Carney’s conspiracy theory

White House Press Secretary sees GOP operatives in good journalism

Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney blamed GOP operatives for revealing that Susan Rice, President Obama’s presumed favorite to become the next Secretary of State, has significant investments in the Canadian oil industry.

“I would commend Republican opposition researchers for the intellectual bandwidth that is required to read a financial disclosure form,” he said, when asked about Rice’s investments at a media briefing on Thursday. “So, what this represents, I think, in vivid fashion, is what I’ve been talking about for a while now, which is that none of this has anything to do with the tragedy that occurred in Benghazi. This is about politics and that’s a shame.”

Actually, what the revelation represented was bang-up investigative journalism. The GOP had nothing to do with it, and if anything is a shame, it’s the fact that not only was Carney misinformed, but he stiffed the press—his former colleagues—on credit for a solid scoop.

The day before Carney’s briefing, OnEarth magazine, a publication of the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, broke the story that Rice “holds significant investments in more than a dozen Canadian oil companies and banks that would stand to benefit from expansion of the North American tar sands industry and construction of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.”

That’s a problem because, should she become Secretary of State, one of Rice’s first responsibilities would be to decide whether or not to grant a permit to construct the 1,700-mile pipeline that would transport Canadian tar sands to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. Conflict of interest? You betcha.

Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, owns stock valued at between $300,000 and $600,000 in TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, according to OnEarth’s Scott Dodd:

Beyond that, according to financial disclosure reports, about a third of Rice’s personal net worth [somewhere between $23.5 million and $43.5 million in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics] is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel — including companies with poor environmental and safety records on both U.S. and Canadian soil.

It’s hard to understand how Carney mistook OnEarth for the GOP and investigative journalism for politics. Dozens of major outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, and NPR, picked up the story about Rice’s investments, and pretty much all of them gave OnEarth credit (a courtesy that’s not always extended in the media).

“It was picked up by a pretty wide range of publications, and I was happy to see that everyone cited us,” said OnEarth’s editor-in-chief, Douglas Barasch, who demurred when asked if he had any response to Carney’s comments.

The story was one of OnEarth’s biggest scoops. For a few days after its publication, daily website traffic was about ten times higher than usual, according to Barasch.

“We’re striving to make our presence known and reinforce the perception among our media colleagues and others that we do good journalism,” he said. “But, generally, we’re less concerned with our traffic numbers than making the journalism we do as widely available as possible. I think that’s the case with many news outlets in the nonprofit world.”

Indeed it is, which makes Carney’s misinformed remarks at the press briefing all the more insulting (the White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent Monday afternoon). His mistake trivialized an important story about conflict of interest in government and robbed a news outlet of the recognition it deserved.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard. Tags: , , , , , , , ,