Last night I watched the first segment of 60 Minutes. It looked like they were going to do a hit job on the clean energy industry. And I was not disappointed. After all that we’ve been through the last couple of months with the show, I am now convinced that someone is in charge who has a real conservative ax to grind. First we had Benghazi. Then we had the NSA whitewash. And now we’re back to what was effectively a rant about Solyndra going out of business and “wasting” a half billion dollars!
The documentary We’re Not Broke (currently available on Netflix) reports that every year, the federal government loses $70 billion from corporations using offshore tax havens. Yet 60 Minutes is concerned that the government spent a couple billion dollars investing in cutting edge technologies that have not paid off? That’s not reporting. That’s propaganda.
Leslie Stahl listed four clean energy companies that had gone out of business. Then she added, “I’m exhausted.” Four companies exhausted her! No wonder her reporting is so bad. If saying 14 syllables exhaust her, then doing any research would be out of the question. (Note: in the transcript, more was written, but she gave up after the four in the actual interview.) The answer to this from Steven Koonin was, “As I told you at the beginning, the energy business is tough!”
Think Progress published a great article with some informative charts, 60 Minutes Hit Job on Clean Energy Ignores the Facts. It responded:
It seems at first that this is a secret 60 Minutes is unaware of, since the show focuses almost entirely on the failures. But CBS explains that “the venture capital model is that for every ten startups, nine go under”—except that CBS appears to see that as a bug, not a feature, failing to understand that the successes more than pay for the failures.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of start-ups go bankrupt, the government’s investments do far better. Even with the half billion given to Solyndra and Abound, the “DOE Loan Guarantee Program has a whopping 97 percent success rate.” Now I’ll admit, if 60 Minutes had presented the story accurately, it would have been a puff piece, “Government Program Really Successful in Clean Energy Funding!” But why not a puff piece? The show was more than willing to present a puff piece to justify NSA spying.
According to Media Matters, one of the people 60 Minutes interviewed for the segment, energy expert Robert Rapier, tweeted after the the show that he gave them a list of successes and told them that solar energy was the future. But that conflicted with the narrative that Leslie Stahl and company wanted to present. So that information didn’t make the cut.
Perhaps the most egregious (but hardly shocking) fact about the story was that global warming was not mentioned once. In fact, about half way through the story, it became clear to me who was really behind it: the fracking industry. Stahl dutifully noted that that natural gas was “relatively clean.” Well, in terms of local pollution it is quite clean. And in terms of global warming, it is a hell of a lot better than other hydrocarbons. So in that regard, I guess it is “relatively clean” in the sense that eating off the floor is “relatively clean” compared to eating out of a dirty toilet.
Also not mentioned were the huge subsidies that traditional energy supplies get. When Vinod Khosla said there was no down side to gas made from trees, Stahl responded in voice-over, “Well there is: first off, his clean green gasoline costs much more than what you pay at the pump.” (BTW: there was no “second off.” That was her only complaint about it as an energy source.) I guess that Stahl and her producers have never heard of externalities: costs that we all pay for that isn’t factored into the price. You know: like global warming and oil spills. And then there are all those tax subsidies that Exxon-Mobile gets by keeping all their profits off shore. And there is much more. The price we pay at the pump is not the price we pay. The real price we pay is much higher. Higher than Khosla’s gas? I don’t know. He might be a charlatan for all I know. But the fact is that even with all its unfair advantages, soon the fossil fuel industry will be beaten by solar.
But Leslie Stahl and 60 Minutes are doing everything they can to push that day off as far as possible.