Anti-fracking sentiment is growing in California. In November, voters in Mendocino and San Benito Counties voted to ban the energy-extraction process, which involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into rock to release the natural gas trapped inside. In all likelihood, Golden State voters will be asked to consider a statewide fracking ban in November 2016. Not only do California’s environmentalists want to make a statement to the world; they also believe an anti-fracking ballot initiative would help boost turnout among voters sympathetic to liberal causes and politicians. This sentiment—along with sharp criticism by activists of Governor Jerry Brown’s relatively moderate views on hydraulic fracturing in California—led U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in January to call proponents of local fracking bans “know-nothings.”
In an interview with Northern California PBS affiliate KQED, Jewell said the proposed bans on fracking were misguided. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for industry to figure out what the rules are if different counties have different rules,” she said. “There are a lot of fears out there in the general public and that manifests itself with local laws or regional laws. . . . There is a lot of misinformation about fracking. I think that localized efforts or statewide efforts in many cases don’t understand the science behind it and I think there needs to be more science.”
A full-throated defense of fracking’s safety from an Obama administration cabinet official would seem newsworthy. But a Nexis search reveals that the only mention of Jewell’s pro-fracking remarks in a California newspaper came in my own editorial for U-T San Diego. This was no fluke. With the exception of a handful of stories in the San Francisco Chronicle, the state’s largest papers almost never report the administration’s view that—with prudent regulation—fracking can be safe.
At a May 2013 press conference, Jewell discussed new regulations governing fracking on public lands. She delivered her by-now standard endorsement of the practice and criticized misinformation about the energy-extraction technique peddled by environmentalists. “I know there are those who say fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed, full stop,” she said. “That ignores the reality that it has been done for decades and has the potential for developing significant domestic resources and strengthening our economy.”
That quotation appeared in the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times omitted Jewell’s quote and chose instead to turn to a spokesman for the Western Energy Alliance, a Denver-based trade association, for the pro-fracking view. If a pro-fracking comment appears in a California paper, you can be sure it will be from one of the Golden State media’s favorite bogeyman—either an energy trade association representative or an oil company executive.
Environmental-beat reporters at the L.A. Times, the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury-News, and other large state newspapers have reported on the Obama administration’s other energy policies, including its opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But even as the president campaigned for reelection in 2012 with boasts about all the natural gas and oil produced by fracking during his first term, these reporters have somehow decided his views aren’t worth sharing with their readers.
In 1980, Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss published a thriller about a Soviet plot to subvert the United States called The Spike. It was inspired by de Borchgrave’s years as a journalist and his belief that stories that didn’t reflect news organizations’ liberal political views often got “spiked” (pulled from publication)—even really juicy and provocative stories.
It’s almost impossible to look at California newspapers’ coverage of fracking and not see it as “The Green Spike.” The narrative that the greenest president in history thinks fracking is safe doesn’t fit with the narrative that fracking is dangerous. So in newsrooms across the Golden State, the real views of this president and his administration are considered irrelevant—even as his interior secretary throws down the gauntlet with California’s greens.