ELLIOT: Anatomy of a “news” article


Every day leads to a new example of why not to trust the legacy news media. But a Reuters article Tuesday, on President Donald Trump’s executive order reversing some of Barack Obama’s energy regulations, was so beyond the pale that it should not escape comment.Not often do we find an example of so many different types of bias in one 850-word dispatch. And since I have space for only 750 words, we’d better get to it.The first example is the partisan-label bias. When someone a reporter likes does something, it’s treated without a partisan label. When a group the reporter doesn’t like does something, the label suddenly becomes relevant, since the reporter wants the reader to assume it’s politically motivated.Thus near the beginning of the article we find out that Trump’s action “drew swift backlash from a coalition of 23 states and local governments… (that) vowed to fight it in court.” Which party controls those states? No clue.But later in the dispatch, we hear that when Obama put these very regulations in place, the plan “was never implemented in part because of legal challenges brought by Republican-controlled states.”Those opposing Trump represent 23 “states and local governments,” but those opposing Obama are an unknown number of “Republican-controlled states.” Depending on when you count, the number is 26 or 27 states that sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, a scheme the U.S. Supreme Court has put on hold. But because the states that challenged it are at least partially controlled by Republicans, I guess they don’t count.The partisan-label bias happens all the time, to be sure, but it’s unusual to find it so clearly on display.The second example of bias is the misleading-context tactic. Seemingly giving helpful historical context for Trump’s action, the reporters state that “U.S. presidents have aimed to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s…. But the United States still imports about 7.9 million barrels of crude oil a day, almost enough to meet total oil demand in Japan and India combined.”Wow! Japan and India combined? We must have made zero progress toward reducing petroleum imports. But some relevant context would destroy the authors’ attempt to isolate and polarize Trump.For instance, it might be important to know that U.S. oil imports have dropped 22 percent since 2005, or that about half of our imported oil comes from Canada and Mexico.Or that the 7.9-million-barrel statistic itself is likely misleading. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2015 America imported around 9.4 million barrels per day, but also exported about half that amount, for a net import figure of 4.7 million barrels. Since the Reuters stat is undated and not sourced, it’s hard to refute. But for it to be a net figure, net oil imports would have had to jump by 40 percent over 2015. Considering oil imports rose just 7 percent and U.S. crude oil production fell only 5 percent from 2015 to 2016, a 40 percent leap seems suspect.The next example of bias is the missing-context tactic, obviously a sibling to the misleading-context ploy.A good part of the Reuters article deals with the difficulty, at least according to the reporters, that America will face reducing carbon dioxide emissions without Obama’s regulations in place. As a reporter, would it not seem relevant to discuss what the country’s historical and current CO2 emissions are?It seems that they could not bring themselves to even open the door to that discussion. And for good reason — at least if you’re an opponent of fossil fuels. According to the EIA, CO2 emissions from energy-related sources fell 12 percent between 2005 and 2015. And the reason for the drop is the shale revolution — the same reason that oil imports have fallen. Domestic shale oil and gas, now profitably recoverable through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have done wonderful things for the environment, the economy, and America’s leverage in international affairs. The United States is now a net exporter of natural gas for the first time in history.Reporters are fond of criticizing Trump for attacking “fake news.” Trump, it’s true, has a problem with both facts and context. If the media would go heavier on the news and lighten up on the fake in their own reporting, they might have a point. Drew Elliot is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.