Mar
07
2014

New Keystone Poll Reveals Media Failure

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Of course, it doesn't help when massive protests against Keystone XL are virtually ignored by corporate media. Photo: 350.org

According to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, the public overwhelmingly supports building the Keystone XL pipeline. The margins are pretty surprising–65 percent in favor, 22 percent opposed–but what's most revealing is that people have some stunning misimpressions about the project. And much of the blame, you could argue, lies with the media.

As Post reporters Juliet Eilperin and Scott Clement (3/7/14) note:

The findings also show that the public thinks the massive project…will produce significant economic benefits. Eighty-five percent say the pipeline would create a significant number of jobs, with 62 percent saying they "strongly" believed that to be the case.

The Post points out that this isn't so:

A recent State Department assessment said the project would create 1,950 jobs for a two-year period, after which it would generate 50 permanent jobs. But most people see it as a larger economic boon, the poll shows.

That the public is being misled on a given issue doesn't always mean the media is to blame. But in this case, there are plenty of examples of stories that failed to adequately challenge dubious claims about the number of jobs Keystone would create. Often the debate was boiled down to a PR contest; as one New York Times story (2/2/12) put it: 

For Republicans, the pipeline is a political trifecta. It unites most of their party and divides the Democrats. It is also fairly easy to explain to voters, and it hits on the key concerns of many Americans: jobs, energy independence and fear of economic competition with China, which Republicans have said will be the recipient of the Canadian oil without the Keystone plan.

"Obama might kill a no-brainer job creating bonanza" is especially "easy to explain to voters" when the message is being repeated by oil industry propaganda–and isn't challenged often enough by journalists.

Of course, the media's tendency to treat Keystone XL's climate-wrecking potential as at best a side issue (Extra!, 4/13) doesn't hurt the project's popularity. Not to mention treating massive protests against the pipeline as basically a non-story (FAIR Blog, 3/5/14).

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.