From the beginning, The Power Line has covered how the media, both nationally and in West Virginia, have covered the PATH project. We have praised good reporting and provided specific criticism of reporters who failed to report the story accurately or have omitted key information from their work.
In most of my posts about coverage of PATH by WV media outlets, I have referred to AEP/Allegheny’s massive advertising campaign on radio, TV and in newspapers across the state. In a recent discussion on Coal Tattoo, Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward accused me of taking “cheap shots” and accusing state media outlets of accepting “bribes” to slant their reporting.
This post is designed to clear up any misunderstandings about my views on the “coverage” issue in WV. As I pointed out to Mr. Ward, I have never used the word “bribe” to describe coverage or non-coverage of PATH in the WV press. I do not believe that there is any direct connection between advertising revenue and editorial content in any WV media outlet.
Given the current state of the overall system for proposal, approval and construction of huge projects like PATH in WV by out of state corporations, there is no need to bribe anyone. The skids are greased already by a planning and regulatory process that is narrowly focused on limited information, governed by a “priesthood” of lawyers and experts, and which systematically excludes democratic influence from the people who have the most to lose from these projects.
A significant part of this rigged system is that Ohio/PA corporations like AEP and Allegheny can get full recovery of costs, under both federal and state law, for all their advertising costs for their PATH project, even if the content of that advertising is inane, inaccurate or totally irrelevant to the impacts of their project. Nonetheless, AEP/Allegheny’s misleading ads can appear day after day and week after week at essentially no cost to the companies’ shareholders.
Unpaid, volunteer citizens who have repeatedly focused on the facts of the PATH project have no way to pay for advertising or to have their costs recovered at all. In order to do so, citizens would have to spend all their time fund-raising and would have to neglect fighting PATH in the limited arenas left to them by the system created by the WV Legislature and power company lobbyists.
A newspaperman like Mr. Ward obviously sees the situation somewhat differently, but to every volunteer trying to juggle fighting PATH with work, family and free time, the rate payer subsidized ads in the media are a slap in the face every time we hear or see them, because we know that we are all paying for those ads.
My point in my posts about the state media coverage is not that there is bribery going on in the WV media. My point is that certain genuine news stories, that are very important to all citizens of West Virginia, are not being covered.
Yes, the story of the PATH project is complicated. Yes, both reporters and their audience have to stretch a little bit to understand the ins and outs of the arcane issues involved. Here’s some news for the press — this system has been designed for decades by power company executives and their favored regulators specifically to be opaque and hard for outsiders to understand. That is the point. The more complicated it is, the more they can hide from reporters and the public. Just ask Keryn Newman and Ali Haverty.
I don’t know about bribery, but I do know that the Charleston Gazette, the Martinsburg Journal, the Hur Herald and the Weston Democrat have tenacious reporters on their staffs who make a real effort to understand and report on the complexities of the PATH project, and who take their journalistic duties seriously. All of these outlets, except the Hur Herald, run paid ads from PATH. I also know that my own very short letters to the editor from two local newspapers, to which I have subscribed for decades, were needlessly cut to exclude important information. Those papers also regularly run half page to full page ads from PATH that have little or nothing to do with why the PATH project is “needed”.
I don’t know and I don’t care what the connections are between advertising revenues and motivations of the owners of media companies. I do care about results, and that is what I report. Here are the facts:
- some media outlets do a good job of reporting on PATH,
- some actively suppress important information,
- some fail to report important stories.
- All of them accept paid advertising from PATH.
- I have yet to see a single story on radio, TV or in a WV newspaper that explains that the money they receive from PATH ads comes through a process where AEP and Allegheny Energy are allowed to recover all of that money from WV rate payers through a special federal process and the WV PSC.