The Oklahoman

Selective Reporting

Image of Harold Hamm

It’s hypocritical and telling that The Oklahoman isn’t demanding the release of the divorce trial records of billionaire energy tycoon Harold Hamm, the chief executive officer of Oklahoma City’s Continental Resources.

As you will recall, The Oklahoman several months ago launched a full-fledged legal and political attack on Oklahoma City former mayoral candidate and current Ward 2 Councilor Ed Shadid to get him to release his old divorce records. He eventually capitulated after the newspaper hounded him relentlessly in an act of obvious support for Shadid’s opponent Mick Cornett in the mayoral election. The records essentially revealed information about Shadid’s long ago drug use that he had already discussed publicly. The newspaper then sensationalized the information in order to sway the election in Cornett’s favor.

The Reuters news agency—not The Oklahoman—has filed a motion to unseal the Oklahoma County divorce trial records of Hamm, 68, pictured right, and Sue Ann Hamm, 58. The trial recently ended. Oklahoma County Special Judge Howard Haralson earlier sealed most of the trial records, according to media reports, in a supposed effort to protect the business interests of Continental Resources, an energy company with a major stake in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation.

Let’s be clear: Hamm controls a large and important publicly held energy company. The dividing of assets in his divorce could potentially have a deep impact on the Oklahoma economy. He has also served as a top energy advisor for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He has lobbied openly for tax breaks for oil and gas companies on a state and national level. He is every bit as much of a public figure as Shadid.

For the record, I was opposed to the unsealing of Shadid’s divorce records because I sincerely believed they only contained older salacious personal accusations that have since been retracted. I was correct on the content of the records. I believe in open government records and overall government transparency, but The Oklahoman crusade against Shadid was unethical and unfair. The fact the newspaper won’t demand the release of Hamm’s divorce records as well proves this point further.

According to a Reuters spokesperson:

Continental Resources is one of the most important publicly traded companies in the U.S. oil industry.

The public has a right to know how its chief executive officer explains his role in the company's growth over the past two decades and whether, as a result of the Hamms' divorce, there may be a change in the shareholding structure of the company.

Sue Ann Hamm, an attorney, has worked at Continental. She and Hamm married in 1988. Hamm’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion, according to the Reuters’ motion, which makes him one of the richest people on the planet. It’s obvious that the division of assets in the divorce could affect the company and the local and state economy. The divorce, then, has important public implications. So where’s The Oklahoman?

The Oklahoman, it should be noted, is owned by yet another billionaire energy tycoon, Philip Anschutz.

To its credit, FOI Oklahoma, a state journalist group dedicated to the concept of freedom of information, has applauded Reuters’ action. The organization also supported The Oklahoman in its quest to unseal Shadid’s divorce records. A post on the FOI Oklahoma web site proclaims, “Kudos to Reuters for fighting to protect our right to public trials. Shame on Oklahoma’s news media for not doing so.”

Shame on The Oklahoman, in particular, for its latest act of blatant hypocrisy.

Sarcasm Not Science

Image of Picasso work

The Oklahoman editorial page continues to describe the growing environmental movement in this country with self-righteous, smirky sarcasm while ignoring the scientific basis for claims about the threats of climate change and fracking.

This means The Oklahoman puts forth arguments like this about the recent People’s Climate Marches across the country on Sept. 21: “. . . marchers aren’t just useful idiots for the millionaires fighting for a cleaner environment from the comfort of their private jets but simplistic as well . . . ” or “ . . .some of the highest-profile participants in the march — movie stars and politicians — claim we’re destroying the planet but notably refuse to give up their private jets, multiple cars and giant houses.”

Note the fixation with the upper class and private jets. Isn’t The Oklahoman, and I say this with absolutely no sarcasm intended, the mouthpiece for the rich? The quotes I used in the above paragraph came from smaller editorial briefs under the newspaper’s Scissor Tales series. These editorials mock and stereotype. What they don’t do is focus on scientific claims about global warming and the damage done to our planet by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process.

The newspaper’s main counter argument to the 400,000 people who marched in New York, and the thousands more who marched in other cities, including Oklahoma City, seems to be this: People who fly around in private jets shouldn’t be able to speak up against the threat of global warming. That’s nonsensical on two levels. First, the vast majority of people who marched on Sept. 21 don’t fly around in private jets. Second, such reductionist arguments—even if you agree with the accusation of hypocrisy—only try to shift attention away from scientific claims.

