October 16, 2000
Covering for Cheney
The imbalance in the press coverage was apparent, too, with Bush’s vice presidential running mate, Dick Cheney, a longtime favorite of official Washington.
At the vice presidential debate, Cheney depicted himself as a self-made multi-millionaire from his years as chairman of Halliburton Co. As for his success in the private sector, Cheney told Democratic nominee Joe Lieberman that “the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
After years of hyper-critical coverage of Al Gore for supposedly puffing up his resumé, one might have expected the major media to jump all over this patently false statement. But the big newspapers and the major television networks offered no challenge to Cheney’s comment.
Bloomberg News, a business wire, was one of the few outlets that took note of the variance between Cheney’s assessment and the facts. “Cheney’s reply left out how closely Dallas-based Halliburton’s fortunes are linked to the U.S. government,” Bloomberg News said.
The article noted that Halliburton was a leading defense contractor (with $1.8 billion in contracts from 1996-99) and a major beneficiary of federal loan guarantees (another $1.8 billion in loans and loan guarantees from the U.S.-funded Export-Import Bank during Cheney’s years).
The article also cited internal Ex-Im Bank e-mails showing that Cheney personally lobbied bank chairman James Harmon for a $500 million loan guarantee for Russia’s OAO Tyumen Oil Co. The Ex-Im loan guarantee, approved in March, helped finance Halliburton’s contract with Tyumen.
In further contradiction of Cheney’s self-made-man claim, the article quoted from a speech that Cheney gave to the Ex-Im Bank in 1997. “I see that we have in recent years been involved in projects in the following (countries) supported, in part, through Ex-Im activities: Algeria, Angola, Colombia, the Philippines, Russia, the Czech Republic, Thailand, China, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, India, Kenya, the Congo, Brazil, Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico,” Cheney said.
“Export financing agencies are a key element in making this possible, helping U.S. businesses blend private sector resources with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government,” Cheney added. [Bloomberg News, Oct. 6, 2000]
Fresh from his debate pronouncement about his self-reliance, Cheney took the offensive denouncing Gore for alleged exaggerations. “He [Gore] seems to have a compulsion to embellish his arguments or … his resumé,” Cheney said on Oct. 6. “He seems to have this uncontrollable desire periodically to add to his reputation, to his record, things that aren’t true. That’s worrisome and I think it’s appropriate for us to point that out.”
Normally, hypocrisy is considered a big story, especially when the accuser’s behavior is more egregious than the actions of his target. Yet, Cheney’s own resumé polishing was barely mentioned in the major media. When it was, it was excused as harmless banter.
The media maintained this position even as Cheney went out of his way to defend his self-made man statement in comments on National Public Radio. There, he compounded his deception by insisting that the government contracts with Halliburton had predated his arrival at the company in 1995.
“We did do some” work for the government, Cheney told NPR interviewer Bob Edwards on Oct. 11. “The fact is the company I worked for won a competitive bid before I ever got there. So it’s not as though this were some kind of gift.” [NPR’s Morning Edition ]
Contrary to Cheney’s suggestion that he was not responsible for bringing in any of Halliburton’s government business, Halliburton actually moved up the list of Pentagon contractors during Cheney’s tenure, reaching 17 in 1999, the latest available rankings.
The documents, cited in the Bloomberg News article, also made clear that Cheney personally lobbied for loan guarantees from the Ex-Im Bank. The bank uses U.S. taxpayer money to finance the overseas business of U.S. companies, what some critics call “corporate welfare.”
The major media’s one-way microscope on Gore’s credibility missed Cheney’s exaggeration about his career while letting Cheney continue attacking Gore over alleged exaggerations about his career.
Bush & the Environment
Similarly, the press let Gov. Bush escape any serious attention over false and misleading statements about the environment and global warming, issues that will affect the future of the planet. In the Oct. 11 debate, Bush offered conflicting statements within the space of a few minutes, but the big-time press took no notice of the problems.
Bush’s first swing at the issue of pollution-causing industrial plants went this way: “We need to make sure that if we decontrol our plants that there's mandatory -- that the plants must conform to clean air standards, the grand-fathered plants. That's what we did in Texas. No excuses. I mean, you must conform.”
