A Problem with Advertisements: A Call for More Journalistic Integrity

I’m honestly chomping at the bit to slam Fox News, but I’d like to start my journalistic criticism in this blog by targeting MSNBC. For one, criticizing Fox News seems to be a popular internet and media practice, yet it does not seem to slow down the ratings bonanza. Also, I anticipate quite a few of my daily blog posts will feature Fox News because they provide so many points against which to argue. Finally, MSNBC seems to suffer from one obvious, yet often ignored, aspect that runs antithetical to its primary journalistic shows’ represented positions: its sponsors. I cannot stand to see it night after night, and I dare say it makes MSNBC seem a bit hypocritical.

I am a subscriber of Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC; these two seem to be the best daily representative watchdogs on the environmental dangers of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and natural gas excavation. Their shows’ content frequently feature information that is vital for understanding the repercussions of the natural gas push in this country, including the proliferation of fracking wells in more and more neighborhoods, hypocritical CEOs that do not want these wells in their own neighborhoods, and even frequent seismographic earthquakes that seem to be occurring because of fracking. I salute their coverage, and I crave more of it.

The problem is that during nearly every one of their shows, along with most of MSNBC’s daily lineup, they run those damnable advertisements from The People of America’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry.

I understand how advertising works. I understand that Maddow and Hayes have little input with deciding whose commercials get to run during their programs, and I also understand that they are prevented from speaking much ill of any of their advertisers during broadcasts. This is the power that advertisers have over broadcast programs, regardless of network. It is pervasive.

I also understand that MSNBC is pretty much the only network that opposes the ideology of The People of America’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry, so it ends up being a good business decision to throw excessive amounts of advertising dollars at MSNBC, to the point they cannot refuse the 30-second sound bites. These commercials end up being pacifiers that work better at appeasing the majority’s fears about fracking more effectively than the journalistic shows’ extended, intellectual coverage.

It is infuriating that broadcast advertisements are considered better educational tools for the public than a featured analytical report. The content of the commercials merely insist that fracking is safe, without providing proof. Instead we get a visual graphic, because we understand pretty pictures work better than actual answers to pertinent questions. We also get the business answer of why we should continue forward with fracking: more jobs and a continuation of daily American life. Never mind there might be environmental repercussions…and certainly don’t interfere with the wealth that leads to corporate pockets…Johnny and Jane Citizen can keep riding their kids to school and forgetting to flip off light switches. It’s the American way, or so says the strong, trustworthy, well-dressed professional woman that is supposed to represent the average American.

Scratch that. Apparently, this political activist lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, seems to think the average American likes getting talked down to by executives who know better…

…and maybe they are right. This commercial is effective for countering useful information and argument. This was most apparent on February 24th, 2014, when Josh Fox, the environmental watchdog, appeared on All In With Chris Hayes. Josh Fox is often refuted by academics who accuse him of not being legitimate because he’s not an academic (*sigh* more example of collegiate representatives selling out to business money, while betraying their professorial ethics). On this evening, Fox and Hayes (and Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado) had a wonderful exchange about how dangerous fracking is, how it is in fact damaging local neighborhoods, and how even CEOs from the drilling companies do not want fracking wells in their own neighborhoods. I admit I was quite lathered up about this hypocrisy.

Then they cut to commercial, and lo and behold, MSNBC’s hypocritical leanings appear. There she was again, with confidence and relaxed tone, assuaging those of us who might become panicked by the inflammatory reporting, stating, “…Let’s put America’s oil and natural gas to work…for more Americans.” I had to suppress my gag reflex that night, as I do most nights the commercial is aired.

There is obviously a campaign of pacification that is intended to stifle citizens’ interest in the environment and, specifically, fracking. It’s disturbing that thirty-second commercials are working so well to appease concerns; it’s more disturbing to know that the wealth of this country is being used to pacify the majority and drown out significant questions and intellectual concerns.

Ideally, I would love to see the executives at MSNBC take a stand and refuse the advertising dollars that are spent by the American Petroleum Institute and their cover name, The People of America’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry. I understand how it might seem crazy for anyone in this country to turn down money, especially the excessive amounts that are attached to advertising. It is not, in fact, crazy to refuse money in this situation; it is principled.

I might be willing to buy one argument on MSNBC’s behalf: Wouldn’t I rather the good guys take the bad guys’ money to fund the extensive reporting? Wouldn’t I rather see the money spent on noble endeavors instead of recycling it within the coffers of the oil industry and its pundits? Perhaps, but the money is spent with the understanding that these advertisements effectively neuter any arguments against fracking. Maybe this is more a problem with the American consumer, who does often seem to be more receptive to simplistic commercial messaging than complex, expository reporting.

If the MSNBC executives continue to endorse these commercials on their network, then I would like to hear a denouncement of these commercials from the shows’ reporters each time they report on fracking or the environment. However, I think a denouncement might be viewed as a deterrent that might prevent the reporters from further reporting on fracking and the environment…so hopefully, this blog’s representation might be a sufficient alternative for reporters who are locked into the corporate structure.

As an olive branch, I would also like to extend an offer to The People of America’s Oil and Gas Industry. I would endorse their commercial messages, if they supported their claims of safe drilling with extended facts. Please answer these questions:

• Why does fracking involve pumping multiple hazardous chemicals into the ground?
• How does releasing excessive methane into our fragile atmosphere translate into “environmentally safe?”
• Why is there an insistence that fracking does not contaminate drinking water when there is evidence that it does? (The answer, up to this point: a very juvenile, “Nah-uh. It doesn’t contaminate water. That’s ridiculous.”)

I am fairly certain that they will need more than thirty seconds to do so…

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}


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