The Oklahoman

A Settled View Never To Be Determined By Science

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The Oklahoman published a really goofy editorial this week about earthquakes and wastewater disposal wells used in the fracking process that bears noting and refuting.

For anyone else that follows the newspaper’s editorial page as closely as I do—and I only do it in an attempt to undermine the right-wing propaganda—you will immediately recognize the stylistics of this particular commentary, titled “Looking for fault as earthquake swarm continues in Oklahoma.”

It’s one of those tongue-in-cheek editorials, complete with what the writer must see as clever wordplay and with attempts at humor on an issue that some people are taking very serious. So we get “NIMBY, meet NUMBY,” not in my backyard but, instead, not UNDER my backyard. Get it? Disposal wells would be UNDER a backyard, right? A real knee slapper. How about this one then? The earthquakes are just maybe because “Atlas is just shrugging more than usual these days.” Hilarious.

But beyond the grating attempt at humor, the editorial does a grave disservice to Oklahomans for not supplying crucial details about studies linking the recent earthquake swarm here to injection wells used in the fracking process. Instead, it relies on generalizations and presumes the issue has produced a mob mentality that—it’s the NUMBYS’ fault—is off target.

The editorial’s thesis is the same argument made by most people in the oil and gas industry. The argument goes like this: There is no definitive proof linking injection wells to the earthquakes, and thus everyone should shut up here and let Atlas do what he’s going to do.

But can there ever be the definitive proof along the lines sought by The Oklahoman and the oil and gas industry, whatever that might be? I would argue that no scientific evidence, no matter how compelling and revealing, would force the oil and gas industry and their sycophants in the media to accept liability for the earthquakes.

In the fracking process, wastewater is injected into disposal or injection wells underground by high pressure. Scientists believe this can cause instability within rock formations that trigger earthquakes along fault lines.

Here’s what we know: (1) Scientists have linked specific injection wells in Oklahoma to earthquakes. (2) Earthquakes are increasing in other states, which are experiencing an increase in hydraulic fracturing or fracking. (3) The government has linked earthquakes to injection wells for decades. I’ve written about that here.

The editorial does mention scientists, but only to make a point that when it come to earthquakes and disposal wells it’s not “settled science.” (Sound familiar? That’s a term conservatives use about global warming as well.) It doesn’t mention the most recent study that actually names four disposal wells in the Oklahoma City area that might be causing problems. It doesn’t mention how the issue transcends Oklahoma and has been a problem in other places. It doesn’t frame the issue in a historical perspective.

It also violates accepted rules of journalism by failing to note the newspaper is owned by Philip Anschutz, who made his millions as an oilman in Wyoming.

The editorial also makes the argument that fracking and disposal wells have been around for a long time without earthquake problems—a regurgitation of an oil and gas industry’s claim—but fails to note the recent boom in hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma and elsewhere. It’s a false comparison to argue that what’s going on with oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma in 2014 is the same as it was in 1980.

Sometimes, one wonders how the newspaper stays in business. Many of the earthquakes, for example, have struck in or near Edmond, a prized demographic area for many of the newspaper’s advertisers. A recent town hall in Edmond on the issue attracted hundreds of people, many angry at the lack of action on the state level. To dismiss this group of people with patronizing quips seems like a form of business suicide.

Snark Attack

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Sometimes it seems just too obvious why education funding has dropped in Oklahoma more than any other state in the nation since 2008.

In a Saturday editorial brief under its Scissor Tales column, The Oklahoman weighs in with a bit of snarky criticism about last week’s education rally at the state Capitol that drew around 25,000 people. So this is what passes for reasoned logic around this place:

More than a soupcon of self-righteousness was in evidence at Monday’s state Capitol rally for school spending increases. Participants felt justified in taking a day off (and in many cases forcing their students to take a day off) to provide a teachable moment for legislators, to use a trite expression. Kids don’t have the right to skip school to provide a teachable moment as they define it. Teachers apparently do. With so much crowing about how many people the rally drew, we wonder what the crowd count would have been had the rally been staged during spring break. The Legislature was in session most of that week. How about a Saturday rally that wouldn’t affect the teachable moments that take place in classrooms on most Mondays? Nah. That would depress the participation rate. Like the rest of us, teachers need their weekends free.

Let’s get this straight. The Oklahoman is pretty much arguing that the fact some “self-righteous” and “crowing” teachers took a day off to ask for more education funding is the important issue here, not the fact that school funding has dropped by more than 22 percent since the economic downturn in 2008. Note, as well, according to the newspaper, that those pesky teachers “need their weekends free,” even though I bet many of them were grading or preparing for classes Saturday and Sunday.

