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Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson

Posted: April 21, 2009 10:58 PM

ABC News Intentionally Misleading Viewers with RFK-Obama Clean Coal Story

What's Your Reaction:

Update: RFK Jr Confirms: ABC Headline was Purposefully Provovative and Inaccurate.

Original: EnviroKnow: ABC News Intentionally Misleading Viewers with RFK-Obama Clean Coal Story

ABC News ran a story Tuesday evening that immediately raised some eyebrows in environmental circles. The headline: RFK Jr. Blasts Obama as 'Indentured Servant' to Coal Industry.

Here is the first paragraph and a box on the left side of the page:

"Clean coal is a dirty lie," says environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who calls President Barack Obama and other politicians who commit taxpayer money to develop it "indentured servants" of the coal industry.

The reader is left with the distinct impression that Robert Kennedy Jr. called President Obama an indentured servant to the coal industry today. RFK has been calling politicians "indentured servants" for years. One problem: he didn't actually say it about President Obama. Essentially, ABC pulled together a collection of old quotes and mashed them together out of context to create tension in their story.

Update: After I published this piece, ABC updated their piece with a link to a newly available partial transcript. They then badgered myself and Huffington Post editors for an update, despite refusing to update their own misleading headline. In the transcript, Kennedy does call politicians "indentured servants", but he does not specifically refer to President Obama as such. As I'll document in detail later, Brian Ross repeatedly steered the conversation to Obama in an obvious attempt to catch Kennedy "blasting" the President. RFK Jr.'s intent was clear: he was not trying to call President Obama an indentured servant.

Here's RFK on July 7, 2007 at Live Earth:

Now we've all heard the oil industry, and the coal industry, and their indentured servants in the political process telling us that global climate stability is a luxury that can't afford -that we have to choose now between economic prosperity on the one hand, and environmental protection on the other - and that is a false choice. In 100% of the situations, good economic policy is identical to good environmental policy.

And here he is on December 12th, 2008, referring to President Bush, testifying before the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming:
So it's the mother forest of all north America, and that's why it's the most diverse and abundant temperate forest in the world. Because it's the longest living. And today, these mining companies with the help of their indentured servants in the White House are doing what those glaciers couldn't accomplish. What the Pleistocene Ice Age couldn't accomplish which is to flatten the Appalachian mountains and destroy those forests.

Buried at the bottom of page two of the piece, the quote ABC actually got from RFK Jr. is revealed:
"It's a sad testament to the impact of campaign contributions, our system and the political clout of this industry that you have very sensible politicians, including great men like Barack Obama, who feel the need to parrot the talking points of this industry that is so destructive to our country," said Kennedy, who was reportedly under consideration as Obama's Environmental Protection Agency director.

He referred to President Obama as a "very sensible politician" and a "great man". Mr. Kennedy was clear with Huffington Post's Sam Stein, offering strong support of President Obama and his energy policies on November 5th.


The headline and caption used by ABC were a deliberate attempt to mislead readers. This misinformation is especially dangerous because it is inevitably seized on by sites like Hot Air who will use it to whip their gullible readers into an Obama-Kennedy hate phrenzy. This is worse than tabloid journalism because it is sold to the public as legitimate news. It is the worst kind of linkbait: hyper-sensationalized, intentionally misleading and politically divisive. This is Politico's style of faux-conflict, artificially constructed with out-of-context quotes and headlines designed to confuse readers.

All of this from The Blotter, which is brought to you by Brian Ross and ABC's Investigative Team. The Blotter reads every message they receive through this form. People should be asking them questions about this story. Please leave your questions, and any responses you receive, as comments in this thread.

Update: Brad Johnson has several additional "indentured servant" quotes from RFK. None of them mention President Obama.

Update 2: Eric Boehlert at Media Matters weighs in:

That's just awful journalism by Ross and ABC News.

Update 3: Environmental Capital (WSJ Blog) jumps into the fray:

Environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy apparently called the president an "indentured servant" to the coal industry for his support of projects such as FutureGen, an experimental clean-coal project. Except he didn't--the ABC news story cobbled together previous Kennedy comments about the coal industry and applied them to the president.

 

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