The Texas Tribune inadvertently demonstrates the importance of the 1st amendment
September 26, 2011
This past weekend, The Texas Tribune, the nonprofit news site that enjoys a higher profile in the journalism world (than it would otherwise) thanks to its partnership with The New York Times, held a lecture-and-networking event on the University of Texas campus in Austin.
I was invited to appear on a panel after the showing of the documentary Haynesville: A Nation’s Hunt for an Energy Future.
I knew the film depicted natural gas drilling in the Haynesville Shale as an economic miracle for folks in north Louisiana and East Texas, with barely a mention of environmental health risks. I said yes, received an enthusiastic confirmation letter requesting my bio, which I sent in, a request to sign the “Talent Agreement,” and a list of the panel members.
Here’s the rest of the lineup:
- Gregory Kallenberg, the director of Haynesville, who according to his answers to these five questions, firmly believes natural gas is the way to go. He talks about his documentary in this video.
- Ian Duncan, Bureau of Economic Geology at UT, who does work for industry. Here is a presentation he did on shale gas.
- Justin Furnace, Chief of Staff and Legal Council at Texas Railroad Commission
- David Blackmon , senior advisor for government and external Affairs for El Paso Exploration and Production Company.
- And me, Texas Sharon.
I saw I was the token enviro on the panel, but I’ve been a turd in the punchbowl before. I did want to know how the panel would be structured, and if I would have an opportunity to correct their misinformation.
I sent back the following email:
I am quite surprised that your panel is so unbalanced. I would like to get more information on how this panel will work. I don't mind being the token environmental person as long as I have an opportunity to give my vast experiences living in the gas patch and working with people who are suffering from natural gas drilling that is too close to their homes.
The next thing I know: I received a phone call from the festival coordinator notifying me that I was uninvited to participate. Maybe they would find a more suitable panel for me sometime. Ouch! But, on second thought, I reclaimed my weekend and shrugged it off to the influence from T. Boone Pickens, one of the festival’s financial backers.
Then somebody sent me this poster from the event.
Hmmm. So the Texas Tribune Festival was co-sponsored by America’s Natural Gas Alliance. The Tribune’s website says other sponsors included El Paso Natural Gas and Energy Futures Corp., formerly Texas Utilities. I was starting to put two and two together.
"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." —A.J. Liebling
Then Steve Horn of DeSmog Blog published an investigative piece on Alternet exposing Haynesville as a piece of industry propaganda masquerading as an independent documentary. Turns out Gregory Kallenberg “is actually a well-connected oil and natural gas man, with both a direct and familial financial stake in the ongoing domestic natural gas boom.”
Horn learned that Kallenberg is vice president of his family’s company, Caddo Management Inc. of Shreveport. Caddo Management is an oil and gas exploration company with active drilling operations in Arkansas and Louisiana.
So do you think that when Kallenberg takes his supposed independent documentary to international film festivals he’s upfront about his oil and gas connections and the fact that he’s flacking for the industry? (Even though he makes no mention of them on his website under the “about” section or in “film credits.”)
If you believe that, you probably still believe in the independence and integrity of The Texas Tribune’s shale gas coverage.
Maybe there is an explanation of the Tribune’s behavior that isn’t explained by financial influence of the natural gas industry. But if there is, it is past time for them to make their case. And from where I sit, it better be a doozy.