Similarly, to support the assertion that fossil fuel-funded think tanks “disproportionately received coverage in influential newspapers that help shape the national agenda,” the group compared the amount of attention they received to the amount received the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is funded by the US Department of Energy. Think tanks got four times the coverage, according to the report. But when you look closer, the NREL was mentioned more than any of the 10 other think tanks except the Heritage Foundation. There’s also the fact that the Checks & Balances Project didn’t look at the coverage of any left-leaning think tanks.
“I think the NREL, as an independent institute, federally funded research laboratory, should be cited and quoted far more than all of these organizations, because the mission of NREL is to make sure the public and other parts of government know the facts about the research and development behind the clean energy industry,” Elsner said when asked about the fairness of comparing 10 oranges to one apple.
None of these criticisms necessarily invalidate the Checks & Balances Project’s central point that interest groups hide behind neutral sounding titles in order to promote their sponsors’ agendas, and that the media don’t do nearly enough to unmask them. Also, to its credit, the project stresses that “fossil fuel-funded organizations have every right to participate in the public debate. But readers have every right to know that those who are mentioned are financially tied to lobbying interests that benefit from their point of view.”
And for his part, Elsner said the same rules of disclosure should also apply to think tanks that represent clean energy interests.
“I think that the public will be better off with more transparency across the board,” he said. “When we’re debating the future of our energy in this country, it’s important that the public is well informed who’s writing it, and what their opinion and bias might be, so that they can form their own opinions on what they think the future of our energy system should be.”
It’s hard to argue with that, and despite the shortcomings in the Checks & Balances Project’s report, as energy rolls on as one of the country’s most divisive political issues, journalists should do a much a better job of describing the backgrounds and financial interests of the groups and individuals they quote.