Appalachian Basin

Connecting the Dots on NYT and Park Foundation

By our count, The New York Times has produced nine separate stories since last February under its continuing “Drilling Down” series — all intended to cast a jaundiced eye on natural gas, especially in the Northeast where so much of the Times’ readership resides. As part of that series, the Times has quoted dozens of sources of varying levels of expertise and credibility to manufacture a broader thesis that’s antithetical to development — along the way, conjuring up specters of air and water ruined, mortgages denied, and “Ponzi schemes” coming at us from every angle, all while doing its level-best to outright ignore the obvious and increasingly significant benefits that resource development is making possible for communities that would otherwise in this economy be on the ropes.

Well, it’d be easy to write it all off as the Times just being the Times – but is there more to it?  Well, yes, there is.  Our research indicates that The New York Times, and reporter Ian Urbina in particular, is borrowing many of its sources and much of its research from a $315-million organization whose explicit goal is to stop natural gas development anywhere it’s being considered.  It’s called the Park Foundation, an Ithaca-based foundation that has effectively created “an army” of anti-shale activists, according to its executive director.  Interestingly, Park hasn’t yet been mentioned in any of the Times’ stories on natural gas. After the jump, we go ahead and try to connect some of those dots ourselves.  

We have written about the Park Foundation many times on this pages with articles herehere and here, for example.  The recent release of their 990 tax return for 2010, however, provides new insights into the sausage-making process that produces some of the most scurrilous NYT reporting on natural gas. As it turns out, source after source for the NYT series turns out to be Park Foundation funded.  Let’s take a closer look.

Some NYT Sources Directly Funded by Park

An October 19, 2011 piece in the series entitled “Rush to Drill for Natural Gas Creates Conflicts With Mortgages” included this statement:  “Another (lender) will make home loans only to people who expressly  agree not to sign a gas lease as long as they hold the mortgage.”  The source for this statement is a lender called the Alternatives Federal Credit Union, which, along with the Park Foundation, is headquartered in Ithaca, N.Y.  It also turns out the Park Foundation has a significant interest in the Alternatives Federal Credit Union.  The former’s 990 return for 2010 indicates it had, at that time, a $200,000 program related investment in this credit union.

That same article also quotes a report ordered by Carol Chock, a Tompkins County Legislator regarding supposed “various conflicts between leases and mortgages over such things as minimum distances between gas wells and homes and the construction of wastewater ponds.”  What is not mentioned is that Carol Chock “served as Associate Director of Foundation Relations at Cornell University for 23 years” according to the County website and Cornell received $135,0oo in 2010 to fund anti-gas studies of economic impacts and greenhouse gases as well as several other grants over the years.

Still another source for the article was an individual named Marie McRae, described by Urbina as a horse farmer, who he doesn’t tell us also serves as spokesperson for the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC), the force behind the Town of Dryden’s recent ban on natural gas development.  This town, together with the Town of Ithaca, received $105,000 of funding from the Park Foundation for a “sustainability planner.”

Finally, the article quotes a Shaun Goho of the Harvard Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.  Shaun worked for three years with Earthjustice, where he litigated environmental issues.  Urbina merely says Goho “was alarmed by various potential conflicts between leases and mortgages” and offers nary a word regarding his work as a litigator for an organization that received $325,000 from the Park Foundation from 2006 through 2011 to, among other things, support “its efforts to protect freshwater in the Northeast.”  This means no less than four of the Urbina sources for his leases and mortgages story had strong connections to the Park Foundation.

NYT Relies on Park Foundation-Funded Environmental Working Group for Research

Another “Drilling Down” article titled “A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More” relied extensively on a report by the Environmental Working Group, which Urbina describes as follows:

… a research and advocacy organization, studied the Parsons case extensively over the past year, interviewing local residents and former state regulators as well as reviewing state and federal documents …“The evidence is pretty clear that the E.P.A. got it right about this being a clear case of drinking water contamination from fracking,” said Dusty Horwitt, a lawyer from the Environmental Working Group who investigated the Parsons case.

Energy In Depth exposed the hollowness of the story here and noted something else: that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is funded by the Park Foundation.  According to Park’s website, it gave the EWG $100,000 last year.  It gave the same amount in both 2009 and 2010 and $125,000 in 2008.  The Park Foundation has, in fact, given EWG $1,010,000 since 2004 according to 990 returns on file at the Foundation Center.

NYT “Hangs” with Questionable Friends of Park

Urbina’s first piece in the series was “Regulation Lax as Gas Wells Taints Water Hits Rivers.”  This is the one natural gas opponents thought would change everything, until folks such as John Hanger exposed the sloppy research involved.  Among the sources used in this instance was Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca, New York, based environmental audit business that spends a lot of time attacking natural gas.  Urbina quotes Hang as saying that “hydrofracking impacts associated with health problems as well as widespread air and water contamination have been reported in at least a dozen states.”

