Rachel Maddow Lets Enviro-Piety Get Better of Her in Ongoing Struggle With Accuracy

May 14th, 2010 8:17 PM

Handy rule of thumb when watching MSNBC's Rachel Maddow -- the more earnest her claim, the less likely it's true. Hardly ever fails.

Most recent example -- Maddow on Wednesday talking about congressional hearings on the Deepwater  Horizon oil spill coinciding with senators Kerry and Lieberman introducing so-called "climate change" legislation (formerly known as cap and trade, formally called the American Power Act, more accurately described as American Disempowerment) --

MADDOW: In the shadow of the BP oil disaster, jaw-dropping hearings, senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced climate change legislation in the Senate today, the American Power Act. Among other things it includes subsidies for offshore oil drilling. Subsidies, taxpayer subsidies. These oil companies already don't pay federal royalties on anything that they drill out there. But how about expanded taxpayer subsidies for them to do it too, to do it more? This is, not to put too fine a point on it, our oil. And yet we're paying them to drill it and then we're not collecting a percentage from it, even though it's ours and even though we bear the environmental disaster risk whenever anything goes wrong.

In fact, as detailed here on the Minerals Management Service Web site, oil and natural gas companies paid $5.8 billion in royalties to the federal government for offshore drilling in fiscal 2009, 58 percent of nearly $10 billion in overall royalties. (Hmm, is that how Senate Democrat Bob Menendez settled on $10 billion as a steeper liability cap for oil companies to cover damage from spills, above the current $75 million?).

What's curious about Maddow getting this wrong is that only minutes earlier she had cited a Wall Street Journal story that ran under the headline, "U.S. to Break Up Oil-Rig Regulator," referring to the Obama administration's plans for Minerals Management Service. According to the story, Maddow said, over the last decade "MMS has shifted most of the job of crafting safety regulations to the oil industry itself."

The quote cited by Maddow is in third paragraph of the story, linked here -- while the paragraph preceding it reads as follows --

The Minerals Management Service, a small division of Interior, now has dual roles, both to ensure the safety of oil drilling in federal waters and land, and to collect royalties from oil and gas companies. Some government watchdogs have said that amounts to a conflict of interest, as employees must focus on keeping oil revenue flowing while also overseeing safety.

In fairness to Maddow, the Journal did bury this at the top of the story.

Unintended comedy followed Thursday night with Maddow guest Sen. Maria Cantwell talking about West Coast Democrats calling for an end to drilling off California, Oregon and Washington --

CANTWELL: We don't want to see that economy ruined by the fact that we would go after so little amount of oil, to say nothing of the fact that the, uh, the royalties that are supposed to be paid by these companies nowhere meet what they really should be meeting for the American taxpayer.

Translation: Oil and gas companies pay royalties, but should pay more. Practically inpenetrable but a step in the right direction from Maddow getting it royally wrong.

Maddow asked this, with Cantwell's response among my favorite MSNBC memories --  

MADDOW: One last question about the politics of all of this and I will confess that it might just be me not getting it. But the Beltway common wisdom is that the oil disaster in the Gulf actually makes it less likely that we'll pass a climate bill this year. And I just, I just don't understand that common wisdom but I recognize that is the common wisdom. Do you believe that's the case? Do you think a bill can pass?

CANTWELL: Well, Rachel, I've seen your show enough to know that you usually do get it right and you do your homework ...