Monday’s news that yet another solar company that received Energy Department backing is filing for bankruptcy protection at first looked like the Obama administration had funded another expensive loser.
But unlike Solyndra’s high-profile and costly flameout, this time the news came with a twist that tripped up wire services, talking heads and members of Congress.
The company, Solar Trust, never took the money….
Even The Associated Press and Reuters got it wrong.
When the media latches on to a narrative, mistakes happen. Why? Confirmation bias sets in, so reporters and editors don’t do the same amount of due diligence as they would on a story that strikes their intuition — their nose for news — as incorrect.
The media mistakenly believes unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases are unlikely to have a catastrophic impact, so they downplay the story and play up the 1 in 20 articles that doesn’t show the situation is more dire than scientists thought.
Now, the media erroneously thinks solar power is flaming out and that government support for solar isn’t a good idea. They have wildly overhyped Solyndra, ignoring anything that would undermine the narrative, such as the December Bloomberg report that concluded: “The focus on Solyndra is not proportional to its impact.”
So I suppose it’s no surprise that leading news outlets got the Solar Trust story wrong. Politico notes in its story, “A $2 billion solar mistake — from the media“ that the error underscores “the eagerness of many in the media to discover the next Solyndra.”
Precisely. In this case, their error was abetted by the right-wing disinformation machine:
Right-leaning blogs and websites seized on the news with headlines blaring about $2 billion of taxpayers’ money lost — even if the accompanying story correctly noted that Solar Trust never got a dime.
“One year ago this outfit got $2.1 billion in taxpayer loans,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program Tuesday. “So down the tubes. Solyndra was solar panels, and now Solar Trust of America has filed bankruptcy.”
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) took to Twitter on Tuesday to lament the failure: “This costs us $2.1 bill. Equal to all ‘Big Oil’ tax breaks last yr.”
But we expect those folks to get stories wrong — that’s what they do for a living. The mainstream media is supposed to be better than that:
Solar Trust’s project in Blythe, Calif.— which would have been one of the largest solar farms in the world — received a conditional commitment for a $2.1 billion loan guarantee from DOE in April 2011.
The deal, almost four times as large as Solyndra’s, got star treatment from administration officials. Energy Secretary Steven Chu lauded it in a White House blog post, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar attended the project’s groundbreaking ceremony in June. (It’s located on federally controlled land).
But in August, Solar Trust essentially walked away from the deal.
Reporters and editors need to double check all stories — particularly the ones that strike them as obviously true. That’s why they have the old journalistic shibboleth: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”