Big Three Evening News Shows Spend Only 11 Minutes in a Year on Keystone Pipeline

Debate in the Senate over the Keystone XL Pipeline is expected to heat up this week, but the popular project has yet to pique the interest of the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) network evening news shows. Despite enjoying almost unanimous GOP congressional support, popular public appeal (57 percent favored the plan in a December 18-21 CNN poll) and being backed by liberal labor unions, some Democratic senators and even, at one point, MSNBC commentator Ed Schultz, the networks have mostly ignored the broadly supported pipeline.

So how much time have network evening news show spent, in the last year, on this popular jobs-creating project? From January 1, 2014 through January 19, 2015 ABC’s World News astonishingly spent only one minute and 35 seconds on the pipeline project. NBC Nightly News offered only three minutes and 27 seconds.

CBS Evening News spent the most amount of time on the Keystone Pipeline, coming in at six minutes and two seconds. Total broadcast evening news airtime: just 11 minutes and 4 seconds.



The Keystone Pipeline plan has hurdled almost every major obstacle in its way. The State Department environmentally cleared the pipeline construction and estimated it could create as many as 42,000 jobs. And the Nebraska Supreme Court, this month, ruled the plan could go forward as well. So far the only things standing in its way are Democratic senators, a Barack Obama-threatened veto, and environmental activists. Which is probably why the network evening shows have been so reluctant to cover the project.

Beginning on January 31, 2014, when the State Department declared it saw no environmental problems with the project, to last December’s votes in the House and Senate and this month’s coverage of Obama’s veto threat, the Big Three network evening shows have offered a total of four full stories (CBS 2, ABC 1, NBC 1). There were also nine other quick references in the form of two briefs and seven mentions (CBS 5, NBC 3, ABC 1) on the pipeline.

On the January 31, 2014 CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley announced the “controversial oil pipeline project cleared a major hurdle with the Obama administration. The Keystone XL pipeline would run border to border, carrying oil from refineries...from refineries in Texas. Today the State Department said it saw no environmental problems with the project.” However, Obama’s own State Department’s approval didn’t stop CBS’s Dean Reynolds, in a May 20, 2014 CBS Evening News story, from raising the environmental alarms:

DEAN REYNOLDS: As now proposed, the pipeline would run right under Jenni Harrington`s family farm. We spoke with her a few weeks ago.

JENNI HARRINGTON: Like a new roof, it`s pretty great in the first ten years, but you get fifteen, twenty-five years down the road and pipelines are going to leak, are going to rupture.

REYNOLDS: And if this one did, opponents say it could have a devastating environmental impact. The pipeline would run about five to eight feet below the Nebraska topsoil but on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides nearly two million people with drinking water across eight states.

GREG AWTRY: You can’t see the Ogallala Aquifer but it may be the single most valuable natural resource the country has.

REYNOLDS: Greg Awtry is the publisher of the local paper and believes oil and water shouldn’t mix.

AWTRY: It’s not the pipe. It’s what’s in the pipe.

REYNOLDS: The oil from the tar sands in Canada is too thick to flow through pipelines so it has to be diluted with benzene and other chemicals linked to cancer. TransCanada promises elaborate monitoring and protection systems.

Reynolds, in his report, did note that the company in charge of the pipeline’s construction, TransCanada, promised the project would create jobs. That creation of jobs, especially union ones, is probably what got Big Labor supporter and liberal commentator Ed Schultz to briefly get on the Keystone bandwagon. On his February 5, 2014 show Schultz pronounced:

“The hard cold truth is the United States is an oil and gas dependent country and we’re going to be for the foreseeable future. And I think it really is a disservice to the conversation and the debate to take an all-or-nothing approach to this. We’re not really confronting reality here...the State Department study says it is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction or the continued heavy demand of crude oil at refineries. And I think this is key here. If this is built, it doesn’t mean that you and I going to be consuming more.”


Of course, Schultz would quickly change his tune. By his March 4 show, the MSNBC host compared Keystone to the Vietnam war and wondered if it was as “bad.” By January 6 of this year, the MSNBC host was cheering a promised veto: “We start tonight with very important breaking news. President Obama will veto the Keystone XL pipeline. If you voted for this president and you care about climate change, you have to be proud tonight.”

One has to wonder if the same pressure from environmental activists that likely caused Schultz to cave in, is what is keeping the Big Three evening shows from properly covering the Keystone Pipeline project.      

— Geoffrey Dickens is Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.