial journalist from Iran investigating as to why and how the 2000 presidential election turned out the way it did.

We get to meddle in other countries' affairs because we can, but what about the reverse? Well, empires are pretty hard to crack into, even in their decline.

Porter Melmoth said...

Speaking of meddling, Bill, bunny! & Anon, thought I'd weigh in on the Adumb assessment. Cost: 2.4 cents.

I too was utterly unaware of Davidson's ethnicity, nor do I care. To my mind, we don't get into racial epithets or even innuendos of them here. When NPR-niks are on the radio, they don't have to get dressed up or wear makeup. Neither do they have to make their ethnicity obvious (Obama was hilarious on Letterman the other night.)

Speaking for myself, I can get a tad playful, but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who is at NPR News is subject to cream pies, buffoonery, jabs, ouches, and even criticism here, hopefully in a reasonably civilized manner.

Besides, we've got Mytwords, in whom we trust, to make the call if we're over the top.

PS: cool avatar picture, Bill!

Bill the Cat said...


Perhaps I wasn't entirely clear...

Even if someone had referred to Adumb as "alpha primate" the reference clearly is not racial BECAUSE it refers to Planet Mon(k)ey -- a play on the name of the show.

That NPR MIGHT believe it is a racial dig at there (ahem) "journalist" is in stark contrast to their seemingly clueless question about whether or not a president as witch doctor is racist, which it clearly is.

My earlier post was an attempt to show that with regard to some issues, NPR is terribly sensitive, while with some others they seem (or are) entirely clueless.

In the words Robert Siegel, doing his regular Thursday corrections on ATC, "You may have me say "x", but in fact "y".


Bill the Cat

Bill the Cat said...

In the words Robert Siegel, doing his regular Thursday corrections on ATC, "You may have heard me say "x", but in fact "y".

go said...


Get any responsers @ das grilling fer the sharing?


Juan "Toss" Ensalada said...

Dear Listener;

Thank you for contacting the NPR Ombudsman. Our office invites you to sign up to have the weekly Ombudsman column sent to you. Enter your email address where prompted on the right-hand side of our webpage at

As for your email, we appreciate your thoughts regarding NPR's coverage of natural gas.

Making decisions about covering the events that impact our everyday lives is never easy. We make every attempt to ensure that the segments and stories you hear on NPR programming, and the attention devoted to them, are valid and appropriate.

We welcome praise, as well as criticism, and your thoughts will be taken into consideration. The Ombudsman is seriously looking into the gas/ shaling issue right now.


Office of the Ombudsman