The Censorship Election

How the Broadcast Networks Buried the Bad News That Threatened Barack Obama's Quest for a Second Term

Running for president in 2008, Barack Obama pledged to “invest” taxpayer dollars to create five million so-called “green jobs” over a ten-year period. Once in office, Obama’s Department of Energy began shoveling out “stimulus” cash to companies involved in renewable energy, with $527 billion in loans guaranteed by U.S. taxpayers going to the California-based solar company Solyndra.

Fast forward to August 31, 2011, when Solyndra declared bankruptcy and suspended all production, laying off 1,100 employees. Aside from the sheer negligence of losing more than $500 million in taxpayer money, it was also the case that Solyndra’s biggest investor, George Kaiser, bundled more than $50,000 in contributions for the President’s 2008 campaign, and visited the White House four times before the loan from the Department of Energy was finalized.

Months before the company failed, the Obama administration agreed to re-structure the loans in order to favor private investors like Kaiser, who would eventually get back roughly 50% of their original investment, vs. less than 5% for taxpayers. This was done against the advice of the career OMB professionals, according to an August 1, 2012 report in the Washington Post:

Documents show that in January 2011, when Solyndra was in technical default on its loan, OMB analyst Kelly Colyar concluded that if the company were immediately liquidated, taxpayers would lose $141 million. If the loan were restructured and more money were released to Solyndra, she estimated, a subsequent default would cost taxpayers $385 million. The loss was attributable in part to allowing private investors to recover some of their money first.

According to the Post, the warnings were ignored, “the restructuring went forward, but within months Solyndra failed anyway, leaving federal taxpayers on the hook for much of the half-billion-dollar federal loan.” But the losses were even greater than forecast: the bankruptcy plan Solyndra put forward in the summer of 2012 estimated taxpayers would lose more than 95% of their original investment, recouping just $24 million.

Despite the odor of both incompetence and corruption, the three broadcast evening newscasts had virtually no time for this embarrassing failure by Team Obama. In the six weeks after Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in 2011, the evening newscasts ran just eight stories (four full reports, plus brief mentions in four additional stories).

Even that puny amount of coverage was too much for the networks in 2012, which saw not a single evening news story devoted exclusively to the case. The NBC Nightly News included three brief discussions of Solyndra in longer political reports, while on ABC’s World News investigative correspondent Brian Ross spent a whopping 29 seconds recounting the case of Obama 2008 mega-fundraiser Steven Spinner, who pushed the Energy Department loans in 2009.

For its part, the CBS Evening News aired nothing about the story in 2012 (although other CBS News programs did include brief reports). Total evening news coverage in 2012: four brief mentions, totaling just 1 minute, 43 seconds.

It’s not as if Republicans weren’t trying to make Solyndra a campaign issue. GOP candidate Mitt Romney went to the company’s headquarters in May to make his case that this was a symbol of Obama’s failure, yet both ABC and CBS failed to note the trip on their evening newscasts (although CBS briefly covered the trip on CBS This Morning, while ABC’s token conservative, columnist George Will, mentioned it three days later on This Week).

And both Romney and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan brought up Solyndra in their nationally-televised debates with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, yet none of the networks included those exchanges in their subsequent coverage.

Fair campaign coverage would allow time for the major points made by both sides, Republican candidates as well as Democrats. Yet the same networks that provided seemingly endless airtime for Obama’s slashing attacks on Romney as an uncompassionate capitalist had virtually no time for Romney’s counter-attack on the President as an incompetent steward of taxpayer dollars — another example of how the networks tilted the playing field in 2012.