New Yorkers were treated to media manipulation this week as Sean Hannity became a paid mouthpiece for the fracking industry. Last week, the Journal News described how Hannity took to the airwaves to say NY Governor Andrew Cuomo held off on controversial fracking permits to appease his "left wing" base. In reality, Cuomo ordered state health reviews responding to an outpouring of 80,000 comments after the public found taxpayer funded studies had baldly omitted the downsides of the practice. And a new Siena poll published just yesterday shows public opposition to fracking is on the rise.
We would find out just days later that Mr. Hannity's latest advocacy for fracking also happens to coincide with a paid campaign in favor of the fracking industry, reading live ads for the film Frack Nation.
This is (again) an ethical conflict of interest, blurring show content with paid issue ads. In July 2011, we reported how Hannity and his mentor Rush Limbaugh were accused by the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Politico and The Economist for apparent violation of Section 317 of the 1934 Communications Act, entitled "Announcement That Matter Is Paid For". Muddying the lines between advertising and program content is frowned upon - unless you are, like Hannity, paid to "crystallize public opinion".
Till now, Hannity has largely avoided the fracking debate, mentioning the destructive drilling process only fleetingly in a repetitive list of other "drill baby drill" initiatives. His specific criticism of Cuomo on this issue seems quite oddly timed.
But it gets worse. As part of a purchased spot heard Wednesday, Hannity described the Frack Nation documentary as "crowdfunded" through Kickstarter, even though no grassroots movie promotion campaign has ever reached a radio audience of 10+ million in primetime drive with live reads by the #1 top rated host in the time slot.
So this is a whopping lie, endorsed by Hannity as he reads from a script, failing to mention the rights to the movie have been secured by right wing billionaire Mark Cuban, whose cable station will feature the film. The market value of Hannity's air time was not disclosed, and the Kickstarter solicitation never mentioned any funds going to advertising or promotion. So where did the money come from? How does Kickstarter feel about being mentioned in deceptive ad copy?
Hannity's shilling for moneyed interests is no surprise, but the fracking debate is serious - most people are unaware of the future costs our children will bear to inspect and repair millions of abandoned fracking wells decades from now. After wells are depleted, they sit there forever as up potential causeways for water contamination as erosion or land shift compromise concrete casings.
According to leaked records, the industry is already hiding that 6% of wells leak right from the outset. They prefer to discuss job creation, but don't explain who will be paying the salaries of the 'neverending' repair crews.
Hannity has no compunctions about environmental karma, and is sure his children's inheritance will provide for a lot of pristine bottled water. But his shivering cowardice in discussing the science behind fracking on the air is a theft of taxpayer resources, sabotaging public airwaves for payola talk radio that clearly does not serve the public interest.
If you actually attended official hydrofracking hearings held around the state by the DEC, you saw it's a far cry from industry propaganda about safe drilling and jobs and the happy-ever-after. In the "boring" public hearings, we learned that gas drilling corporations have been using non-disclosure clauses in financial settlements with homeowners to prevent the truth about contamination from reaching the press - and the official scientific reviewers.
This led to the blockbuster "Drilling Down" series by the NY Times, revealing contamination has occurred going way back to 1984, but frackers' gag money kept the EPA from acknowledging water contamination until December, 2011. In New York, the expansion of fracking has happened so quickly, studies say overwhelmed state inspectors have to leave about 75% of drilling sites completely unmonitored.
So, can we trust the drilling firms to self-police? According to the Times, these energy companies have continually deceived regulators and at times, their own investors. Landowners who leased to fracking firms complain bitterly about exploitation in positively vampiric lease terms and legal bullying, as well as intentional deception in contractual fine print.
Will it help your state? The biggest fracking firms have evaded nearly $10 billion in state taxes thanks to a sneaky filing loophole carved out in Delaware. The jobs promised are actually temporary and often given to experienced workers from outside the region.
The industry also conceals the chemicals in the fluids they shoot into to the Earth, misstates the environmental impact of their truck traffic and greenhouse gases released, and they downplay the risks of irreversible poisoning of drinking water, risks which will increase over time after their wells are abandoned.
Indeed, our water is already being tainted by the carcinogenic runoff concoction used in the drilling process, with about 50% remaining in the ground. But earthquakes or floods anytime in the future could bring up toxins from the bowels of the earth's strata, including volatile organic compounds, harmful minerals or radioactive particles.