Journalist Phelim McAleer sets out to discover the truth behind fracking, the controversial method of natural gas extraction. McAleer talks to scientists, industry honchos, and rural Americans affected by fracking, revealing some surprising facts.
Its strongest and most interesting case against Gasland is not so much with refute of its claims as with address of its impact and what this says about modern journalism.
—Christopher Campbell, Movies.com
These examples of “spin” in the documentary narratives, in Gasland, our movie last month, and this one, FrackNation, allow us to compare the differences between a fact-based documentary and actual facts.
Who is an audience to believe about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)? Besides false depictions of contaminated drinking water, the Gasland propaganda film ignores our requirements for energy that cannot be eliminated without propelling the US quickly back into the nineteenth century. Further, according to this article, panders to Fox and other celebrities’ needs for a beautiful backyard.
Libel and Slander of Oil and Gas Companies
Gasland smacks of outrageous corruption, but of course the libel and slander of companies that produce oil and gas is not new. The following quote is worth pondering along that line, along with the rest of this Forbes article (Lynch, 2013):
Does someone become evil when they take a job with an oil company, or when they first have a job interview? Perhaps is it when they enter their office in the morning — parking, security check, become evil.
In wartime, it is common to demonize the opponents, but the tendency in politics is more and more denounced. Why, then, should we tolerate it in policy debates? Conservatives shouldn’t call environmentalists names, nor liberals treat the term ‘oil company employee’ as repugnant. If the language used was referencing racial or religious backgrounds, the speaker would be excoriated, so why should bigotry towards professional or economic activity be tolerated?
Maybe Josh Fox is taking notes from Steven Donziger, who has likely stashed major bucks over the years while engaged in law suits against Chevron that constitute egregious fraud, the largest attempt at extortion in recorded human history (Garvin, 2014).
Columbia Journalism Review writes about the failure of 60 Minutes‘ Scott Pelley to provide a balanced report about Donziger’s lawsuit (Hamilton, 2010).
Then, Joe Berlinger, like Josh Fox, offers up a heavy dose of propaganda in his movie, Crude (2009) (Scott, 2009):
Crude, in other words, investigates the local manifestations cancer, contaminated water, cultural degradation of a global problem. Even as this film presses its muckraking agenda, it does so with a welcome sense of human foible and contradiction. Mr. Fajardo, who worked in the oil fields as a young man, blames Chevron (current owner of Texaco, which opened up his home region to drilling) for many of the ills that have befallen his family and his people. In the course of Crude , he becomes something of a star in the Western news and entertainment media, profiled in Vanity Fair, showered with awards and posing for pictures with Sting after a benefit concert.
Remember during and after the horrible, frightening Deepwater Horizon accident — the BP Gulf oil spill — in 2010? The loss of 11 American rig workers’ lives, the incredible achievement of actually stopping the flow of oil, the environmental damage, the shutdown of offshore oil and gas production that cost America untold tax revenues that might have helped to fund our budget, to help people who need it? Guess who benefited?
Well, filmmakers and lawyers of course. Deepwater Horizon (Berg, 2016) did very well at the box office. Among the losses BP suffered (beyond the loss of revenue from spilling millions of barrels of oil) was the cost related to environment and local businesses. When BP set up a fund to compensate business owners for losses related to the accident, they might have known there would be corruption involved in the payout. This is but one small example (Barrett, 2013):
McLean’s three-attorney firm has 260 clients with claims ranging from $20,000 to $4 million apiece. ‘The craziest thing about the settlement,’ he wrote in a solicitation letter, ‘is that you can be compensated for losses that are UNRELATED to the spill.’
Then came the unrelenting negative media coverage all while BP took responsibility for the cleanup. I just picked one at random as an example of awful bullying from the press, this from CBS News (Korosec, 2010), but it is similar in attitude to all other major news coverage.
Set Up the Nation to Think Oil Companies Are Evil, and Then Go For Their Funds Through Lawsuit
Sound all too familiar? At this point, it is apparently the American way. However, oil companies do a lot positive that somehow people don’t think about when writing for the news (Huff, 2017).
ExxonMobil’s pre-tax net income, from 2012 through 2016, was $218.0 billion. After benefiting from approximately one billion dollars per year of those supposedly unfair income tax deductions, ExxonMobil paid $78.3 billion in income taxes, which amounts to a 35.9% tax bill. . . .
In addition to providing for 65,000 families, 43% of ExxonMobil’s income tax payments, totaling $33.7 billion, went to help people living in the U.S. . . . ExxonMobil provided $18.0 billion dollars toward the healthcare of poor people and illegal immigrants, $11.0 billion toward education and $4.7 billion in welfare payments over the last five years.
And then we move on into more recent news that New York City has sued a number of major oil companies (Mooney & Grandoni, 2018). The beat goes on and the rich get richer — the lawyers and filmmakers (and book authors), that is.
Back to the stories in Gasland and Fox’s backers’ wish to cease oil and gas operations in their area. In the future, as we are able to convert to more environmentally friendly sources of energy, we will take on other unintended consequences, as always occurs. One that can be foreseen is that celebrities will not wish to live near solar panels or windmills or nuclear power plants either. You can mark my words.
- Barrett, P. (2013, Jun 27). How BP got screwed on Gulf oil spill claims. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-06-27/how-bp-got-screwed-on-gulf-oil-spill-claims
- Berg, P. (2016). Deepwater horizon [Motion picture]. USA: Lionsgate.
- Berlinger, J. (2009). Crude [Motion picture]. USA: First Run Features.
- Campbell, C. (2013). ‘FrackNation‘ vs. ‘Gasland‘ – A tale of two propaganda documentaries. Retrieved from https://www.movies.com/movie-news/fracknation-vs-gasland/10877
- Fox, J. (2010). Gasland [Motion picture]. USA: International WOW Company.
- Garvin, G. (2014, Sep 12). When journalism is too good to be true. Miami Herald. Retrieved from https://www.mhttps://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/glenn-garvin/article1985986.html
- Hamilton, M. (2010, Apr 14). How 60 Minutes missed on Chevron. Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved from https://archives.cjr.org/the_audit/how_60_minutes_missed_on_chevr.php
- Huff, C. (2017, Jul 11). Those evil oil companies. Goodfellow. Retrieved from http://www.goodfellowllc.com/free-stock-market-content/evil-oil-companies
- Korosec, K. (2010, Nov 29). Gulf oil spill: The movie — What we can expect from BP’s propaganda film. CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gulf-oil-spill-the-movie-what-we-can-expect-from-bps-propaganda-film/
- Lynch, M. (2013, Dec 17). The evil that (petroleum) men do. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaellynch/2013/12/17/the-evil-that-petroleum-men-do/#5417b9e026b4
- McAleer, P., & McElhinney, A. (2012). FrackNation. Kickstarter. Retrieved from https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1009530098/fracknation
- McAleer, P., McElhinney, A., & Segieda, M. (Directors). (2013). FrackNation [Motion picture]. USA, UK, Poland: Hard Boiled Films.
- Mooney, C., & Grandoni, D. (2018, Jan 10). New York City sues Shell, ExxonMobil and other oil companies over climate change. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/01/10/new-york-city-sues-shell-exxonmobil-and-other-oil-majors-over-climate-change/?utm_term=.4c1e2c765216
- Scott, A. O. (2009, Sep 8). Joe Berlinger’s documentary on oil’s stain in Ecuador’s Amazon. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/movies/09crude.html