When The Messenger is Biased – New York Times Misses the Mark
Posted November 13, 2020
Journalism plays a vital role in society – today more than ever. While the business of news has changed, it remains an essential medium and messenger for Americans’ right to know.
Arming journalists with data and information, answers, and analysis is a role we take seriously. API has been quoted in more than 1,100 news stories this year alone and we’ve worked with hundreds of reporters.
That right to know is why we took issue with recent comments by a New York Times reporter who covers our industry. Hiroko Tabuchi – a Times’ climate reporter – recently tweeted an unfounded and offensive claim, with no evidence:
“I’ve been thinking a lot about fossil fuels and white supremacy recently. Almost every single oil executive, lobbyist, spokesperson I’ve dealt with is white and male. It’s difficult not to see a link.”
I’d link to the tweet that I raised to the highest levels of The Times, but Tabuchi deleted it and 10,000 others over the course of a weekend when she realized she had violated The Times’ own standards for staffers’ personal conduct on social media.
Deleting tweets doesn’t delete apparent predisposition. It was deeply offensive, linking our entire industry and its executives with something we strongly denounce, at a time when the nation’s difficult and important conversation over race continues.
Troubling and disappointing is realizing Tabuchi harbors a deep-seated bias against the people and companies she covers.
Equally concerning is the decision of The Times’ editors not to reassign Tabuchi after they were confronted with her public tweet in clear violation of the newspaper’s social media standards. Try squaring Tabuchi’s tweet with these key portions from those standards:
- Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that The Times is seeking to cover objectively.
- In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments, or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.
The Times notes the rewards and risks of staffers being active on social media:
We can effectively pull back the curtain and invite readers to witness, and potentially contribute to, our reporting. We can also reach new audiences. But social media presents potential risks for The Times. If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom. We have always made clear that newsroom employees should avoid posting anything on social media that damages our reputation for neutrality and fairness.
Even so, Tabuchi’s editors at The Times continue to enable her to cover our industry – to the detriment of newspaper’s integrity and accountability to its readers. Tabuchi’s comments do nothing to advance important conversations and actions to collectively address racial injustice issues and climate change.
One result is that companies and industries today increasingly use their own websites, social media and other platforms to bypass the filters, inaccurate characterizations and outdated narratives that some activists and even some reporters – like Hiroko Tabuchi – apply to our industry. We’re an industry that continues to reinvent ways to safely make and move energy while reducing emissions to generational lows. More high tech than roughneck for those of you keeping up.
Journalists and news organizations have a compact with the public that’s largely based on professional, ethical conduct and trustworthiness. Each of those takes a hit every day that The New York Times does not address a bias within its ranks.
About The Author
Megan Barnett Bloomgren is API's senior vice president for communications. She came to API in 2017 after serving as acting deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Department of the Interior, where she directed communications and policy-related actions for the secretary. Before joining the administration, Meg was a partner at DCI Group, a public affairs consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Prior to DCI, she led strategy and operations for the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which followed positions at the U.S. Energy Department, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency. Meg is a graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia.