Marcellus Shale

Untruths and Consequences; Unless Your Name Is Josh Fox

Journalism seems to have died in many quarters in recent years as some news outlets have taken to publishing opinion pieces as fact, made up details to fit preconceived narratives and thrown all regard for truth to the wind, regardless of consequences.  The rationalization for this behavior always seems to be along the lines of “I needed to tell the bigger truth as I saw it.”  This is, of course, nothing less than lying by another name.

Nevertheless, we see more and more supposed journalists and writers fitting the facts to their desired story lines.  Some, like James Frey, Mary Mapes and Dan Rather, get caught and pay the price.  More recently, a fellow named Mike Daisy has been caught spinning yarns about Apple Computer’s operations in China.  Learn more here, here and here.  Still others, like wildlife documentary assistant Chris Palmer, rescue their reputations by becoming whistle-blowers.  Others, like Josh Fox, get away with it…for a time.

We have detailed many of Josh Fox’s distortions, errors and untruths over the last year or so on this blog.  What we have observed, in the course of exposing the Fox falsehoods, is the remarkable similarity in patterns his work displays in comparison to some of these other folks whose careers spiraled downward quickly as their disinformation campaigns unraveled.  Fox’s attitude toward the facts is best revealed in his own words.  We noted, for instance, a statement he made to a friendly reporter in regard to his American-trashing movie Memorial Day:

Everything in the film was planned, every scene was either scripted or outlined beforehand – but everything really happened, because it was real, in a sense, we were immersed in that reality.

Hmm…sounds a lot like grokking doesn’t it?  Then, there was that answer he gave to Phelim McAleer when the Irish film maker challenged his Colorado flaming faucet, reported here, and the relevant portions of which were as follows:

Enter real journalist and documentary filmmaker Phelim McAleer. At a Gasland screening in Chicago, McAleer asked Fox if he was aware of reports of spigots spewing flames decades before the Markham in-sink-eration. He cited a 1976 report which attributed the flaming tap water phenomenon to naturally occurring methane build-up in the aquifers.

In a moment of uncomfortable candor, Fox called McAleer’s bet and raised him with, “Well, I don’t care about the report from 1976. There are reports from 1936 that people say they can light their water on fire in New York state. But that’s no bearing on their situation, at all.”

Armed with a 75-year-old study that he hadn’t been aware of, McAleer went all in. “Most people watching your film would think that lighting your water started with fracking. You said yourself people lit their water long before fracking started, isn’t that correct?”

“Yes, but it’s not relevant,” Fox said.

Truthland also had something to say about that, but let’s take a look at how these Fox statements compare to remarks made by some of those other journalistic fablers, fibbers and falsifiers.  Here’s what some of them said:

“I think you could make the argument that this is okay, because the film is going to do a lot of good…Maybe it’s worth it to have told the lie.” – Documentary Assistant Chris Palmer

“Well, I think that’s what critics of the story would say. I know more now than I did then and I think, I think they have not been proved to be false, yet.” Ross pointed out: “Have they proved to be authentic though? Isn’t that really what journalists do?” Mapes insisted: “No, I don’t think that’s the standard.” – Former CBS Producer Mary Mapes

“Look. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work,” Daisey said. “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism. And it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”– Blogger, Writer and Video Storyteller Mike Daisey

And, here is a segment from an interview of Daisey:

Rob Schmitz: Cathy says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.

Mike Daisey: That’s correct.

RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?

MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.

RS: How would you express it?

MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.

“I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require.” – Author James Frey

The similarities in language between these folks and Josh Fox is illuminating to say the least.  They all involve theater masquerading as journalism and, when caught, the perpetrators always resort to the “I needed to tell a story” excuse, illustrating their immersion in an alternative reality they’re determined the rest of us must accept.  The truth is irrelevant for their purposes, only material to be cut from or pasted into the script when convenient.  It reminds me of a forum discussion, in which I was engaged recently, where an anti-natural gas commenter argued the following:

Weak-minded individuals confuse facts with truth.  Facts are merely data points, and data can be used to support just about any argument you care to make.  When people want to distract you from a critical issue, they often attempt to push the debate into factual minutia.  It’s a common rhetorical tactic in today’s American public forum.

Josh Fox Striking a Pose in Gasland

Sadly, this is how so many of our activist friends think.  It’s all about the narrative, the story and the theater for them – a way for them to tell us what they believe, rather than what they know.   The entire debate, for them, is anything but a review of the evidence, the logic or the science.  No, it’s about what they imagine to be true, what they have faith to be true.  Facts that contradict are just distractions to them because they are committed, heart and soul, to one set of beliefs about what they see and don’t care to know anything else.  Their minds have been captured in an ideological perspective that allows no dissent and dismisses all criticisms, all facts to the contrary and all possibilities of any other view.

