Politico doesn’t quite get it: The real problem with Solyndra media coverage
Apparently, enough people have been kvetching about the media’s coverage of Solyndra that Politico felt obligated to do a story on the complaints. I appreciate that the paper gave its critics, including me, space to make our case, but reporter Darren Samuelsohn has characterized my views and aims in ways I do not entirely agree with, so I want to clarify a few things.
I, for one, am not “desperately trying to change the narrative away from Solyndra.” The whole point of the critique has been to expose the fact that another group of people, a group unremittingly hostile to Obama and clean energy, are desperately trying to focus the narrative on Solyndra — and they’re succeeding!
This is a Politico perennial. When Republicans tried to manipulate media narratives about the Solyndra bankruptcy, they were dutifully quoted in stories with headlines like, “Republicans Call Solyndra Biggest Deal Ever.” When liberals and environmentalists objected, they got stories like, “Liberals Try to Make Media Stop Calling Solyndra Biggest Deal Ever.” Republican talking points are delivered as first-order news. Liberal talking points are wrapped in meta-news about liberals and their talking points. It makes liberals sound defensive and manipulative, and it’s condescending as sh*t.
Anyway, the point of the criticism has been that the insider press has given Solyndra a level of coverage that wildly exceeds any reasonable assessment of its significance. And it has created an atmosphere of scandal that wildly exceeds any actual, proven wrongdoing or lawbreaking (of which, as I keep pointing out, there is still none). The press has done this in response to a Republican PR push that would seem grossly manipulative if its targets didn’t seem so eager to go along with it.
Samuelsohn also writes that I and my fellow critics are “working to throw the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under the bus with another energy trouble spot,” meaning the Keystone XL pipeline. That is just … no.
First of all, I mentioned the Keystone XL controversy in passing in one of the many posts I’ve written about Solyndra coverage, but my main point has always been that the coverage has been flawed on its own terms, not that the Solyndra collapse is inferior to some other, better scandal.
Second of all, insofar as I and others are concerned about Keystone XL, it has to do with the enormous stakes for the real world, not just for whether the White House or Hillary Clinton win the next few news cycles. This is what’s so frustrating about Politico and the culture of insider political news: They treat everything as though it’s a melodrama unfolding in Washington, D.C., pitting people and alliances against one another in an eternal Machiavellian pissing match.
But there is a real world. Solyndra and Keystone XL are real things in it, not just dueling narratives. And by any conceivable metric — energy, money, pollution, corruption — Keystone XL is a much more significant phenomenon. Solyndra was a bum loan that will be forgotten within a year as the solar industry continues its explosive growth. Keystone XL is a huge, dirty, expensive pipeline that would run down the middle of the country; it’s being pushed through via a rigged process; and its consequences for our energy system and our climate will last for decades. Considering those stakes, why would I or anyone else give a damn about who is “under the bus” in D.C. this week?
A perfect example of this insider mentality popped up today in National Journal (which unfortunately seems to be trying to match Politico hype-for-hype these days). In a story about how the Senate has not had its own flurry of Solyndra hearings to match the (duplicative) flurry of Solyndra hearings in the House, we get a Republican flack complaining about how Senate Dems aren’t taking up the issue:
“We had seven hearings on the [BP] oil spill within two months,” said Robert Dillon, spokesman for Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “That’s the difference of what they’re doing on Solyndra and what they did for Deepwater Horizon.”
Can you imagine the perspective from which this comparison makes sense? The BP oil spill was the country’s biggest environmental disaster ever, with 11 dead rig workers, legitimate charges of criminal negligence, and a whole regional economy disrupted. Solyndra was a relatively small company that got a single government loan and went bankrupt. Yet for Dillon, this is a tit-for-tat, a game. You got your hearings, we should get our hearings.
I’ve spent time in Washington, D.C., so I’m somewhat familiar with the bizarre, distorting bubble effect that comes with staying there too long. But when you’ve come to the point that you’re making facile comparisons between the Deepwater Horizon spill and the Solyndra bankruptcy, when you’re seeing them both through the lens of which party is scoring points on the other, you need to take a f’ing vacation.
And if you’re a reporter who’s taking that comparison seriously, dutifully writing a story on it, you have lost your perspective.
That’s the real complaint about Solyndra coverage and the real complaint about the self-referential Beltway media cycle — not only that it is driven and shaped by conservatives, but that it has completely lost touch with the real world.