An Example of Ratings

The first map is up, and I have gotten feedback. That feedback? “We would like a sample of how your rating system works.” Let’s dive in!

Last summer, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a major fossil fuel-driven energy project, was shut down after considerable protest. A number of outlets wrote about these events, and I will talk about how the rating system was used in two specific examples.

As a reminder, the following is what the actual rating system looks like.

So, what does this look like in practice? To see, we are going to look at NBC News‘ “Atlantic Coast Pipeline canceled after years of delays, accusations of environmental injustice” and Wall Street Journal‘s “Pipeline Canceled Following Years of Delays — Dominion Energy to sell rest of its natural-gas network to Buffett’s Berkshire for $9.7 billion.” (Apologies, but the Journal is paywalled. If only there were a way to… unpaywall things?)

We’ll start with the down/up axis, which focuses on populism and elitism. An easy way to think about this is: What is the focus of the article? Who gets to speak?

Let me show you what I mean.

In WSJ, here are a number of the times they attribute quotes or ideas to involved parties.

  • Duke Energy Corp. and Dominion Energy Inc. said Sunday
  • Dominion said
  • Dominion and Duke said in a joint statement
  • Utilities and pipeline companies have been trying
  • The Trump administration has sought
  • Dominion and Duke had first proposed
  • said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club
  • However, Duke and Dominion said Sunday
  • Berkshire Hathaway Energy will acquire Dominion Energy Transmission
  • Bill Fehrman, Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s president and chief executive, said
  • Dominion said the sale
  • Dominion and Duke have each been pushing 

So, the article directly or indirectly quotes Duke, Dominion, and Berkshire Hathaway, more than a dozen times, with only a single line from an activist organization, the Sierra Club. There is nothing from (and almost nothing about) local protesters or activists. Despite the inclusion of a single quote from Michael Brune, the article overwhelmingly prioritizes the viewpoint of international corporations and investors. On the Populism/Elitism scale, this rates a +3.

Compare that to the NBC News article.

  •  Rose, 76, recalled Monday
  • Dominion Energy in Richmond, Virginia, and Duke Energy in Charlotte, North Carolina, announced
  • The Friends of Buckingham, a grassroots environmental group that Oba co-founded
  • Rose, a Black retiree whose home on nearly 2 acres would have been among the closest to the proposed compressor station, said she feels “vindicated”
  • Oba said
  • Earlier this year, Oba, Rose and others in Union Hill celebrated
  • U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote
  • Dominion, the lead stakeholder, vowed to resolve 
  • Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell II and Duke CEO Lynn J. Good said
  • Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette blamed
  • The pipeline had been touted by local leaders and its supporters
  • Some residents were resigned
  • said Harry Bryant, the chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors
  • said Greg Buppert, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center
  • Ryan Emanuel, a professor at North Carolina State University and citizen of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, which organized against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said
  • Emanuel said
  • No matter the reasons, Oba said

As you can see, this the focus here is quite different. There is a +3, in the quote from the CEOs. There are +2s from a couple government officials. But you can see that the vast majority of the story is focused on community member Ella Rose (-1), activist organizer Chad Oba (-3), and Professor Ryan Emanuel (+1). Ultimately, this one comes out to a 0.

So, right now, the WSJ article is at a +3,x and the NBC article is at a 0,x.

I mentioned in The Big Post that the Progressive/Conservative scale tended to be… a bit looser. So, let’s dive into that.

The P/C scale ranges from equality to hierarchy, with the progressive scale going from reforming to abolishing hierarchical systems, while the conservative scale goes from maintaining to empowering them.

For example, from the Wall Street Journal:

But many of the projects have encountered intense opposition from landowners, Native American groups and environmental activists concerned about climate change who want to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

And, later:

Dominion and Duke have each been pushing to slash their carbon emissions in response to state mandates and customer concerns about climate change. Both companies are aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 by developing more wind and solar power and investing in other clean technologies.

The article brings up climate concerns, but keeps it to a single sentence. Meanwhile, the companies looking to exacerbate climate change get two about how that concern is invalid.

I’m going to stop posting excerpts from the article so that I don’t end up reposting the entire thing, but to continue: The Journal does things like that repeatedly, using positive terms to refer to the companies’ desire to use fossil fuels while minimizing the viewpoints of communities worried about pollutants. They don’t necessarily argue for empowering systems of hierarchy, but they very much argue in favor of maintaining them. From dismissing the concerns of environmental groups to not even airing the concerns of residents, the message of this piece is essentially, “The wealthy should be trusted to use these resources wisely.” That is a +1.

The NBC News article, on the other hand, does not have much to say with regards to systems of hierarchy. It gives a number of interested parties room to speak, but does the article itself make any statements about hierarchy and equality? The closest it comes is when interviewing Professor Emanuel:

But he believes legislation similar to the Clean Water Act of 1972, which set national water quality standards, is necessary to prevent the effects of environmental racism.

This is what I would say is a -1; it suggests some reform or regulation. That said, that is a one-off line buried in the article. What both opens and closes the article is about Ella Rose and Chad Oba, about organizing. I would say this is a 0.

So, in the end, the WSJ article is a +3/+1, while the NBC News article is a 0/0. Does this mean the NBC article is unbiased?

No!

The NBC article has some clear biases. The article opens and closes with a bit about the effectiveness and hope in protest movements. The article does the good journalism thing and gives voice to some dissenting view-points, which is why it ended up at a 0… but the framing is clearly in support of Ella and Chad.

I hope this helped explain how the rating system worked. If you have any questions, leave a comment below or reach out to me through the site. Thanks for reading!

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