Claudia Cattaneo and the sad state of ‘Team Energy’ journalism

Team

Team Energy comforts the comfortable of the Calgary Petroleum Club.

Team Energy worries more about pleasing Alberta oil/gas executives than getting the story right

Is there a branch of journalism these days more politicized than energy reporting and opinion? The two big camps, of course, are the anti-fossil fuel/pro-renewables on the left and pro-fossil fuels on the right. Abandoning objectivity to root for one team might be excusable – political bias has a long history in media – but does it also have to mean abandoning a commitment to facts and reasonable context?

Claudia Cattaneo, Postmedia journalist.

In Feb. 2016 Alberta Oil Magazine published my story about the new Vancouver School of Media, principally the Observer and The Tyee, which were consistent critics of West Coast pipeline projects, the Alberta oil sands, hydraulic fracturing – pretty much anything to do with oil and gas extraction and transportation.

I thought the best part of the piece was the discussion of Prof. Shane Gunster’s notion that the Observer and The Tyee were “reframing” energy stories. Instead of the usual business angle provided by “corporate media,” Gunster argued that the new media viewed energy stories from the perspective of climate change, environmental damage, eco-activist protest, and political resistance to energy infrastructure projects like pipelines.

I was critical of both the Observer and The Tyee because their reporters were often careless with technical details and skewed the basic facts of a story to fit their “reframing.”

The Tyee contributor Andrew Nikiforuk.

Here’s my take on Andrew Nikiforuk, the highest profile Vancouver School journalist:

He’s more reputable but not objective. In his hands, fracking becomes a lurid tale of Cabal-like energy executives who control government regulators and shut up downtrodden Alberta land owners with hush money (Jessica Ernst, who Nikiforuk has turned into a cottage industry) or induced earthquakes that become “world record” on the strength of a PR flack’s bland statement rather than interviews with the seismologists working on the data.

As bad as the Vancouver School often is, energy journalists for the corporate media – particularly the Big Daddy of Canadian newspapers, Postmedia – are just as bad and sometimes worse.

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They not only frame energy news stories as business stories, but now they feel compelled to emulate their eco-media competitors. They are certified members of Team Energy.

Take as an example Claudia Cattaneo of the National Post. Reading her is as cringe-inducing as fingernails on a chalkboard. Exhibit A, her May 18 pieceNational carbon plan is on shaky ground with shifting priorities in the West.

Let’s do a little fact checking slash context providing.

BC Liberal leader Christ Clark, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver (centre), NDP leader John Horgan.

Cattaneo notes that after judicial recounts, British Columbia may yet get a minority NDP government supported by the Green Party. which she claims could “spike the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion…They would push for more aggressive carbon reduction and show no mercy for pipelines — or any other resource project.”

Sorry, no provincial government can “spike” an interprovincial pipeline project. This is exclusively federal jurisdiction as set out in Sect. 92 of the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 and reinforced by 60 years of legal precedents, as I’ve detailed in many columns (here, here, here, here) after interviewing three constitutional scholars and various other experts.

The worst an NDP government could do is harass Trans Mountain Expansion construction by denying permits, access to roads, or hiking provincial fees. Every one of these actions would be overturned by the National Energy Board or in court, according to my experts.

And if “Premier Horgan” persisted, political scientist Keith Brownsey says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has plenty of levers he could pull to punish the BC government until it backed down.

One more example.

Reflecting the opposition to a carbon levy from Alberta Little Oil (junior and medium-sized producers, oilfield services), Cattaneo argues that the Liberals’ “national  carbon price comes despite warnings by the oil and gas sector that it would put it at further competitive disadvantage against U.S. competitors that are benefiting from President Donald Trump’s tax and regulation cuts.”

She ignores that a significant portion of the Alberta “oil and gas sector” favours a carbon levy – and other climate mitigation policies, such as the 100 megatonne oil sands emissions cap – because it brings the province in line with the international consensus on greenhouse gas emission reduction, which will help build support for greater market access – including new pipelines – for Alberta crude oil.

She also ignores that the American oil and gas sector itself says that Trump’s changes to federal regulations will have little impact on its revenue, according to a Reuters review of US securities filings from top producers, which have been telling shareholders that regulations have little impact on their business.

“Despite exaggerated claims, regulatory costs are usually a very small portion of many companies’ cost of doing business,” said Cary Coglianese, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who runs the university’s research program on regulation.

Lorne Gunter, Edmonton Sun columnist. Photo: Twitter/Lorne Gunter.

My point here is not that Cattaneo gets every fact wrong. She is no Lorne Gunter, the notorious Edmonton Sun – part of the Postmedia family – columnist whose work is a dumpster fire of inaccuracies, dissembling, and partisan grovelling.

The problem is that Cattaneo is the Team Energy equivalent of Nikiforuk – torquing technically and politically complex stories into a tidy narrative beloved by the C-suites in the downtown Calgary office towers just as the frequent The Tyee contributor bends his facts to please his progressive, eco-activist audience.

Both “reframe” energy stories to suit a political agenda, one from the extreme left, one from the extreme right.

Neither agendas serve the interests of Canadian energy news readers.

Ms. Cattaneo did not respond to a request for comment.

Posted in: Markham on Energy

3 Comments on "Claudia Cattaneo and the sad state of ‘Team Energy’ journalism"

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  1. Rick Collins says:

    Left unmentioned are the drivellings of the Fraser and the now remarkably silenced Calgary University (Muntz?) crowd!

  2. Terry Sturgeon says:

    The Provincial government, not the Feds, under the constitution controls law enforcement in the province, including the police. If there are mass protests, and there will be, what if the province refuses to enforce injunctions against the protestors. Witness the (ok spineless McGinty Liberals) failure to enforce injunctions against aboriginal protests in Ontario.
    Think under an NDP -Green government that won’t happen here? What’s Justin going to do – send in the army. That’s not going to happen. Markham, Claudio is right, this is a long way from over.

    • Jude Hislop says:

      Burnaby’s police force is…wait for it…RCMP. A Federal police force. Most of the protests will be outside of cities anyways, and will fall under RCMP as well.

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