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Pruitt Actions Deserve More Media Scrutiny

Image of Scott Pruitt

Despite what The Oklahoman editorial board believes, it’s absolutely morally wrong and unethical for a government official to pass off a letter written by a corporate employee as his own work.

First, it’s blatant plagiarism if the government official doesn’t acknowledge it’s not his own writing and language. Second, it’s a gross abuse of power by the government official to promote the interests of one set of corporations over another set of corporations or over individuals. Third, the fact the government official has consistently received campaign contributions from donors aligned with the corporation who provided him the letter is obvious quid pro quo, or, simply, the corporation in effect, directly or indirectly, paid him for his actions.

Plagiarism, abuse of power, a suspicion of bribery, you won’t find these terms in an editorial today in The Oklahoman, which criticizes The New York Times for its critical coverage of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, pictured right, for his cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry in this state. In effect, The Times coverage leads us almost to believe that Pruitt is actually a surrogate employee of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy while getting paid by taxpayers.

And, apparently, that’s perfectly fine with The Oklahoman editorial board, which includes the newspaper’s top editor, Kelly Dyer Fry, and other top leaders and writers at the newspaper, none of whom have the power like she has to try to reshape and repurpose the newspaper’s op-ed page and allow it to reflect the cultural and political diversity of the state and, in general, the Oklahoma City area.

(Full disclosure: Fry is the mother of my two grown children. We divorced in 1995.)

The Times published a story Saturday under the headline “Energy Firms in Secret Alliance With Attorneys General” that pretty much made a strong case that some states’ top legal officers are colluding with oil and gas companies to fight federal regulations that might impact their bottom line.

The story led with Pruitt, who apparently once sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency that claimed it was “overestimating” the air pollution created by new gas well drilling. Here’s the big catch: Except for a few word changes, the letter was written by a Devon Energy employee, and Pruitt failed to note that fact upfront, according to The Times. Isn’t that plagiarism?

The Oklahoman editorial board followed up with its own heroic journalistic efforts on the issue by offering up a commentary that called the coverage by The Times “. . . a case study in media bias and unthinking analysis.” The editorial doesn’t even specially mention the Devon letter Pruitt sent. It only notes, “The Times makes much of Pruitt’s office recycling material provided by private industry experts.”

This is blatant rhetorical subterfuge and craven distortion. A state Attorney General sends a federal agency a letter under his own name and office and fails to disclose it was mainly written by someone else at a corporation and that simply becomes “recycling material.” No, it’s plagiarism. Why didn’t Pruitt simply forward the Devon letter to the EPA and simply say he agreed with its contentions?

Why Devon? Can any company in the state give a letter to Pruitt promoting their interests and ask him to send it to a federal agency under his own name and office? If he refuses to do so, then is that an act of possible discrimination if not a form of harassment and favoritism? Isn’t that legally actionable from companies that want the same treatment from Pruitt but can’t get it?

The Times notes:

Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.

Just a cursory glance at Pruitt’s campaign records on the Oklahoma Ethics Commission site shows he accepted $5,000 from the Devon Energy Corporation Political Action Committee on April 24, 2014. The contribution is after the Devon letter he sent under his own name, of course, but the quid pro quo couldn’t be clearer.

It’s one thing for a politician to promote the general interests of an industry. It’s quite another to pass off a letter written by an official at one company as your own work and then accept $5,000 from that company’s political action company for your campaign. If that isn’t quid pro quo, what is? If that doesn’t arise to at least some suspicion of bribery, then what does?

And, all this is just fine with The Oklahoman, which not only gives Pruitt a pass on this obvious conflict but also, in essence, encourages more of this type of collusion in the future.

For decades, top officials at The Oklahoman have appeared to define “journalism” as the criticism and belittling of out-of-state reporters who hold our politicians and corporate leaders accountable for unethical actions. It’s simply tragic we must get our news from outside the state.

Pruitt’s actions as described by The Times are unethical. Let’s hope he attracts more attention from news organizations outside the state so Oklahomans can know the truth about him and his cozy relationship with oil and gas companies here.

