US media in propaganda war with global anti-fracking activism

Derek Monroe
Derek Monroe is a writer/reporter and consultant based in Illinois, USA. He has reported on international and US foreign policy issues from Latin America, Poland, Japan, Iraq, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and India. His work appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, Alternet, Truthout and Ohmynews, and has been published in over 20 countries.
US media in propaganda war with global anti-fracking activism
As 2014 comes to a close the American mainstream media has represented the most aggressive attack on global environmental movements that defend peoples’ right to live in healthy and clean environment worldwide.

The current attacks against anti-fracking everywhere seem to be locked in step with the growing pressure by the Obama administration on many countries to join trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP Americas-Asia) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP US-EU), and the anti-environmental rhetoric has been revved up to almost hysterical proportions. This year has seen such "revelations" as: the Ecuador vs. Chevron saga of international litigation that paints the lawyers representing a population hurt by environmental and economic devastation as swindlers and extortionists. Many allegations presented in this year’s book by Paul Barrett ‘Law of the Jungle’ were verifiably true, however the narrative concentrated only on one side of the legal fight while Chevron's own violations of the law and ever changing games of judicial jurisdictions were given a pass resulting in what became a de-facto PR job for thecompany.

What has become interesting is the role of the mainstream US media that until now appeared to be journalistically neutral on the issue of big oil and big gas vs. the environmental movements. Notably the sea change has played out by a mainstay of the US news eco-system, National Public Radio (NPR). Not only has it started to take sides by quoting very skewered and unverified rumors in regards of the progress of the case in US courts, but it also created a new media reporting narrative that trumps everything done so far in the mainstream even by the standards of corporate owned media.

NPR through its affiliated organization Chicago Public Media (CPM) put together a compromised team for its program Planet Money. Its original boss Adam Adamson was discovered taking money from special interests with the permission and knowledge of CPM's management and against its ethical guidelines. Meanwhile, supposedly providing "truthful and unbiased" coverage of business and finance. The team is now on a new beat of the oil industry as it tries to expose an American audience to the world of "hurt" that oil producers are now facing as the price of oil hits a 4-year low. The alarmist tone of some of its reports is compounded with the disconnect, as it is opposite to the hardship regular Americans are now facing due to stagnant wage growth, the increasing cost of living and economic uncertainty wrought by ever increasing automation of the workplace resulting in a more unstable and temporary character of employment. However the all-time low has been reached by a New York Times report by Andrew Higginson November 30, 2014:

The article "Russian money suspected behind fracking protests" de-facto accuses Russia's Gazprom and Putin of being behind the anti-fracking efforts in Romania. Higgins' reporting is based on rumors and innuendos and is meant to discredit the recent activist victory in Pungesti, Romania that for now appears to have defeated a well-organized effort to frack by US conglomerate Chevron. The story behind the reporting has a little bit bigger context the author conveniently chooses to ignore.

Reuters / Shannon Stapleton

In December 2013, US State Department Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland gave a speech saying that the US has invested over $5 billion in democracy in neighboring Ukraine. However as the "revolution" without revolutionary change progressed into a civil war, the return on investment (ROI) for shareholders remains to be seen. If the ROI was meant to be a civil war and complete chaos then the US taxpayers would definitely be better off to invest in Madoff's Ponzi scheme. However, if the investor in the venture was the major sponsor of the conference where Secretary Nuland gave her speech next to its logo, Chevron Corp, the outcome is still largely to be determined. Chevron did its investment homework as it saw the profit was worth the risk when signing an agreement with the corrupt Yanukovich regime just a few months before the conference it sponsored. From its vantage point, the increased possibility of a political dividend by cutting off Russia from its biggest market, Europe while developing a fracking industry in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries was a prize just too hard to pass up. It would give them an illusion of energy independence as much as a foreign owned fracking industry can provide while at the same time developing export markets for US multinationals as the first US export terminal comes online in 2015.

At the end of the day nobody asked Ukrainians at Maidan in Kiev if this strategy of big chess on a small board would be worth payment in 4000 plus lives and counting, not to mention the loss of Crimea and the complete destruction of the Ukrainian economy.

The anti-fracking campaign of defamation and personal attacks has a very predictable pattern and scenario. It has been a modus operandi for the PR firms paid by ‘frackers’ and others that go into rural communities about to be offered economic benefits, and malign the opposing activists and people who believe them as dupes. They are often characterized as naive and gullible enough to be played by people from the "Coasts" aka West and East coast urban centers.

Playing on deeply rooted American anti-intellectualism the companies and PR machines tend to paint often well-educated activists that back their arguments with science and evidence of environmental degradation experienced elsewhere as snobs and liberals that want the poor to stay poor.

In the industry's own view, it offers an El Dorado of deliverance to the rural poor while downplaying and often ignoring the effects of environmental damage that in some cases would take virtually thousands of years to reverse if they can ever be. In the new and improved version of this MO, the global war on anti-fracking is now taking a political page that is as personal and vicious as ever. While the fracking goes global promising instant profits to the often forgotten rural communities of Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the allure of money is often too hard to resist. The fracking money has power and on the political side it offers a mirage of energy independence from Russia as a "new golden panacea of everlasting prosperity and national independence.”

However the truth behind these efforts is as opaque as the fracking chemical cocktail that is pumped into the ground. "The accusation of Russian money is the lowest common denominator of attack and it is used all the time against us and others anytime we organize something against fracking," said Pawel Zieminski, founder of the Polish organization ‘Faithful to Sovereign Poland.’ Zieminski was involved along with local residents in stopping Chevron's fracking at its facilities in Zurawlow, eastern Poland. "Of course we don't take money from Russia; it is all DIY while the other side employs the best PR in Poland money can buy. They are even involved in using Polish law to attack local residents who don't want fracking by using the legal equivalent of Eminent Domain to move people from their land against their will."

Opportunistically the argument of Russian money in context of a long and difficult history of Eastern Europe under Soviet domination is often used as a weapon of emotional appeal to discredit the opposite side when the evidence and logic behind the validity of counter arguments is lacking substance, as the case with fracking often happens to be. However, the idea of a foreign money threat to fracking is not only limited to Gazprom and Russia. During my last summer's visit to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on Canada's Atlantic coast I have met activists who told me that the wedge between them and the local population is often attempted early on by the companies that paint them as agents of US-based environmental organizations. Again the money element is referred to as tool of the lowest type which in itself is ironic considering the ability to raise funds by multinationals and often Wall St-backed ‘frackers’ vs. the activists is just not comparable.

Since I found Mr. Higgins piece very interesting in what it said and didn't at the same time, I contacted the New York Times for evidence that would lead Higgins to look for the anti-fracking smoking AK-47 that never was. The reply I received is as follows:

"The article lays out what I know- and don't know. Nothing to add." Well said, indeed.

Derek Monroe for RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.