When I began this blog, I joked and then later semi-joked that the real owner of the local newspapers is Murray Energy. The near-constant coverage of even the most mundane company matters, the PR releases posing as news stories, and of course, the frequent verbatim musings from corporate president Robert Murray that go unchallenged regularly occupy prominent space on the papers' front pages support the joke. Examining today's "newspapers,"maybe it's time that I take this thought a bit more seriously.
Murray speaks at hearing!
The top-of-the-page News-Register story,"Murray Protesting Latest Stream Regulations," is essentially the same story as the morning version. (An introductory paragraph was added to the afternoon version.) Here's the "news":
As the chairman, president and CEO of Murray Energy Corp., Robert Murray plans to continue battling the government for as long as he can to ensure that his multiple mines - and the thousands of workers they employ - remain viable. He plans to speak during a 5-9 p.m. hearing Thursday at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh, 500 Mansfield Ave., Pittsburgh.
The rest of the article is mostly an explanation of why Murray is fighting the stream regulations. (To be fair, three sentences are devoted to surface mining enforcement Director Joe Pizarchik, who gets to explain the purpose of the rule. However, it's not hard to see that Pizarchik's explanation is there in order for Murray and one of his spokespersons to attack Pizarchik and President Obama in ensuing paragraphs.)
Is this front-page news? Of course not. Robert Murray is planning to speak at a mining hearing. How, under any definition, can this be considered front-page news? Did any other non-Ogden news source cover this? There were none that I could find as of 4:30 PM today. Why then was this covered?
Intelligencer reports that a fossil fuel will cause air pollution!
The story at the top of the Intelligencer's front page was not news but it was not surprising. At the bottom of that page was a local article with the surprising headline "Planned Ethane Cracker Would Bring Air Pollution." It was surprising because I cannot ever remember either "newspaper" ever connecting a fossil fuel with air pollution in its headline. Here's the opening paragraph:
Although a $5.7 billion ethane cracker may bring thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent careers to Belmont County, such a plant would also yield carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, xylene and benzene, environmental regulators believe.
At first I was stunned when I read that paragraph and then I recalled something I had noted back on July 20 when a News-Register article had actually connected health problems to fracking:
My hunch is that the editors have come to a point where even they realize that simply attacking their usual scapegoats (Obama and his EPA) for what has gone wrong with the coal industry are too limiting -- cheap natural gas is obviously playing a major role in coal's demise. I doubt that this revelation will lessen their anti-Obama rhetoric, but I think we are going to see increased demonization of the fracking industry. While they've supported all the fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) in the past, I think things may be changing in the Ogden Empire. We shall see.
Maybe today's front-page story detailing some of the harms of the proposed ethane cracker plant is just the Intelligencer doing the job it's supposed to do. That would be great but I've read the "newspaper" for far too long to accept that possibility. They've passed on numerous opportunities to educate the community on environmental issues choosing to either remain silent or to cite some study from a fossil fuel-funded think tank that there's nothing to worry about. Their allegiance has always been to the owners and companies of the fossil fuel industry with coal being first. And now that coal is being threatened by natural gas, it may be time to choose sides.
Update - September 11
Now that the hearing is completed, it becomes news. Here are three actual headlines that describe yesterday's hearing in Pittsburgh. See if you can spot which headline belongs to this morning's Intelligencer:
Both sides sound off at hearing on new federal stream protection rule
Foes, advocates testify about Obama's proposed changes to Stream Protection Rule
Murray: EPA Threatens Mines
The first headline is from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the second is from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the third is the Intelligencer's.
Both the Trib and PG suggest at least 60 different people spoke at the hearing and the PG characterized those viewpoints as "widely divergent"-- something you would not assume if you read the local "newspaper" which devoted almost 50% of the article to Robert Murray's point-of-view. (Compare that to Murray's 14% in the Trib-Review and 5% in the PG.) The Intelligencer did mention "the San Francisco-based Sierra Club" and also included a quote from Washington, Pennsylvania's Center for Coalfield Justice. On the other hand, the Trib, and especially the PG, devoted considerable space to the different points-of-view expressed at the hearing.