This is why Gasland resonated with them and so many self-proclaimed journalists who wanted his story to be true.  They loved the idea of this unknown, banjo playing geek filmmaker taking down what they suppose is a large corrupt industry that is polluting the planet with fossil fuels.  What a great theme from their point of view!  It was a adult version of some Harry Potter fantasy movie where dragons are slayed and evil wizards are destroyed.  Checking the facts or questioning Josh Fox’s assertions would only serve to destroy a wonderful story and end the fun.  No one wants to be a killjoy, so he’s gotten away with it for a time as all too pliant reporters have simple bought the act and repeated the untruths without consequence to the charlatan movie producer.  Let’s examine just three of those plainly false assertions and “facts.”  Read Energy In Depth’s debunking for several more.

No. 1 – The $100,000 Offer That Can’t Be Produced

Fox makes a big point of saying he was offered $100,000 by a gas company to lease his acreage and magnanimously turned it down.  He repeats it over and over again and it’s told ad nauseam by reporters and writers, usually as the introduction to the Josh Fox and Gasland story.  It is fundamental to the entire theme of the movie and its counter-cultural hero of sorts.  Yet, it’s a total fabrication.  Josh Fox didn’t own the land, it was less than 20 acres, had no potential for locating a well pad on it and, most importantly, there were no offers of that magnitude made to anyone in the area.

Comparison of frames from Gasland movie (4:06) with the draft Hess lease.
One can readily see, from the language, these are the very same lease document.
Fox used a draft lease from a year later to argue he was offered $100,000 in 2008.

The lease Fox displays in the movie was, as we demonstrated in an earlier post, an early draft of one prepared by the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance.  It was never used or offered to any landowner.  Regardless, the payments provided under that draft didn’t come close to the offer Fox claimed, even under the most implausible assumptions.  His father, the real owner of the parcels in question, would, had he taken such an offer have realized perhaps half what Fox claimed.  Fox has never produced an offer to verify his claim.  He can’t.  He has never had to do so because no one, save Mike Soraghan at Greenwire, has ever asked and he apparently sent him the same fake offer.  No one wants to ask.  It would destroy the narrative and end the performance at the beginning of Act One.

No. 2 – The Milanville “Native” Who Grew Up in New York City

Fox regularly pretends to have grown up in Milanville, Wayne County, Pennsylvania.  This notion  is picked up regularly by his admirers in the press and, as recently as earlier today, the Shale Gas Review blog described him, falsely, as a “native of Milanville.”  A Google search of “‘Josh Fox’ Milanville” returns 15,500 results, in fact, indicating this particular fabrication has also taken hold in the popular imagination.  Here’s what Fox himself said to an Indiewire interviewer in January, 2010, when talking about his movie Gasland:

I was compelled to make “GASLAND” out of necessity. I was asked to lease my family’s land in the Upper Delaware River Basin, the only consistent home I’ve had throughout my life, for Natural Gas Drilling in May of 2008. I looked into it and found out that the Natural Gas industry was leasing thousands of acres all across New York State and PA and proposing the most massive drilling campaign in the east in history.

This is in sharp contrast to what he said less than a year earlier when he talking to Indiewire about his movie Memorial Day:

I’m 36, grew up in New York City. One of my earliest memories is of the 1977 blackout when I was five. My whole neighborhood was destroyed. Every store window smashed and looted, Riverside Park was blaring with boom boxes and with heat. It was a loud place to be. I remember growing up in a city full of guns and drugs and violence and homeless people and yuppies and AIDS. And great art, great music, great films. Scorsese, metal shows, CBGB ska shows and hardcore matinees. Live atmosphere. The rush of electricity on the streets. And danger. So everything I make I try to push all of that energy into it somehow.

Apparently, his home town and early life changes with every movie theme.  It’s part of the act, you see, part of that bigger reality into which he regularly immerses himself, but, of course, one of these statements is a lie.  We have a pretty good idea which one from some research Peter Wynne did.  He found some theater program notes where Fox says he “was born and raised above 96th street and grew up almost entirely in Manhattan.”  Isn’t it interesting that no one asks about this either, not even Indiewire, which reported the two different versions of Fox’s life history?  Perhaps this, too, works against the desired narrative.