Send In The Clown

Image of electric car in Amsterdam

Beyond the oil and gas lobby and conservative media outlets, such as The Oklahoman, there hasn’t been a lot of support for the development that Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe is in line to become the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In fact, the rhetorical response mostly resembles a doomsday movie. Who or what will save us now? President Barack Obama’s veto pen? How much damage can Inhofe do?

Now comes news from an article in The New York Times that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Inhofe’s fellow state Republican, has worked closely with Devon Energy here to criticize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approach to regulating air pollution from natural gas wells.

Let’s deal with Inhofe first. Inhofe, of course, believes that global warming is a grand and elaborate hoax developed by leading climate scientists throughout the world and refutes the idea that manmade carbon emissions are taking the planet to the edge of a great crisis. He’s in line to become chair of the EPW Committee because Republicans will control the Senate starting next year, and he’s the committee’s ranking GOP member.

He’s written the absurd treatise, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Threatens Your Future and has shown up at a climate conference in order to harass its attendees and argue that Hollywood elites are behind the hoax. Inhofe has argued the issue on Biblical terms as well, quoting scripture that he contends shows clearly that only God could impact the climate on a large scale.

In short, Inhofe uses conservative babble and the old GOP tropes, but it’s definitely not rooted in science, which contends the earth is getting warmer, and it’s going to wreak havoc on the planet unless it can be reversed or at least slowed down.

Then there's Barbra Streisand. Yes, that Barbra Streisand.

A recent post by David Corn that appeared on Mother Jones and Huffington Post brings up an encounter the writer had with Inhofe at a 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen. When Corn pressed Inhofe on naming some of the Hollywood elites in cahoots with world scientists in this fictional grand worldwide scam, the Senator named none other than Barbra Streisand, the famous singer and actor.

After Corn’s piece was recently published, Streisand issued this statement:

This would be hilarious if it weren't so frightening. I thank Senator Inhofe for singling me out as a voice against the perils of climate change! But I'm just a small part of millions of voices, who are informed and alarmed, including 97% of all climate scientists! God help us! This man is going to head the Committee on the Environment in the United States Senate. It’s like giving a fox the keys to the chicken coop.

This, then, is the rhetorical “climate” surrounding the 80-year-old Inhofe as he prepares his strategy to fight for the interests of the fossil-fuel industry at the cost of the planet. It’s only going to get worse, and Oklahoma’s image, in particular, will suffer in the process.

Inhofe has received more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry in his career, according to OpenSecrets.org. That type of money buys a lot of hot air.

In a somewhat related matter, The Times published a piece last weekend revealing that Attorney General Pruitt sent to the EPA the basic text of a letter written by Devon officials that argued the EPA is overestimating air pollution from natural gas wells.

The letter shows the cozy relationship Pruitt and some other state attorneys general have with the oil and gas industry, according to The Times, but the other issue here is that carbon emissions contribute to global warming. Pruitt and Inhofe obviously side with the oil and gas companies on doing little to nothing to decrease our carbon footprint.

Too Much Oil? Blame Us Tree Huggers

Image of oil gusher

The Oklahoman editorial board’s take on the oil and gas fracking boom gone bust here is as insanely laughable and ridiculous as it gets. It’s cray cray, people.

Here’s the key point in a recent editorial in the newspaper about dropping oil prices and its impact on the state economy: “. . . populists will join the anti-fossil fuel crowd in cheering the pain awaiting oil company employees and their investors.”

See, it’s all about those crazy “populists” excessively worried, as the editorial notes, about those “obscene profits” made by energy companies, which “has never been matched by reality.” The oil company executives, you know those people with courtside seats at The Thunder games, bless their hearts, have nothing to do with it. They match reality. Populists can’t even match their socks on a good day.

It’s as if the writers and editors at The Oklahoman have never experienced or read about or studied the oil boom and bust cycle that has defined this state, well, basically since its inception by the federal government as one of the last states in the nation. I know 1982, the year Penn Square Bank failed, signaling the symbolic end of a major oil boom, may seem like ancient history to a 20-year-old getting ready to take finals next week, but it isn’t to those of us who lived here as adults that year.