The internet and our public libraries abound with credible scientific information about the reality of global warming and the environmental dangers of fracking, which include water contamination and earthquakes. Instead of digging through this information and responding to it, the newspaper’s editorial writers deploy sarcastic ad hominem attacks against people through stereotyping and mocking. This, then, is presented as “argumentation” in the wider culture in Oklahoma. That’s a shame.

One of the latest claims emerging from new studies is that trying to reduce our carbon imprint through a carbon tax and developing cleaner renewable energy sources would actually create more jobs and help the world economy. Don’t expect The Oklahoman to weigh in on this issue, in particular, with anything but sarcasm.

Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, of course, is famous for denying manmade global warming while arguing that a carbon tax or cap-and-trade for certain industries would eliminate millions of jobs. If Republicans take over the Senate, Inhofe, who is expected to win reelection, could become chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and then scientific truth won’t matter at all.

Oklahoma is an energy-producing state, and the oil and gas business is important to the economy. There’s also nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. Even allowing room for those two caveats, The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in the state, doesn’t even begin to deal honestly with the developing science about global warming and fracking. This is not good for the state’s long-term welfare. What happens, for example, when the fracking boom plays out?

Ignorant Fallacies

Image of Picasso work

The Oklahoman published such an asinine editorial about the energy industry Monday that it deserves as much rebuttal as reasonable people can muster.

The editorial, titled “Still plenty of ignorance about the U.S. energy industry,” is a glaring example of a weak argument that completely ignores or distorts competing claims while omitting obvious and crucial facts. It’s the usual fare offered up by The Oklahoman, but this an extreme example.

The editorial’s sophomoric premise, supported by extremely weak evidence, is that people remain ignorant about where fossil fuels, such as natural gas, actually come from and how they are produced and they just don’t understand how important hydraulic facturing drilling or fracking is to energy independence. Consequently, we must endure the editorial’s tortuous logic, such as this:

Attitudes about energy continue to be a concern and, unfortunately, ignorance is still in evidence. We’re far removed from the time when some folks thought gasoline came out of the ground from a well below the filling station — somehow being refined along the way.

But are we really that far from such ignorance? Perhaps not.

Did anyone at anytime actually believe that “gasoline came out of the ground from a well below the filling station . . .”? Who? When? Is that just a given? How many people? Even if this is true the time period in which it occurred is important. Did it occur at the beginning of the automobile age when cars and horse buggies shared the road?

And, come on, even if we grant that general anecdote is really true we aren’t “that far from such ignorance” just because a survey shows some people don’t know the term hydraulic fracturing or that some people are opposed to fracking. The general “ignorance” anecdote—even if it's true on some level—and the survey information don’t equate. It’s a textbook example of a false comparison.

But that’s just the typical silly stuff upon which The Oklahoman constructs its opinion page on a daily basis. It’s the editorial’s omissions that really flaw the argument. The editorial points out that fracking has paved the way for U.S. energy independence and hints how this is good for the geopolitical scene. But it never mentions the environmental impact of fracking.

To be fair, the editorial does conclude, “For some of them [meaning the ignorant people], the only march that matters is a demonstration to stop fracking.” Yet it doesn’t outline why there is a “demonstration to stop fracking.” In essence, then, the editorial implicitly and disingenuously makes the argument that people who care about the environment are ignorant people along the lines of people who once thought “gasoline came out of the ground from a well below the filling station . . .”. It’s ridiculous.

First, many, if not most, people who are concerned the fracking process is contaminating our water supplies and causing earthquakes are fully aware of the continued importance of fossil fuels in our daily lives. That, however, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to develop renewable and cleaner energy, or that energy companies shouldn’t face stringent environmental regulations when they frack. This is without even considering the impact of manmade carbon emissions on global warming.

Here’s the basic truthful story The Oklahoman distorts: The fracking drilling technique has created a boom in natural gas production in this country. Some people throughout the country where fracking occurs have taken note of its detrimental environmental impact and have protested in varying degrees.

A town hall this summer in Edmond about the state’s earthquake emergency, which scientists argue is related to disposal wells used in the fracking process attracted “several hundred people.” These are the people The Oklahoman thinks are ignorant. And I guess they are ignorant if they support the biased, uncaring newspaper, now owned by a Colorado billionaire, Philip Anschutz, who made his money in the energy business.

But I prefer to see these people deemed ignoramuses by The Oklahoman as intelligent, concerned citizens waking up to what’s happening around them when it comes to fracking and its link to our earthquake emergency and, hopefully, realizing the state’s largest newspaper editorial page could care less about their safety or property.

Syndicate content