Outrage angle covered—now how about those gas price claims?

Here's how the Denver Post and other battleground outlets can do better on the energy debate

Last week, the Denver Post ran a short “local news” piece headlined, “Political billboards in Colorado use energy policy to fuel debate.”

The debate thus fueled (and here covered by the Post) is not, mind you, about energy policy, but rather about juxtaposing—as do
the 28 billboards, erected by the conservative nonprofit Compass Colorado, “in the Denver metro area and Grand Junction”—President Obama’s face and that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Joining Obama and Ahmadinejad, depending on the specific billboard, are the faces of one of three Colorado Democrats—Rep. Ed Perlmutter, state Rep. Joe Miklosi, or state Rep. Sal Pace. “Some,” the Post reported, are “upset that anyone would compare the president and state and federal leaders to Ahmandinejad.”

Readers hear from the former chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Colorado calling it “outrageous to link” Obama and Colorado Democratic lawmakers with Ahmadinejad, and from Rep. Miklosi’s campaign manager lamenting such “unhinged rhetoric” (and then getting in a shot about Miklosi’s opponent doing “exactly what Big Oil and the other special interests want.”)

The Post tells readers that “the billboards include the slogan, “Higher gas prices, yes! U.S. Energy Independence, no!” and are intended, according to Compass Colorado, “to highlight ‘President Barack Obama and his allies’ opposition to American energy independence’.” The Post quotes Compass Colorado’s president saying that “by opposing the Keystone Pipeline and domestic drilling, Obama and Perlmutter directly contributed to higher gas prices across the country.”

It’s well and good for the Post to cover the outrage angle here. But what about Compass Colorado’s specific claims, like faulting the president and Colorado Democrats for high gas prices? The Post merely passes them along to readers (along with a counter-claim from the Miklosi camp), offering no help sifting through the spin and counter-spin.

To shed light on Compass Colorado’s claim about the Keystone Pipeline, the Post could have directed readers to a March Washington Post factcheck that read, in part:

[Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.)] goes a step too far when he asserts that building the Keystone XL pipeline will have an impact on gasoline prices. Clearly oil experts disagree on whether prices will be affected, but those who believe as a matter of economics that it will ease prices say the impact will be modest. Indeed, even the TransCanada executive, who had a stake in touting the project, used the word “could,” not “will” like Upton.

Reporters, as we’ve urged before, need to do better covering the ongoing war of words on energy policy and gas prices—particularly reporters in battleground states like Colorado, where voters will bear the brunt of the back-and-forth.

CJR’s Curtis Brainard in March compiled a “reporter’s toolbox on oil and gas prices”, a round-up of some existing resources that journalists might use to navigate—and then, help steer readers through—the ongoing energy debate.

Because another billboard (or attack ad or stump speech) is coming soon.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.