A new report prepared by Media Matters for America finds that media coverage in swing states continued to favor big polluter priorities as oil and gas companies spent hundreds of millions during the last months of the 2012 election. While some newspapers in key swing states improved coverage of energy issues in the weeks leading up to the election, most continued to neglect the benefits and popularity of public health safeguards and clean energy solutions.An initial study of swing state energy coverage from the beginning of July to mid-August found 11 newspapers across Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia often focused exclusively on arguments used by Big Oil and Big Coal industry groups, omitting discussion of the benefits of public health safeguards and the popularity of clean energy. In response, Sierra Club launched the new Energy Truth website to help track and counter propaganda from big polluters and push back against imbalanced coverage with facts on clean energy and environmental and public health safeguards.
But, in the last two months of this election cycle alone, political groups linked to dirty energy spent more than $270 million on TV ads in an attempt to control the energy narrative. This most recent analysis tracks the coverage of relevant issues from August 16 to October 31 in the same newspapers, as polluter spending spiked. The major findings of the study and a comparison with the first data set are detailed below.
1) Across all six states, the benefits of public health and environmental safeguards still frequently go unreported.
New public health and environmental safeguards proposed and implemented in the last several years are poised to save tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health costs annually. The new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants are expected to prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma each year while saving American families up to $90 billion in health costs by curbing the pollution in our air and water. Still, as polluter spending rose this election cycle, these and other benefits were infrequently reported - particularly in Ohio, though Virginia recorded a significant improvement.
- Colorado: 59% of 27 stories (up 9% from previous report)
- New Hampshire: 0% of 4 stories (no change from previous report)
- Nevada: 26% of 23 stories (down 7% from previous report)
- Ohio: 20% of 15 stories (down 21% from previous report)
- Pennsylvania: 51% of 75 stories (up 7% from previous report)
- Virginia: 41% of 32 stories (up 16% from previous report)
2) Discussion of the Benefits of Clean Energy Improved Significantly in Virginia and Nevada, but Plummeted in Ohio.
In the initial analysis, Nevada papers largely failed to inform readers about the benefits of clean energy - including job creation - but this follow-up study reveals significant improvement there. However, once strong coverage in Ohio plummeted. The following numbers indicate how often coverage of clean energy mentioned the benefits - economic, public health, environmental or otherwise - of clean energy:
- Nevada: 79% of 24 stories (up 44% from previous report)
- Colorado: 65% of 26 stories (down 21% from previous report)
- New Hampshire: 57% of 7 stories (down 16% from previous report)
- Pennsylvania: 68% of 19 stories (down 11% from previous report)
- Ohio: 20% of 15 stories (down 44% from previous report)
- Virginia: 79% of 29 stories (up from 29% from previous report)
3) The risks of dirty energy are still frequently under-reported, but Virginia papers showed great improvement.
According to the EPA, high levels of mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants can damage developing nervous systems, putting women of childbearing age, unborn babies, and young children at risk for nervous system damage that will impair their development. Although it is a critically important issue related to our energy choices, swing state newspapers largely neglected to discuss these and other risks of dirty energy. However, papers in several states did show modest improvement from the previous period, especially Virginia.
This state-by-state breakdown shows what percentage of stories mentioned the inherent risks of dirty energy:
- Colorado: 46% of 50 stories (up 2% from previous report)
- New Hampshire: 14% of 7 stories (down 6% from previous report)
- Nevada: 17% of 36 stories (up 2% from previous report)
- Ohio: 44% of 36 stories (up 1% from previous report)
- Pennsylvania: 48% of 87 stories (up 4% from previous report)
- Virginia: 52% of 50 stories (up 14% from previous report)
4) Big Money Drowns Out Public Opinion.
Post-election public opinion polling indicated that 71 percent of swing state voters supported increased use of wind power and 78 percent supported increased use of solar power. However, this broad public support for clean energy rarely is discussed in the news and was particularly neglected in swing state coverage as dirty energy money poured into the election.
The breakdown showing the percentage of stories that included public opinion information on energy policy is below:
- Colorado: 0% of 60 (down 13% from previous report)
- New Hampshire: 10% of 10 (down 1% from previous report)
- Nevada: 0% of 49 (down 3.4% from previous report)
- Ohio: 7% of 41 (up 5% from previous report)
- Pennsylvania: 3% of 76 (up 3% from previous report)
- Virginia: 0% of 62 (no change from previous report)