Carroll: Vindication for Bob SchafferI normally would not showcase a column from the Opinion section of a newspaper, but this column is worth visiting. It shows a structural bias inherent in our printed media.
By Vincent Carroll
The Denver Post
Posted: 06/28/2009 01:00:00 AM MDT
Let's close the circle on a nasty political story from last year. Let's call out those who defamed a man for allegedly putting profits above patriotism now that he has been vindicated by events.
As the campaign for the U.S. Senate in Colorado hit full stride last summer, a spokeswoman for the eventual winner, Democrat Mark Udall, accused Republican Bob Schaffer of engaging in "business activities that made it harder for (U.S.) troops to accomplish that mission" in Iraq.
Michael Huttner of the left-wing outfit ProgressNowAction adopted a predictably harsher tone: He denounced Schaffer as a war profiteer "working against American interests."
Schaffer's sin? The company he'd worked for, Denver-based Aspect Energy, struck a deal in 2007 with the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq to explore for oil. And Schaffer had traveled to Kurdistan the year before with Aspect executives.
You might wonder who could possibly begrudge the long-oppressed Kurdish people an opportunity to develop their natural wealth. Well, the Iraqi government, for one, which sought to control all contracts with energy companies. Even the U.S. State Department eventually signaled its displeasure with such deals, although not until after Schaffer's trip.
As part of the smear campaign, a couple of former Reagan administration officials who'd drifted into the Democratic camp were rounded up to sling mud. Rand Beers and Larry Kolb told journalists (including me) that not only were such exploration contracts counter to Iraqi and American interests, but that Baghdad would not consent to Kurdistan dealing with oil companies on its own.
"I think there is a serious question about who Bob Schaffer is," said Beers, doing his best imitation of J. Edgar Hoover.
Now fast forward to this month and let The Associated Press pick up our tale.
"Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region officially started pumping crude oil to the international market on (June 1)," The AP reported, "a development that will boost Iraq's cash-strapped economy."
Indeed, the AP added, production is "expected to reach a total capacity of 250,000 barrels per day within a year and 1 million barrels per day in the coming two to three years . . . ."
The Iraqi oil ministry that would never lift its opposition to Kurdish exports eventually did. The contracts that were supposedly a threat to destabilize Iraq in fact are going to help fill its coffers with desperately needed revenue, as the Kurds share oil proceeds with the central government.
Kurdish oil production may have an even more beneficial effect as it ramps up over time if other Iraqis clamor for better management of their own resources. Iraqi politicians still can't agree to a new national law governing oil and gas production, so exploration elsewhere by foreign companies has been repeatedly postponed. Even upcoming contracts to improve pumping in existing fields are bitterly contested in parliament.
On the day Kurdish oil began to flow, the region's prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, recalled that oil revenues in Iraq once were used to finance "destruction, violence and genocide."
"In another country," he added, "today's event would be only a typical economic and technical achievement. But for the people of Kurdistan Region, it marks a dramatic departure from our recent past."
Not to mention a dramatic departure from the lurid stories about Kurdish oil contracts told in Colorado not so long ago.
Take a look at the profile I wrote for this blog. You will see characterizations at work to impart impressions and feelings about facts. This is also done in our news reporting. The “news” story will highlight the anti-Republican characterizations, and receive the benefit of “top-of-the-fold” prominence. The “opinion” story will highlight the facts of the story, and be located in a section of the paper that receives less emphasis.
During the 2008 Colorado senatorial campaign, Democrat Mark Udall competed against Republican Bob Schaffer. The Udall campaign characterized Mr. Schaffer as an unprincipled person, using his employment with a small energy company to portray him as “Big Oil Bob.”
Mr. Carroll writes about closing the circle “…on a nasty political story from last year.” His comments add context and understanding to the issue, but the damage is done. People who voted in our election a little over six months ago voted with the slogan “Big Oil Bob” on their minds. Mark Udall is now the Senator from Colorado.
Mr. Carroll performs a needed service by shedding light on the issue, but our anti-Republican culture stacks the deck against him:
Anti-Republican characterizations = News.
Pro-Republican facts = Opinion.