The Oklahoman

Lost Okie Pruitt Ogled Funked

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I thought I would follow up my post Wednesday on Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s controversial, colluding and quid pro quo relationship with oil and gas companies by commenting on and promoting Patrick Riley’s take on the same issue.

Riley is the founder and main energy source behind the widely popular and excellent local media outlet, The Lost Ogle, which publishes on a wide range of topics with refreshing and rejuvenating satire and wit. Sometimes, it misses the mark or makes me cringe with its blatant, some would say sexist, “hot girl” material or its focus on goofy, stupid local television news “personalities” I could care less about, but The Lost Ogle has taken on a new significance lately with its enduring community presence and the tragic intellectual decline of the Oklahoma Gazette.

(That’s Riley and I with a couple of friends outside the Hilo in the 1950s in the picture on the right.)

Let’s face it: The Lost Ogle IS the real alternative media outlet in the Oklahoma City area and has been for a few years now. It speaks truth to power. It possesses the biting, satirical edge now, not the Gazette. That’s what matters, and it’s vitally important. The Gazette is trying to find its new niche in an uncertain and changing media market, but its new business model limits substance and sustenance for open-minded thinking people here. It has become what The Oklahoman wants it to be: A freebie no one really reads anymore. If that’s what it takes for it to survive financially, then so be it, but it still makes me sad.

I digress. Here’s Riley’s post on the Pruitt affair. Pretty much, Riley’s views on the Pruitt scandal mirror my own. Here’s my post on the controversy. Riley and I didn’t collude on this story. I haven’t talked to Riley in months. We both responded to Pruitt’s unethical actions organically and energetically as The Oklahoman issued its apologia for an immoral attorney general that uses taxpayers’ money to basically serve the interests of oil and gas companies and to sue the federal government whenever it might make a good story for The Oklahoman. The circle of media life here. Nothing real new there. Life on the plains.

Riley and I referenced a New York Times article published last weekend that led with the discovery that Pruitt once sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency under his own name and office that was actually written by an employee of the Devon Energy Corporation, an Oklahoma City-based company. The letter argued the EPA was overestimating the pollution caused by new gas well drilling.

Leave aside the gas well issue. Here’s what matters: Pruitt passed off someone else’s writing as his own. He did so for the benefit of one industry. He has received campaign contributions from that industry and, specifically, from Devon’s political action committee, which I noted in my last post. It’s quid pro quo. The Oklahoman then published an editorial actually DEFENDING Pruitt and even encouraging more plagiarism, favoritism and what I would describe as political bribery.

Riley makes the point in more creative and contemporary relevant language than I can muster these days. Here’s just a taste of his sardonic voice:

The Oklahoman followed their report of the Times story with an editorial on Wednesday that defended Scott Pruitt with the intensity of a pre-2003 Mike Stoops defense. It’s so fair and balanced that it reads like Devon Energy wrote it for Scott Pruitt, who then sent it to The Oklahoman for publication, who then actually published it because that’s what the paper does for their cronies and BFFs.

Like most Oklahoman editorials, it reeks of hypocrisy, contains fallacious arguments and jumps to insane conclusions. . . .

My overall point is that when Riley and I, without any collusion, get animated and sort of rhetorically angry and expend a lot of intellectual energy exposing the latest unethical politician in this place, then people should take note, or alas, I hope they take note. I’m not arguing Okie Funk has the reach or will ever have the hits of The Lost Ogle. What I’m saying is that both Riley and I are heavily invested in this community, and though we have different approaches and backgrounds, we do our best to try to keep things honest. What Pruitt did and is doing is WRONG.

Here’s some honesty: Riley is a former student of mine, who has told me I was only his second-best professor. My former wife, Kelly Dyer Fry, is the top editor of The Oklahoman. We divorced in 1995. She’s the mother of my two grown children, one of whom is Sam Hochenauer, a local musician who often played music at the now-closed VZD’s, still owned I guess by Chad Bleakley, the son of Bill Bleakley, who owns the Gazette. I have written commentaries in the past for the Gazette. I could go on.

The Oklahoma City area is a small world, which sometimes for me is a suffocating small world filled with the anxiety that any day now the local power structure will drop its sledge hammer on me. I think Riley and I are doing our best to speak up and help other Oklahomans to feel free and comfortable to speak up, too. Pruitt probably won’t suffer any political consequences because of his unethical actions and The Oklahoman continues to be the worst big city newspaper in the country, but Riley took the time in a longer, extensive commentary to note all this with acerbic wit and style. I’m proud of him. He IS the reason God made Oklahoma, people. At least I think that today.

Pruitt Actions Deserve More Media Scrutiny

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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.

Too Much Oil? Blame Us Tree Huggers

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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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