JACK SPENCER: Predisposed to missing the story

The news media is at its best when risking the wrath of powerful interests by telling an underdog’s side of a story. When those rare instances arise the news media stands tall. What seems to increasingly be occurring, however, features the “regular” news media misidentifying some entities as underdogs and failing to realize that a charade is being acted out.

Examples of this circumstance are too numerous to list; but one of the most intriguing involves so-called alternative energy (which is almost exclusively wind energy) and the fossil fuel (or petroleum) industry. It seems evident that most of what is commonly termed the “regular” news media sees wind energy as the underdog to what many would call “Big Oil.”

The casting of what we will call “Big Wind,” in an underdog role to “Big Oil” is the product of simplistic, uninformed thinking. “Big Wind” is backed by billions of dollars in taxpayer-provided subsidies and rich political exploiters who funnel dollars to politicians so they can keep making even more money off of the subsidies. It enjoys support from thousands of sincere voters who harbor the erroneous belief that once the wind turbines are in place, whatever energy is produced is free and clean.

But this is only part of what the “regular” news media keeps missing. “Big Oil” also spends tens of millions of dollars in the political money game to protect its interests, which include bolstering both traditional uses of fossil fuels and (here’s where the news media is 180 degrees off) cashing in on wind energy as well.

The secret that neither “Big Oil” nor “Big Wind” wants the public to know is that wind energy is roughly two-thirds fossil fuels — mostly natural gas. Both of these entities have a stake in keeping this fact a secret as long as possible. If that wasn’t the case, the public would have been told the truth about the link between “Big Wind” and “Big Oil” by now.

“Big Oil,” in particular, has the ability to make virtually everyone aware of the degree to which wind energy is dependent on fossil fuels. Obviously, it prefers to let the public remain misinformed.

The reason “Big Oil” prefers that the secret not be revealed is that there’s a lot of money to be made from wind energy subsidies and many advantages derive from playing two political sides against the middle. The reason “Big Wind” doesn’t want the fact that it is joined at the hip with fossil fuels to be known, it that its very existence might be jeopardized if the truth were to become common knowledge. The reason the “regular” news media hasn’t caught on is because it is comfortable with the preconceptions that allow it to be duped by both “Big Oil” and “Big Wind.”

What’s really going on is virtually the opposite of the “regular” news media’s tragically comical template that “Big Wind” and “Big Oil” share an adversarial relationship. As a result, the “regular news media assumes that “Big Oil” is behind any effort to point out wind energy’s inefficiency, possible adverse health effects and other flaws. This represents more than ignorance of the facts; it’s a blind spot that endures due to unjustified trust in superficial assumptions.

But something might be coming soon that could potentially change the dynamics. A group called Ban Fracking in Michigan has submitted language to the Secretary of State for a proposal to prohibit fracking in Michigan. The group wants to put the proposal on the 2016 statewide ballot. Fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) is the technology that has increased our supplies of natural gas exponentially and revolutionized the world’s energy picture. Some claim, however, that it poses a threat to the environment. This supposition appears unsubstantiated and based on misrepresentation but in the world of politics that might not matter much.

The first thing to remember is that ballot proposals are not always what they appear to be on the surface. A proposal could be put on the ballot for an ulterior motive; for instance in 2016 the anti-fracking proposal could help boost turnout of liberal-leaning voters. Sometimes a prospective proposal is just a devise to use as a threat to basically blackmail the legislature and governor into doing something they wouldn’t do otherwise — which is how the threat of the minimum wage hike proposal was used in 2014.

However, if the fracking ban were to get on the 2016 ballot and polling showed it had a realistic chance of passing, things could get pretty interesting. In the heat of any election battle there is a tendency to pull out all of the stops. That tendency could conceivably lead to “Big Oil” letting the cat out of the bag about wind energy’s heavy reliance on natural gas. Such a revelation might possibly alter the perceptions of a lot of voters — and a lot of folks in the “regular” news media as well.

*Readers note — in some past columns the qualifying word “alleged” was used regarding the degree to which wind energy is dependent on fossil fuels. Since no one, it seems, disputes the claim and hardcore believers in manmade climate change have actually lamented the wind energy – fossil fuel link, the word “alleged” no longer appears to be necessary.

Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.