Whether Hang receives any money these days from Park is unclear — but earlier this year, he did attend a gala dinner organized by Common Cause at which the Park Foundation’s Adalaide Gomer was feted.  Common Cause is also funded by the Park Foundation, of course.  The Common Cause Educational Fund has received $500,000 from Park since 2001, most recently for “research and media outreach in New York and Pennsylvania focused on the gas industry’s campaign finance and lobbying expenditures and activities.”  Is it any wonder they gave her an award?   Interestingly, the Master of Ceremonies when Gomer received her award was Dylan Ratigan, the fellow who did the “Firewater” series on MSNBC.  Hang also generated a coalition letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo demanding withdrawal of proposed New York State rules for natural gas development and the first signer, after himself, was Adalaide Gomer.  He has been working this gig a long time, having been one of Ralph Nader’s hit men on water issues as long ago as 1988.

This same piece includes a reference to a report entitled “Radioactivity in the Marcellus Shale,” authored by Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, a well-known shale opponent who is also a primary source for a Park Foundation-funded “Community Impact Assessment” on high-volume hydraulic fracturing ($50,000 granted in 2010).  This report perpetuates several myths promulgated by Resnikoff which the New York Times was happy to repeat uncritically.

Park Foundation Goes WOW over Gasland

Still another article in the series is entitled “Pressure Limits Efforts to Police Drilling for Gas” and includes a statement by an individual named Weston Wilson, a reputed EPA whistleblower who says a study by that agency “ended up being the basis for this industry getting yet another exemption from federal law when it should have resulted in greater regulation of this industry.”  This is the same Weston Wilson who joined with Tony Ingraffea to draft “Affirming Gasland,” an embarrassingly weak defense of that now infamous flick.   Guess who funds “a grassroots social engagement campaign around Gasland, the award-winning documentary film about gas drilling in the United States,” giving $75,000 in both 2010 and 2011 to International WOW Company, Josh Fox’s production company?  If you said the Park Foundation, you’re correct yet again.  Weston is obviously invested in Gasland as a volunteer supporter, not to mention his appearance in the film, and Park’s fingerprints are all over it.

The Rogers Connection

A June 2011 piece in the series focused on the business of natural gas and ran under the title “Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush.”  This was a particularly atrocious article that quoted interns as sources and seriously damaged Urbina’s credibility.  What especially caught our attention was the name Deborah Rogers, who was advanced by Urbina as a Federal Reserve Bank skeptic of natural gas.  He didn’t mention her role as part of Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project or the fact she was a featured speaker at Earthworks’ “2010 Peoples Oil and Gas Summit.”  The Project and/or Earthworks have received $240,000 from the Park Foundation since 2009.

The same article noted an unnamed intern whose identity was later revealed through the efforts of the Times‘ ombudsman, Arthur Brisbane (as noted above).  According to emails later coughed up by the Times (emails Urbina attempted to hide initially, until Senate staffers released them to the public), the intern apparently relied on the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for much of his information.  The reader, by now, knows where this going.  Yes, the Park Foundation funds the NRDC (as if the Rockefeller and Kennedy family members who have dominated this organization for years couldn’t fund it themselves).  It has given the NRDC $1,484,000 since 2001.  You might think we’re talking real money here, but bear in mind the Park Foundation ended 2010 with $315,477,212, so it’s just pocket change.  There’s no need to worry.

The Park Foundation’s Wheel of Fabrication

Other special interest organizations funded by the Park Foundation show up in still other New York Times articles that were part of the “Drilling Down” series.  An innocuous sounding group called the Project on Government Oversight shows up as a source in the “Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas” piece.  Urbina quotes Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, “a group that investigates federal agencies and Congress” as follows: “E.I.A.’s heavy reliance on industry for their analysis fundamentally undermines the agency’s mission to provide independent expertise.”  This organization received $114,000 from the Park Foundation between 2004 and 2011.  Does the Times ring up Adalaide Gomer every time it starts writing an article to see who she’s got for him?  If it doesn’t, it should — it would probably save everyone a hell of a lot of time.

Even Urbina’s latest offering “Hunt for Gas Hits Fragile Soil, and South Africans Fear Risks” includes a statement from a David Hunter of American University, saying, “Especially with energy projects, the U.S. and its funding institutions have a habit of promoting policies that foster a stable climate for foreign investors but that are not in the best interests of local populations.”  Who has funded American University with grants totaling $650,000 between 2008 and 2011?  Well, the Park Foundation, of course.

We could, no doubt, drill further down and learn more, but the reader, by now, sees what the typical reader of the New York Times may not observe – that the Park Foundation is a wheel of fabrication that works like this:

New York Times Wheel of Fabrication

Park Foundation Wheel of Fabrication for Powering the New York Times

The Park Foundation has, over the last decade or so, invested $4,963,000 connected with the sourcing of Ian Urbina’s “Drilling Down” series in the New York Times.    This wheel of fabrication extends also to many other entities.  For example, we saw a couple of weeks ago how Josh Fox created a publicity stunt by trying to film a Congressional hearing already being streamed for public use.  He did it to create a scene for his next movie.  Gasland followup activities such as this are funded by the Park Foundation, as explained above.  And, who then writes a a letter of righteous indignation?  Why the Society of Environmental Journalists, of course, which is also funded by the Park Foundation!  You can read about it here but this is how the Park Foundation wheel of fabrication works.  The wheel keeps turning but more and more of us are noticing.  It’s about time for a tire change on the part of the New York Times.

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