Freedom of the Press Is Not Freedom from Responsibility

Posted in Election 2006, Commentary at 4:01 pm by dembones

Imagine you are the news director at a Central Texas media outlet at the start of summer vacation. The emails and faxes arrive a bit slower than usual. Staff head for the lakes and rivers for much needed rest and relaxation. After easing into the office after a two-hour, two-margarita lunch break, a lone document rests in the fax machine out tray.

Eagerly, you lunge for the paper, hoping for a juicy bit of American Idol gossip, or photos of Branjelina. You sigh wistfully at the headline:

“Mary Beth Harrell blames John Carter’s inaction while oil companies gouge consumers on his conflict of interest.”

Although the story has tremendous appeal to a broad readership, a corrupt politician selling out his constituents for his own personal gain and a tough-as-nails female prosecutor who is challenging for his seat in Congress, you know the corporate office is not going to allow the name of one of the paper’s best advertisers, ExxonMobil, to be shown in an unfavorable light.

Such a scene likely took place at all but one Central Texas newsroom in the past couple of weeks. John Carter (R-ExxonMobil) shills for the American Petroleum Institute, repeating its talking points in turgid op-eds while Mary Beth Harrell burns through postage stamps and fax paper persistently reporting that Carter has more than $1 million of stock in Exxon-Mobil.

The one reporter that called Harrell back for more information, Jacqueline Brown of the Cove Herald in Copperas Cove, struck gold. Brown’s article appeared in Sunday’s Killeen Daily Herald on page B-3, but don’t try finding the article online. Although most of the news content is available at the Daily Herald’s fine web site, the piece is inexplicably unavailable online.

As gas prices continue to soar, Democratic congressional nominee Mary Beth Harrell is starting to question whether Congressman John Carter, R-Round Rock, is doing what he can to protect American consumers.

Harrell, a Killeen attorney, recently distributed a news release charging that Carter has more than $1 million of stock in Exxon-Mobil. She thinks Carter is disregarding the financial well-being of the district’s residents in exchange for personal gain.

‘’It is now clear that John Carter’s failure to help Texas families with skyrocketing gas prices comes not from apathy, but a clear conflict of interest,'’ Harrell said. ‘’Every painful gallon of gas we buy, the bigger his trust fund gets.'’

Brown skillfully lays out Carter’s rebuttals, then Harrell shreds as a prosecutor would an uncooperative witness.

‘’I have consistently supported legislation to ease the burden of high gas prices on consumers and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,'’ Carter said. ‘’More specifically, I have supported a House-passed bill to protect consumers from price gouging… reduce our dependence on oil and gasoline, and streamline fuel requirements to enhance the efficiency of the distribution system.

The ingenuity of Carter’s doublespeak did not escape Brown, who quoted Harrell translating each bamboozlement into plain talk.

However, Harrell said Congress has neglected to hold big oil companies accountable.

‘’The price-gouging bill is aimed at gasoline stations, to keep individual stations from charging too much for a gallon of gas,'’ she said. ‘’What the House needs to propose, and what Carter hasn’t proposed, is an investigation into price-fixing by the six major oil companies we have left in this country.'’

Harrell said Carter voted against a tax reconciliation bill that would have taxed big oil stock dividends, closed tax loopholes and provided a windfall profits tax for big oil companies. He also voted against a bill that would have required oil companies to pay royalties for drilling in American waters, she said.

Harrell’s counterpunches expose the deception in Carter’s case. Yet there was one last bit of spin in Carter’s quote that Harrell left unchallenged. When Carter says, “streamline fuel requirements,” he is talking about freeing big oil from the burden of complying with environmental regulations.

‘’My opponent votes for and promotes ‘energy’ policies, like drilling in Alaska, that benefit big oil and do not end our dependence on our limited fossil-fuel supply,'’ Harrell countered. ‘’Furthermore, we will not see the Alaskan oil delivered to the gas pump for at least 10 years.'’

Brown’s name appears last in the Killeen Daily News’ masthead. But do not assume she lacks the skills to practice journalism in a manner befitting of David Halberstam.

‘’He cannot feel our pain at the pump when the worth of his stock portfolio increases every time someone pumps a gallon of Exxon gas,'’ Harrell said. ‘’My opponent’s votes have consitently protected the big oil companies and his own stock portfolio at the expense of the American consumer.'’

Help locate the Jacqueline Browns in Central Texas newsrooms. Email the editors at every newspaper, news directors at television and radio stations, and email the bloggers pleading with them to give this story more attention. The shocking fact about the corruption in Congress is the immorality of all that is legal.

I’m sending off my subscription request immediately for the Cove Herald and I suggest you do the same.

1 Comment »

  1. Eye on Williamson » The Drip Of Toll Road Corruption Begins said,

    June 6, 2006 at 11:17 am

    […] Six years? Billions of dollars? This deserves much more than this short little article by the AAS. This goes to the story of the media dropping the ball or deciding not to cover certains issues. This is Mr. Wear’s beat. Why isn’t he on top of this? It was leaked to a blogger. Why didn’t they lead it to a newspaper? Many questions in that respect but the story is out now let’s see if they run with it. […]

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