MRC Special Report: The Media's Obama Miracle

How Journalists Pretend There Aren't Any White House Scandals

On the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama painted a picture of 5 million new “green jobs” over the next decade generated by federal government loans of $15 billion a year. The national media have been very generous in evaluating that promise: Reuters said the jobs have been “slow to sprout.”      

The Washington Post crunched the numbers in September 2011: Instead of creating 65,000 jobs, as promised, the $38 billion loan program which included Solyndra could only claim 3,545 jobs. But no one on TV noticed that, because network coverage of the  “green jobs”  concept tilted in Obama’s favor. “We have gotten the message. Green-collar jobs are the wave of the future,” co-host Diane Sawyer cheered on ABC’s Good Morning America on April 15, 2009. MRC’s Business and Media Institute found that out of 52 network stories that mentioned the administration’s “green jobs” program, only four (eight percent) bothered to include any critics at all.   

California-based Solyndra was the first solar company to be given a loan from the Department of Energy under President Obama, a loan for $535 million dollars in 2009. On August 31, 2011, Solyndra declared bankrupcy and suspended all production, laying off 1,100 employees and sticking the taxpayers with the bill.       

In the first two months of 2002, the Big Three networks reported a stunning 198 stories on the bankruptcy of Enron, a Houston-based energy company. Enron CEO Ken Lay had been to the Clinton White House, but the networks zoomed in on George W. Bush.  Democrats denounced George W. Bush’s “Enronomics” and “Enronizing” of Social Security. In the two months after its August 31 bankruptcy filing, ABC, CBS, and NBC filed a grand total of 15 stories on Solyndra. That’s an Enron-to-Solyndra comparison of more than 13 to 1. Since last Halloween, the networks have offered only nine more stories (and six of them were anchor-read briefs). The last one came from CBS on January 13.    



Even when Mitt Romney made a surprise visit to stand in front of the empty Solyndra headquarters on May 31, 2012, the networks only mentioned it in passing, offering no stories. CBS reporter Jan Crawford asked Mitt Romney one solitary Solyndra question on CBS This Morning on June 1.     

Only ABC (on the October 3, 2011 World News) ran footage of George Stephanopoulos asking President Obama about Solyndra, despite Obama’s casual dismissal about the failure:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you regret that?   

OBAMA: No, I don’t, because if you look at the overall portfolio of loan guarantees that have been provided, overall it’s doing well and what we always understood was that not every single business is gonna succeed in clean energy. But if we want to compete with China, which is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into this space, if we want to compete with other countries that are heavily subsidizing the industries of the future, we’ve got to make sure that our guys here in the United States of America at least have a shot. Now, there are going to be some failures and Solyndra is an example.   

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you were getting warnings not to back that company up, not to visit? 

OBAMA: Well, you know, hindsight is always 20/20.

On October 7, the same Obama administration that pledged to be the most transparent ever engaged in a late-Friday document dump. The pile included e-mails showing a top Obama fundraiser and Energy Department official, Steven Spinner — who had supposedly recused himself from Solyndra’s loan application because his wife worked at a law firm representing the solar energy company — persistently pushing his colleagues to approve the deal.   

Spinner sent e-mails demanding to know: “Any word on OMB? I have the O.V.P. [Office of the Vice President] and W.H. [White House] breathing down my neck on this....How hard is this? What is he waiting for?”   

Even though these e-mails were sensational enough to make it onto the front-page of The New York Times, the networks never found a moment over the long Columbus Day weekend to mention them, just as they skipped the earlier news that Jonathan Silver, who ran the Energy Department loan program that handed more than $500 million in taxpayer money to Solyndra, had resigned. When two Solyndra executives took the Fifth Amendment before Congress in September, ABC and NBC skipped that news, too, while CBS offered about 25 seconds of coverage.   

As the former Newsweek editor Jonathan Alter predicted in his Obama-miracle article: “Although it’s possible that the Solyndra LLC story will become a classic feeding frenzy, don’t bet on it. Providing $535 million in loan guarantees to a solar-panel maker that goes bankrupt was dumb, but so far not criminal or even unethical on the part of the administration.” On the October 29, 2011 Today program, Washington Post editorialist Jonathan Capehart announced the network definition of scandal: “We’re looking at the GOP looking to scratch, trying to find a scandal in an administration that is remarkably free of scandal.”