Just minutes later, he had shifted toward what sounded like a voluntary program. “Well, I -- I -- I don't believe in command-and-control out of Washington, D.C. I believe Washington ought to set standards, but I don't -- again, I think we ought to be collaborative at the local levels. And I think we ought to work with people at the local levels.”
Beyond the question of coherence, Bush’s statements seemed contradictory. Either the national government sets standards with compliance required or local governments can be allowed to set their own environmental rules, possibly in cooperation with business. Bush seemed to be having it both ways.
In Texas, Bush’s record suggests that he opposes mandatory standards even at the local and state levels. Bush cites as his most significant environmental accomplishment the setting of new rules for grand-fathered industrial plants, previously exempt from Texas clean air laws – what he apparently was referring to in his debate remarks.
But those plants were asked only to voluntarily comply with the clean air rules. The 1997 law carried no penalties for industries that didn’t seek a permit under the law. It is the kind of standard that polluting industries would salivate over at the national level.
As it turned out, Bush’s administration had drafted the new rules in close collaboration with representatives of the industries being regulated. The role of industry representatives was discovered in confidential memos obtained by the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. [Sierra Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 1999]
Without mandatory requirements, environmentalists argue that as few as 10 out of more than 800 grand-fathered facilities are likely to reduce emissions. [San Antonio Express News, June 4, 1999]
Other Bush comments have raised questions about his commitment to solving pollution problems in Texas and nationally. “I do not believe you can sue your way or regulate your way to clean air and clean water,” Bush told the Dallas Morning News [Dec. 1, 1999]
On global warming, Bush’s debate comments were perhaps even more misleading. “I just – I think there’s been some – some of the scientists. I believe, Mr. Vice President, haven’t they been changing their opinion a little bit on global warming?” Bush said.
In reality, the only change within the scientific community has been to revise global warming projections upward, recognizing that the rising temperatures are a greater threat than had been thought. No credible scientist now denies that global warming is a real environmental development that has begun or is about to begin.
Even industry front groups, such as the Greening Earth Society, which supplied Bush some of his data for his Sept. 29 energy address, no longer deny the trends, though they argue that global warming might be beneficial. The Greening Earth Society, which was created by the Western Fuels Association, argues that higher levels of carbon dioxide will spur plant growth.
[For more on Bush’s reliance on Greening Earth data, see our story about Bush’s energy estimates.]
In his debate comment, Bush might have been referring to the recommendation from scientist, Dr. Jim Hansen, that the world first should address less common greenhouse gases, rather than confronting carbon dioxide, a gas emanating from fossil fuels and representing a much more difficult political battle.
Hansen’s suggestion, however, does not mean that scientists are less concerned about the world’s dependence on fossil fuels or the onset of global warming.
In the debate, Bush also protested the Kyoto Treaty aimed at curbing the pollution behind global warming. Bush said, “I’ll tell you one thing I’m not going to do is I’m not going to let the United States carry the burden for cleaning up the world’s air, like the Kyoto Treaty would have done. China and India were exempted from that treaty.”
In fact, China and India were not exempted from the treaty. They weren’t subjected to the same requirements as the developed world, but they committed themselves to reducing emissions and China appears to have stopped its emissions growth. Per person, China and India already have pollution rates that are fractions of the pollution caused by the United States.
At another point in the debate, Bush said the Clinton-Gore administration “took 40 million acres of land out of circulation without consulting local officials. … I just cited an example of the administration just unilaterally acting without any input.”
Bush was referring to a pending administration proposal to protect 40 million acres of roadless areas in national forests from more road building and logging. As the Sierra Club noted in a press release, Bush’s statement was false.
“In fact, the Forest Service conducted 600 public meetings about the proposal nationwide and more than one million Americans urged the administration to strengthen the proposal,” the Sierra Club said. “There was ample opportunity for local officials and others to comment on the proposal.”
Defending his own record in Texas, Bush also asserted that “our water is cleaner now.” False again, the Sierra Club said. “The discharge of industrial toxic pollution into surface waters in Texas increased from 23.2 million pounds in 1995 to 25.2 million pounds in 1998, the last year with data available,” a Sierra Club press release said.
If Gore had made similar misrepresentations, they would have filled the air waves. Bush’s falsehoods passed virtually unnoticed.