Insider's Game

Selected writings by David Fiderer

NPR’s On The Media: Interview

First published in NPR's On The Media on August 29, 2008

BOB GARFIELD:  The national conversation about energy independence should be a wide-ranging discussion about science and economics, but mostly it’s framed as a political debate with two equal and opposing sides. But do both sides warrant equal attention?


David Fiderer writes for The Huffington Post and has been a banker in the energy industry for two decades. He’s been following the coverage, and his complaint is that reporters who lack a basic understanding of the energy economy act as unwitting enablers for politicians who trample on the facts to gain political advantage.


DAVID FIDERER:  An example I wrote about in Huffington Post was John Harwood, who writes for The New York Times and is also a political correspondent for CNBC, talked about how the Democrats now are talking about building new nuclear plants because gasoline is selling at four dollars a gallon.


BOB GARFIELD:  And there is no relationship between the price of oil at the pumps and nuclear anything, correct?


DAVID FIDERER:  That’s correct. Nuclear is used for generating electricity. Oil is used in the United States primarily for transportation. And there’s no viable way of converting nuclear energy into fuel for transportation.


BOB GARFIELD:  Now, since both John McCain and Barack Obama and every other national politician are talking about energy independence, can we just establish a few things about that premise?




BOB GARFIELD:  Like given the way petroleum deposits are distributed on Earth, is it reasonable to imagine the U.S. being fully independent of foreign oil, ever?


DAVID FIDERER:   Not if we consume oil at anything close to the rate we have for the last 50 years. If we consumed oil at the rate we did in 1965, we would still be importing 40 percent of our oil.
BOB GARFIELD:  Another contentious issue is that of offshore oil reserves.




BOB GARFIELD:  The Republicans want to start [LAUGHS] drilling tomorrow, and they portray those against more drilling as tree huggers willing to put our nation’s energy security at risk to save a few whales. At least that’s how the media has been framing the controversy.


DAVID FIDERER:  Even if all the oil reserves were there that the most optimistic oil person says is off the coast of California or Florida, it still wouldn’t have a major impact on the price of oil. It still would take at best five years to bring production to market and it still wouldn’t change our dependence on foreign oil in any major way.


BOB GARFIELD:  Now, you write for The Huffington Post.




BOB GARFIELD:  It is an unabashedly liberal website. Are you giving me a political point of view, or is that an undisputed fact that you’ve just recited?


DAVID FIDERER:  Oh, that’s an undisputed fact. You don’t hear the president of Exxon saying, oh, if we started drilling offshore, oil prices would go down within the next few months. No one in the industry believes that.


BOB GARFIELD:  So why then does the press frame this issue as dueling policy options? It reminds me a bit of the so-called global warming debate. Even though there was a scientific consensus that man was affecting the environment, the press almost compulsively framed it as battling viewpoints. Is that’s what’s happening here, the press looking to be fair and, in so doing, distorting reality?


DAVID FIDERER:  Yeah, I think the Republicans are framing the debate and the media is going along. It’s saying, okay, this is the Republicans’ perspective and this is the Democrats’ perspective and that’s just the way it is. But that is not the underlying reality.


BOB GARFIELD:  So when you watch a reporter, you know, taking the hook and running with it, what are you thinking?


DAVID FIDERER:  I think sometimes they’re just carrying water for politicians. When Lou Dobbs asked Bill Schneider, well oil prices dropped. It’s just what all the experts said. Once President Bush stopped the executive order to ban offshore drilling, all prices fell 13 percent over the last two or three weeks. Isn’t that impressive?


Well, no one in the industry believes that. There were no experts who believed that. And that’s because, with or without an executive order, it’s still illegal to drill offshore.


BOB GARFIELD:  And Bill Schneider, having been confronted with that premise?


DAVID FIDERER:  He said something to the effect, yes, two-thirds of Americans support offshore oil drilling now. Bill Schneider, a pollster, takes a polling question and if the majority of Americans believe it, it’s referenced as if it were a demonstrable fact.


BOB GARFIELD:  So you’re the sultan, what are your marching orders?


DAVID FIDERER:  When someone says that they are going to reduce our dependence on offshore oil, have that person actually walk us through the numbers. A political consultant can walk you through how you get to 270 electoral votes in the fall. Someone who has an energy plan should be able to walk you through how do you reduce our dependence on foreign oil.


BOB GARFIELD:  David, thank you.




BOB GARFIELD:  David Fiderer, for 20 years an energy banker, has been writing about energy issues for The Huffington Post.