In a previous editorial, The Oklahoman opposed a legislative plan that would divert money from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to boost school funding, but it offered no solutions to the problem of inadequate funding.

The newspaper, for years, has taken the position that since education funding receives the majority of the state budget it follows that somehow the state is doing the best it can. The newspaper has also argued that school administrators are never satisfied about the education money they receive from the state even though the premise has never and will never be tested.

Add to this the newspaper’s invalid argument that money has no bearing on student performance and its incessant argument that schools should be given more testing and assessment mandates even as their funding decreases. Throw in some basic snarky criticism of teachers.

These illogical arguments are at the core of the current assault on public education here and elsewhere in the country.

Newspaper Launches Full-Scale Attack On Shadid

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It should be obvious to anyone now that The Oklahoman has launched a full-scale political attack against Ward 2 Councilor and mayoral candidate Ed Shadid, using both its news columns and editorial page.

First, the newspaper demanded through its attorney and editor that a judge unseal Shadid’s divorce records, a divorced filed in 2004 that has now been resolved amicably. Both Shadid and his ex-wife agreed to seal the records to protect their minor children from contentious claims typically made in divorce cases.

The divorce records, once unsealed, show that Shadid, a local surgeon, once smoked pot and did harder drugs a couple of times before he entered a rehabilitation center. Shadid had openly discussed these issues for years so that information was extremely public anyway. The Oklahoman, of course, played this information up as if they had somehow scooped other media outlets and tried to cast Shadid in the most negative light possible.

The newspaper intentionally did this with its leadership fully aware of the argument that such sensational coverage of someone’s prior drug use—remember, it was primarily pot—could have a chilling effect on anyone here in recovery who wants to share their story publicly to help others.

Next, of all things, the newspaper went after Shadid for his city election voting record. The point was that Shadid has not voted in city elections as much as his election opponent Mayor Mick Cornett. Again, Shadid has long been open about how he became politicized in the last several years and decided to become part of the political solution in his community. There’s really no story here, except for what has become a common journey for many people from political apathy to political activism. Yet The Oklahoman sensationalized the information by delivering it in accusatory and biased terms. The headline on NewsOK.com read: “Shadid voted in few Oklahoma City elections in contrast to mayor.” Does it get clearer than that in terms of which candidate the newspaper supports for mayor?

Then, the newspaper published a distorted editorial criticizing Shadid for leading a grassroots group that has launched petition drives to place questions on the ballot related to stopping construction of the convention center contained in MAPS 3.

No one would dispute that the newspaper is entitled to its opinion on the issue, but the editorial contained huge omissions related to the issue. Shadid and others believe that voters were misled about the need for a hotel attached to the convention center. That hotel could cost taxpapers an extra $200 to $300 million. Would voters have approved MAPS 3 knowing this was the case? The newspaper ignored this issue in its editorial.

The newspaper also ignored the issue that some experts believe expensive, large convention centers with adjacent hotels are now not financially viable, especially in markets such as Oklahoma City. This was not mentioned in the editorial either The editorial simply argued in the most basic terms: “Vonvention center good; Shadid bad.”

Fittingly, when the Oklahoma City Council recently voted to NOT ask the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce to release a previous study related to the convention center that could shed light on these issues, the newspaper remained silent on its editorial page. Shadid, of course, voted to ask for the study’s release, arguing for transparency.

The Oklahoman has a long history of applying a double standard to politicians and distorting the news to further corporate interests and the careers of ultra-conservative leaders.

Here’s something to note in this regard. Continental Resources CEO and billionaire Harold Hamm and his wife, Sue, are going through a divorce. Hamm is politically involved in the state and elsewhere, serving as an energy advisor for Mitt Romney’s failed campaign and leading Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s re-election effort. Both Romney and Pruitt, of course, are Republicans.

Just a cursory look through a summary of Hamm’s divorce files shows the term “sealed document” more than 100 times.

The newspaper hasn’t brought up this issue even though Hamm, an obvious public figure, has stepped into state and national politics, obviously trying to influence voters to elect conservative candidates he supports. Don’t the voters have a right to know the issues in Hamm’s divorce just like in Shadid’s divorce? With all the money probably at stake in Hamm’s divorce, wouldn’t it at least be an interesting news story? Where’s that “journalistic” outrage now?

The newspaper’s attacks on Shadid about his divorce records were cloaked in sanctimonious language about “freedom of information.” Don’t believe it for a second. The Oklahoman has launched a deliberate attack on Shadid because he challenges the status quo. These types of sustained political attacks by the newspaper have failed in the past. Let’s hope that happens again.

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