*UPDATE III* Fox, ABC, and Truth in “Journalism”
UPDATE (see bottom of page)
During yesterday’s House Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on EPA’s draft Pavillion report, things got off to a circus-like start when New York filmmaker and Gasland producer Josh Fox deliberately violated committee rules to get himself arrested. The stunt worked, and news of the hearing largely focused on Fox’s arrest. The hearing itself actually should have made significant headlines, especially when the EPA backpedaled from its own accusation in the draft report about hydraulic fracturing causing water contamination.
But there’s another story involving Mr. Fox and the Gasland crew that suggests his PR stunt may have involved something deeper and more disturbing.
As the hearing officially began, ranking member Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) stated that ABC News had also been denied the opportunity to film the hearing, and the subcommittee should allow for greater access. Miller challenged the standing rule that no outside unaccredited filming was allowed, in part by stating:
“…it’s clear we have space in this room to film this hearing. If you claim that rule does not allow them to film, or allows you the discretion to turn them away, I move the rules be suspended so the fella who wanted to film for HBO be allowed to film this hearing and that ABC be allowed to film this hearing and all God’s children be allowed to film this hearing until the room is too full for us to conduct our business.”
The fact that even ABC had been turned away showed an unwillingness to allow public access at all, Miller suggested. The congressman’s motion to allow ABC (and Josh Fox) to return and film the hearing required a vote, which requires a quorum, so the hearing was suspended for 45 minutes until enough members could be rounded up to enter the room and vote (the motion was ultimately rejected).
Had ABC not been one of the outlets trying to film, it’s unlikely that such a spectacle would have occurred. Would a sitting member of Congress really hold up a major public hearing to accommodate the demands of a non-credentialed, camcorder-wielding activist? In that sense, ABC provided a convenient cover.
But after the hearing ended, an interesting revelation was made: As it turns out, ABC didn’t send a film crew to the hearing at all. As POLITICO reported, the videographer who had been turned away was actually hired by Gasland producer Trish Adlesic to film the hearing, not by ABC. It looked, at least for the moment, like the situation was nothing more than staffers receiving conflicting (and bad) information.
Or was it more deliberate?
Adlesic, the Gasland producer, and Matthew Sanchez – its editor – both attempted to film the hearing, and both were turned away. All of this demonstrates a broader and more coordinated effort on the part of Josh Fox’s crew — something beyoned what Fox later referred to as an act “done in an impromptu fashion.” The hearing, it should be noted, was broadcast live and in its entirety via live stream on the subcommittee’s webpage.
But how did ABC News play into this?
Last night, after seeing the countless news stories about Fox’s arrest, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee released a statement about Josh Fox and the reason Capitol Hill police removed him from the room. That statement also referenced ABC:
It has been misreported that the Committee turned away an accredited ABC News crew prior to the hearing. While a film crew arrived at the hearing claiming to be with ABC News, the ABC News Washington bureau confirmed to the Committee it was unaware of sending any crew to tape the hearing.
It appears, then, that the videographer in question was not only hired by a Gasland producer, but had also falsely claimed to be representing ABC in order to gain access to the hearing.
Of course, by then, the stories had already been written. Not only had reporters already submitted stories referencing ABC News being kicked out, but activist groups were already creating petitions citing the “unlawful” act of denying “journalists” access to the hearing. As one such group, Water Defense, wrote in a plea sent out only hours after the hearing:
Josh [Fox] was charged with unlawful entry. An ABC News crew was also asked to leave. Since when is it unlawful for filmmakers and news organizations to document a hearing of major public importance?
With his efforts to uncover the truth about fracking and the natural gas industry, Josh Fox helped give our movement a huge boost and educated millions of Americans about this important issue. He and others should be allowed to film all Congressional hearings on fracking in order to better inform the public on this important issue.
All of this raises important questions. Did Josh Fox and his crew tell other activist groups that ABC had been denied entry? Did those organizations know the ABC angle was merely a foil? How many other times has Fox’s crew used false identities and pretenses to gain access to the places they seek?
And above all, if a group of people is willing to be dishonest about something like this, what won’t they be dishonest about?
Gasland 2 is scheduled to be released later this year.
UPDATE (Feb. 2, 4:28 p.m. ET): Josh Fox just appeared on MSNBC’s “News Nation” with Tamron Hall to talk about his arrest yesterday, and his contention that he’s so important now that Republicans in Congress have decided to essentially “blacklist” him from entering the Capitol complex. Fox delivered his usual screed against developing natural gas from shale, but Ms. Hall, the anchor, also recited some misleading talking points about Gasland that Fox himself may as well have written for her.