Then, as now, “populists” and those people the newspaper refers to as the “anti-fossil fuel crowd” have absolutely nothing to do with the steep drop in oil prices. It’s the oil and gas companies themselves that are completely and entirely to blame, and it’s related directly to greed and immoral, ruthless, awful business practices and non-planning.

Here’s a basic refresher on the oil boom and bust cycle: Oil companies go crazy when prices are up and over drill and over leverage themselves during boom times knowing full well the bust is as inevitable as death and taxes. They take the money and run. That’s the definition of Oklahoma. It has happened before, it’s happening now, and it will happen again. Yet we love us our unethical oil barons. We even name our hockey team after them.

Us hippy tree huggers have absolutely nothing to do with this unbelievably stupid system. The negative aspects of the human condition—greed, the desire for undeserved and corrupt power, lying, fraud, basic immorality—are the culprits. Laugh at us for hugging our trees and singing clichéd campfire songs, but don’t blame us for sin, sloth and gluttony, please, Oklahoman editor Kelly Dyer Fry, who is a member of the newspaper’s extremely prestigious editorial board and, in full disclosure, the mother of my two children.

It’s the OIL COMPANIES that caused the glut through over drilling using hydraulic fracturing or fracking techniques. It’s the OIL COMPANIES that are causing the earthquakes that shake it up for us on a daily basis while polluting our water supplies. It’s the OIL COMPANIES that don’t care one iota for this state, its people, its children and its future. Oil barrel prices have dropped from about $100 a barrel to nearly $60 a barrel in just a few months because of OIL COMPANIES, not sarcastic college English professors, who are NOT dancing around the campfire because many people here may well lose their jobs in the coming months.

The top executives of oil companies pay themselves exorbitant amounts of money during the boom times, but when the boom goes bust who gets hurt the most are the ordinary workers, like oil rig employees and geologists. They lose their jobs. It’s tragic, and not good for an energy state, such as Oklahoma. No, it’s downright terrible and sad. I have known, and I know, and I will know in the future people who lose their jobs because of this style of oil-company immoral greed the newspaper editorial board supports as some type of Biblical mandate handed down by that oil driller himself, the baby Jesus.

Again, the recent editorial has the audacity to actually claim, “. . . the populist view that energy firms make obscene profits has never been matched by reality.” Really? Harold Hamm, chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based oil company Continental Resources, has at one time reportedly been estimated to be worth around $17 billion. THAT IS OBSCENE. There, I said it. Again. THAT IS OBSCENE. Expect me to be tarred and feathered and sent off in one of Hamm’s 14 private jets and deposited like a baked, unplucked turkey on the streets of New York City where them liberals belong.

Get some tissues before you read the rest of this paragraph. Hamm is worth considerably less now that oil prices are plunging because of The Oil Glut. Bless his billionaire’s heart. Poor Harold. (His divorce settlement isn’t going to help him either.) But what’s a few less billion dollars to a non-obscene, money making oil executive? His socks match because his 387 personal servants make sure they match.

So this is what that GOP’s “drill, baby, drill” dogma gets you: An Oklahoma economy threatened by mythical American fossil-fuel independence. Thanks, Sarah Palin. Can I state the obvious? When you drill and drill and drill, you get oil and oil and oil. When you get oil and oil and oil, you get gasoline prices below $2 a gallon, which is extremely wonderful for the nation’s economy, but not so good for an energy state like Oklahoma. People lose jobs here during bust times. It’s tragic. Tax revenues plunge. Oklahoma’s education funding gets cut by the highest level in the nation. Wait, that happened before the bust.

Let’s pause and rephrase. The Oklahoma power structure—the Hamms, the Frys, the Fallins, [insert different names over the years here]—don’t give a damn about education and never will. The oil boom gone bust just gives them another excuse to castigate those stinking liberal tree huggers, see, that just don’t get it. It gives them another excuse to demean overworked teachers for trying to teach children on shoestring budgets.

Of course, Okie Funk called this bust a long time ago, but Kelly Ogle and Amanda Taylor, News 9 anchors, have great hair, and that’s what matters in the media here in Oklahoma, right? That, and the craven members of the state’s largest newspaper’s editorial board, who think logic is a dirty, four-letter word.

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