No. 3 – The “Fake But Accurate” Cherry Picked Flaming Faucet

Then there’s that whole flaming faucet thing.  The background and circumstances are outlined above, proving Fox knew the flaming faucet he filmed had nothing to hydraulic fracturing before he included it in the movie.  His “not relevant” excuse isn’t cutting it (especially since Truthland) and now he and his friends are resorting to some of that “fake but accurate” reasoning that doomed Dan Rather.  Here’s Shale Gas Review again, talking about this matter:

Did Fox sensationalize, or even misrepresent, the Markham circumstances to serve his purposes? The Colorado agency has a stake in Fox’s portrayal of its regulatory effectiveness, and viewed through Fox’s perspective, the agency’s rebuttal of his work has no bearing on the accuracy of Gasland. That’s because his film is both an expose of the gas industry and the regulatory bodies that oversee it. Both are in collusion and neither is to be trusted, according to Fox. (He cites examples ranging from the Haliburton Loophole – which spells out fracking’s exemption from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, to instances buried in the COGCC rebuttal that documents other drilling-related methane migration cases in Weld County.)

There they go again.  “Viewed through Fox’s perspective” it was apparently fake but accurate and the mere assertion of collusion between industry and regulators now is enough to substantiate this.  No other documentation or facts are required. Anyone can also read the full Colorado report for themselves to learn how badly Fox distorted the facts.  No one denies there are occasionally methane migration issues, but there are two gigantic lies in Gasland about this.  The first lie is that the infamous flaming faucet scene had anything whatsoever to do with natural gas development.  It did not.  The second lie is that hydraulic fracturing causes methane migration.  It does not.  Fracturing is a completely separate process.  Very few journalists, reporters or writers have bothered to make this crucial distinction.  Instead, they have happily played along with the Fox lie, following the smoke, deliberately using fracturing and its various slang derivatives as collective terms for the industry and creating the false notion fracturing is new, all-encompassing and dangerous.  It is none of these things.  It’s only part of the natural gas development process and it has an impeccable safety record.  Yet, the lie goes on, for a while longer …

Fox would like the lie to go on quite a bit longer, of course, and seems a bit nervous about being caught by Phelim McAleer in a fraudulent act.  Here’s what he told a Truthout interviewer a few days ago;

First of all, it’s important to note that there are many families in “Gasland” who can light their water on fire. Lighting their water on fire right after drilling is very common, from Pennsylvania to Canada to Wyoming to Colorado. So, they zoomed in on one case, cherry-picked this one case, in which the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) had said it was biogenic gas. Now, when it occurred at the next-door neighbor’s house, and this happened six or seven months later, the COGCC said, “Wow, this is clearly the gas industry’s fault.” And they validated that. The gas industry doesn’t want you to know that. But in their own reports, like one from Schlumberger, the number one-fracking company in the world, there are diagrams showing that shallow gas can migrate up to the aquifer if you drill through that pocket of biogenic gas. Plus, the gas industry drills for biogenic gas; they drill for huge pockets of it, and they drill for it in Colorado. So, it’s a red herring. It’s one of those bogus scientific statements that does not actually hold up. But it sounds good in the media.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was totally ridiculous. I mean, how could anyone believe this? Water does not usually catch on fire; that is just not what happens. But this is not about the public believing that they are right; it’s just about casting doubt on the reporting and science that exists. Because as long as there is doubt, then the gas industry says, “Well, we don’t have to regulate this.” So the whole biogenic/thermogenic “controversy” is drummed up, made up. So, doing this is a way of obscuring the public understanding of what is really happening out there.

Notice how he accuses the industry of doing precisely what he is doing, the way all demagogues do it.  He cherry-picked the Markham home as a place to film his flaming faucet, knowing full well it had nothing to do with natural gas development or hydraulic fracturing, because it made good theater.  Like some petulant child, he then turns around and says the industry did it, but anyone taking the time to read the Colorado report will quickly realize otherwise.  His suggestion the biogenic/thermogenic issue is just “drummed up” betrays the fact he was caught in a lie and now needs an excuse, any excuse, to get out of it.  Finally, he resorts to the mother of all excuses, the one he and other “fake but accurate” types always go back t0 – facts obscure “the public understanding of what is really happening out there.”

There’s much more, of course.  See our review of The Sky Is Pink, for example.  Also, remember that French interview where he said “There are places so contaminated that it will become difficult for some to find a way to live normally.”  Then, there was a Huffington Post interview recently where he stated the industry is injecting carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals “directly into or adjacent to underground sources of drinking water.”

Also, we can’t help but notice Josh’s actions and claims are getting more bizarre by the day, for instance, this interview where he proclaims himself an “investigator.”  It’s not enough to do theater, I guess, although he keeps telling us it’s all about the latter.  This is a sure sign he is scrambling to maintain his credibility and relevance because, after all, even Truthout‘s interviewer has started asking questions and that entity is funded by the Park Foundation, which also funds Gasland followup activities.  So, we have the Park Foundation funding both sides of the interview and, still, Fox, has to answer.

Yes, the lie travels faster than the truth but the latter travels farther in the end.  There are consequences to untruths and, while Josh Fox has avoided them to date, they appear to be on the horizon, finally.  The fox may escape one day, but he’s likely to caught the next.

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