The February 23 CBS Evening News segment on hydraulic fracturing gas drilling, better known as fracking, revealed how journalists can cover a highly controversial subject by removing the controversy.
The report started off with references to high gasoline prices; the implication, then, is that domestic gas drilling will help solve that problem. As anchor Scott Pelley kicked things off:
President after president has called for energy independence for America, but somehow it never seems to happen. But Anna Werner talked to an oil man today who is predicting that it's coming, and in just a few years.
That oil man is Oklahoma's Melvin Moran, the source driving the whole piece by touting his success in the gas business. The only reference to enormous controversy over fracking is this aside:
Fracking is controversial, and some question its impact on the environment. Moran believes if done responsibly, it's safe.
So "some" question it–we won't hear from them–but the guy making money from drilling doesn't!
The only other source in the piece is Eric Potter of the University of Texas's Bureau of Economic Geology. Potter worked in the industry for years. He points out that fracking is attractive when the price of oil is high.
And the piece closes on this rather implausible note:
WERNER: But Moran, who used to head a major petroleum association here, is confident. He even predicts this boom could eliminate the United States' need for foreign oil in just 10 years. Ten years is not very far away.
MORAN: No, 10 years isn't. Just 5 years ago we were importing 60 percent of our oil. Today, we are importing only 42 percent.
WERNER: So you didn't expect to see that.
MORAN: I did not expect to see that ever.
Writing in Extra! (2/12/12), Miranda Spencer noted that much of the recent TV coverage of fracking has been fairly positive, despite its contamination of ground water and major contribution to global warming. Her piece also noted that the gas industry has a heavy presence as a commercial advertiser on the TV networks.
With coverage like this, the industry can't be much happier; it would be difficult for an industry ad to be much more pro-fracking than CBS's news report.