Here are a few of the biggest errors in the segment:
Tamron Hall (0:22): “But instead of letting him [Fox] in, Capitol Hill police hauled him off in cuffs.”
FACT: Josh Fox was not arrested for merely being in the room. He, like everyone else there, had every right to attend, observe, and report on the proceedings. He was let into the room, but was asked multiple times to take down his camera equipment, which he refused to do. This was not, as Hall suggested, about Fox being able to attend the hearing, but rather his deliberate decision to violate the rules relating to filming a hearing — a hearing that was being broadcast via live-stream on the subcommittee’s webpage.
Hall (0:42): “Did you have the proper credentials?”
Josh Fox (0:44): “Yes.”
FACT: No, he did not. As the Committee’s rules clearly state: “Personnel providing coverage by the television and radio media shall be currently accredited to the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Galleries.” Fox was not. He admitted just seconds after this, however, that “there is proper protocol” and that his crew “went through the proper channels,” but they did not receive credentials because they were attempting to gain them late in the evening before the hearing.
Hall (1:51): “Literally, the drinking water coming from the faucet in people’s homes lights up on fire due the [gas] drilling practice…”
FACT: This is actually one of the biggest falsehoods of the entire film (and Josh Fox knows it). Colorado regulators debunked the claim that the infamous “flaming faucet” was due to gas production. In fact, the state of Colorado determined conclusively that it “was not related to oil and gas activity,” but rather naturally-occurring methane. Fox, predictably, continues to claim the opposite, despite the facts.
Hall (2:02): “It is stunning, saddening, and sickening I believe to watch this [Gasland].”
FACT: We actually agree, but it’s because the movie is full of misinformation, not because the film is an accurate portrayal of what happens when you drill and complete a natural gas well, something industry has done in this country more than 1.2 million separate times.
Fox (2:13): “This was the Republicans holding a hearing with a panel full of gas lobbyists…” Seconds later (2:40) he again accuses the Republicans of “loading up the panel with gas lobbyists” to question the EPA’s findings in its draft report on Pavillion.
FACT: Here is who was actually on the panel: Jim Martin, EPA Region 8 administrator; Tom Doll, State Oil and Gas Supervisor for the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; Kathleen Sgamma, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for the Western Energy Alliance; and Dr. Bernard Goldstein, Professor and Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School of Public Health and the University of Pittsburgh. If that list doesn’t sound like a line-up “full of gas lobbyists” to you, it’s because it is not.
Fox (3:12): “[Y]ou have the journalists trying to report on this situation being hauled away in handcuffs.”
FACT: There was an entire section of the room filled with journalists using their computers, cell phones, and notepads to report on the hearing (I was there, and talked to a number of them). Many filed their stories while seated in the committee room. The hearing was also being broadcast online, so many more were likely reporting on the hearing from the comfort of their own home or office desks.
Fox (3:43): “[T]he campaign for fracking has backfired because what it does is contaminate ground water.”
FACT: No, it does not. As EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has admitted, there is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process contaminates ground water. State regulators from across the country have similarly affirmed its safety record, and even EPA’s Jim Martin (who testified at the hearing yesterday) has stated that, despite EPA’s careless statements in the draft report on Pavillion, “the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively.”
UPDATE II (Feb. 9, 3:07 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this post stated that the hearing was being broadcast on C-SPAN, but we’ve been informed that it was not in fact covered by them. It was streamed live on the subcommittee’s web page, which also has the hearing archived in full. The post has been updated to reflect this.
UPDATE III (Feb. 10, 2:16 p.m. ET): The Society of Environmental Journalists, which was funded in part last year by the anti-shale Park Foundation, has penned a letter to Rep. Andy Harris, Chairman of the Energy & Environment Subcommittee, in which they stand up for their fellow “journalist” Josh Fox. SEJ writes: “Journalists come in all stripes, and documentary filmmakers have a long and storied history of informing the public about important policy matters, especially the sorts of environmental protection issues Mr. Fox covered in his film, ‘Gasland’.” In case you’re wondering, the letter was not sent ironically; they actually think that Gasland is about “informing the public” on “environmental protection issues,” and not a fact-free screed against responsible energy development. But here’s the bigger point, which has been made clear over and over: The hearing was being webcast live online, and is available to watch in its entirety online. Plus, there were at least 11 (real) journalists in the room who were reporting on the hearing. None of them were arrested, because none of them tried to turn an important hearing into a circus by deliberately violating the rules. This wasn’t about public access, which was clearly available.