The Washington Post Corrects, Disingenuously

On March 20, the Washington Post published an article by Steven Mufson and Julie Eilperin, the import of which was that Koch Industries is the driving force behind the Keystone Pipeline. The article, based entirely on a six-month-old report by a far-left group called the International Forum on Globalization that I demolished last October, was headlined, “The biggest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers.” The piece’s point was summarized succinctly in a quote by a spokesman for IFG: “IFG’s intention is to demonstrate the Koch-Keystone connection.”

I critiqued the Post story here, pointing out that Koch Industries has neither supported nor opposed the pipeline nor lobbied for it or against it; that Keystone would actually damage Koch’s economic interests by giving Alberta oil more outlets in the U.S., rather than being funneled toward Koch’s Minnesota refinery; that Koch owns only 3% of the Alberta oil sands leaseholds by area, and is not, in fact the biggest leaseholder; and that none of the existing or planned Athabasca oil development projects involve Koch. Koch Industries, in short, has nothing at all to do with the Keystone Pipeline.

My post caused consternation, to the point where the Post promised Koch Industries a correction, and reporters Mufson and Eilperin felt obliged to respond to me by explaining why they wrote their article in the first place, given that they couldn’t argue with any of the facts I presented. Their explanation was that the article was politically motivated, intended to “stir and inflame public debate in this election year.” I critiqued that explanation here, offering an alternative: the Post published the false and misleading article on Koch and Keystone because the Post is a Democratic Party newspaper and wished to advance a Democratic Party talking point. I also pointed out that the paper’s reporters are part of an incestuous web of D.C. influence that is tightly tied in with the Democratic Party and its donors.

Another shoe dropped a few days later, when Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Henry Waxman wrote a long letter to the President of Koch Industries, posing a series of questions about Koch’s ostensible relationship to the Keystone Pipeline and requesting that Koch produce a long list of documents on the same topic. The letter repeatedly footnoted the March 20 Washington Post article and the IFG report on which it was based.

That raised another series of questions: did Eilperin and Mufson write their article not just to advance a Democratic Party talking point, but in explicit collaboration with Whitehouse, Waxman or other representatives of the Democratic Party? Was the article a put-up job, written for the specific purpose of being used by Whitehouse and Waxman in their attack on Koch? I asked those questions here, in a post titled, “Bombshell In WaPo/Keystone Scandal: Did the Post Coordinate With Congressional Democrats?” In order to get to the bottom of the scandal, I emailed Eilperin, Mufson and others at the Post and asked a series of questions, and requested production of documents, about the reporters’ contacts with Whitehouse, Waxman and others in connection with the March 20 story. Having received no answer, I sent a follow-up email to the Post employees. I also sent a similar series of questions and requests for documents to Waxman and Whitehouse.

So far, the Post, Whitehouse and Waxman have all continued to stonewall. They refuse to say whether they collaborated in producing the false March 20 article. They will neither confirm nor deny that the Post story was a set-up, placed by the Democratic Party in order to facilitate the Whitehouse/Waxman attack.

Which doesn’t mean that Eilperin and Mufson have forgotten the whole thing. Not at all. Because yesterday, they published a follow-up to their March 20 story. Did this article address the fact that Koch has zero interest in the Keystone Pipeline? No. Did it deal with the fact that Koch plays no part in any of the major existing or projected oil sands developments? No. Did it respond in any way to the fact that building the Keystone Pipeline would hurt, rather than help, Koch Industries’ business interests? No. Did it address the fact that Koch has not even taken a public position on Keystone, and has done nothing to push either for or against its construction? No.

Instead, Eilperin and Mufson published a long, navel-gazing discussion of how many acres of leasehold interest various companies have in the Alberta oil sands, the conclusion of which is that the claim they made in their March 20 story was false: Koch Industries is not, in fact, the largest leaseholder. Which is one of the many things I wrote in my original post.

What makes this whole discussion ludicrous is that Koch’s leases amount to no more than 3% of the area of the Alberta oil sands. Dozens or even hundreds of companies have leasehold interests there. Obviously, Koch’s 3% is not driving the Keystone Pipeline. Yet so lame was the Post’s original attempt to link Koch to the pipeline that the reporters dare not even mention any of the more significant points. Instead they avert their eyes from the real issue–Koch Industries has nothing to do with Keystone!–and admit that they were wrong about the least important fact in their entire story.

That led to this grudging correction in today’s Post:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece said Koch Industries was the largest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands. On a net acreage basis the company is the largest American and foreign holder of leases in the region, but it might narrowly trail two Canadian companies overall.

Substitute “does” for “might” and you have a true statement, but one that fails to address what the controversy is all about: the Post’s article was published for the sole purpose of suggesting that Koch is the main force behind the Keystone Pipeline, and that suggestion is 100% false. Far from being the driving force, Koch has no interest in the pipeline at all. An honest correction would admit that the March 20 article never should have been published.

Still unanswered is the question why it was published. Why did the Washington Post print an article on Keystone that was entirely false and that had no apparent news value, based, as it was, on a six-month-old report by a goofy left-wing organization that hardly anyone has heard of? Why was the Post’s story–published, as the authors acknowledge, for political reasons–almost immediately seized on by Congressional Democrats to justify an attack on Koch Industries? Did the Washington Post act in cooperation with Congressional Democrats? That is a very serious question, to which I do not know the answer. But the facts that we do know are damning. So is the fact that neither the Washington Post nor Senator Whitehouse nor Congressman Waxman will respond to our questions about whether they did or did not collaborate on the March 20 story.

So I am going to make another attempt, by once again writing to the Post’s reporters and editors as well as the Democratic politicians, asking them to answer my questions. I urge you to do the same. Let’s make it impossible for the Post to ignore us. Please send politely-worded emails to the following people, asking them to furnish the information that I requested in this post:

juliet.eilperin@washpost.com
steven.mufson@washpost.com
readers@washpost.com
emilio.garcia-ruiz@washpost.com
martin.baron@washpost.com

You can also tweet Martin Baron, the paper’s Executive Editor, at @PostBaron.

There are serious questions here that need to be answered. Let’s not let the Washington Post get away with stonewalling.

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