Corporate Media and Big Oil Coup

As the oil and media industries consolidated, their economic interests aligned which solidified their relationship
Oil Pump
Photo by Ryan Lackey via flickr

Mark Twain titled the late19th century as The Gilded Age. An age where industry giants, otherwise known as robber barons, such as Andrew Carnage, J. D. Rockefeller, and JP Morgan dominated commerce and politics. It was an age where violent working class altercations with authorities in conjunction with protests challenged robber baron’s power and corruption. In fact, the United States Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 to quell class tensions. The act empowered the federal government to dismantle existing monopolies. On May 15, 1911, much to the chagrin of Rockefeller, the oil giant, Standard Oil was ordered to disassociate into 34 nonpartisan companies. By 2015 ExxonMobil, BP/Shell, and Chevron were the only oil giants remaining. Contemporary oil companies, with the support of corporate media, influence politics and commerce much like the robber barons of the Gilded Age.

As the oil and media industries consolidated, their economic interests aligned which solidified their relationship. By the end of World War II, 80% of the newspaper industry was independently owned. Presently, 6 corporate companies control 90% of all media including, but not limited to television, radio, magazines, and newspapers. In fact, the top 10 global media corporations are headed by 118 board members who concurrently serve on executive boards at nearly 300 other media companies around the world. Of the 10 big media giants, 8 hold memberships on each other’s board of directors. Their influence on the US and its economy is far reaching. For example, big oil companies are required by law to pay a federal income tax rate of 35% based on their pre-tax income. Although this is the legal federal tax rate, these companies have been able to defer payment of a large portion of the required percentage. Over the last several years, big oil companies have paid an average federal income tax of 11.7% of their original pre-tax income. Many oil companies have deferred more of their federal income taxes then were actually paid.

Many of the same individuals holding executive board positions at corporate media companies also serve on the boards of the world’s biggest oil companies. For example, there was overlap on the boards of Texaco (now Chevron) and GE/NBC for years. Similarly, News Corp owner (parent company of Fox News) Rupert Murdoch, retains partial ownership of Genie Energy; a company that profits from the oil exploration in the Israeli occupied Syrian region of  Golan Heights and  had business deals tied to former Vice President Dick Cheney. However, the overlap goes beyond the board of directors. Many of the guests and hosts on corporate media talk shows are funded by think tanks that collect funds from big oil. In fact, a 2012 Media Matters study of oil think tanks impact on the public’s understanding of climate change concluded that the reason 66% of Americans incorrectly believe that scientists have no consensus on the causes of climate change results from the corporate media “distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change.” As a result of economic overlap, the corporate media oft serves the interests of big oil in its reporting. For example, the corporate outlets media overwhelmingly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Invasion of Iraq, like other conflicts in the Middle East, ultimately benefited the oil industry because it opens up more consumable oil for the industry. In fact, a 2015 study from Fair and Accuracy in Reporting found that while the US Congress discussed an invasion of Syria and Iraq, the corporate press provided “no debate” on the potential war. Fox News Host Jeanine Pirro announced to viewers that “we need to kill them [ISIS]”.

Corporate press additionally supports the oil industry by consciously avoiding stories that expose how their industry contributes to environmental degradation. Oil companies have long paid to hide how their industry contributed to climate change. In fact, in 2015 it was revealed that oil companies not only denied, but lied about their internal studies which concluded that the fossil fuel industry was a major contributor to climate change.  Meanwhile, the corporate media taking its information from oil think tanks ignored stories that demonstrated how oil companies contribute to climate change. For example, the corporate media ignored a 2015 story which detailed how oil companies had illegally dumped almost three million gallons of wastewater, generated from fracking, into Central California’s protected aquafers. Similarly, the corporate media ignored the debate over running an LNG pipeline through the state of Alaska despite concerns voiced by environmentalists . The lack of coverage has enabled oil giants ExxonMobil, British Petroleum (BP)/Shell, ConocoPhillips, and the pipeline builder TransCanada to move forward, unmolested, on their plan to develop the pipeline which aims to move 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. 

The coverage oil companies do receive in corporate media often celebrates their existence or justifies their negative influences. For example, Bloomberg Business on July 8, 2015, claimed that big oil had saved the day by repurposing waste water, generated by fracking, from Chevron owned wells to grow crops. The story omitted the potential health and environmental concerns associated with introducing this contaminated water to crops. Similarly, in 2010 when oil giant BP spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, it was in the midst of a renewed corporate media and President Brrack Obama push for off shore drilling.  Furthermore, the corporate media claimed the judgment which required BP to pay $18 billion for the spill was too much. In fact, the Washington Post noted that BP “has already paid dearly for the accident.” This comes as no surprise bearing in mind that Bloomberg Business, owned by NBC, shares an executive board member with Chevron.

The relationship between the oil industry and corporate media threatens the political, social, and environmental foundations of the United States. Considering recent international discussions regarding climate change in Paris there is optimism among citizens that the tide is beginning to change. That being said, individuals cannot expect to be fully informed on the impact of the fossil fuel industry while the press is economically tied to mutually profitable interests.

Student Researcher and Writer:

Joseph Chadwell

Jacob Trutanich

Nolan Wyatt

Faculty Evaluator: Nolan Higdon

California State University, Maritime

This article was co-edited by Justin Lascano (Diablo Valley College) and Lauren Freeman (Las Positas College)

Jacob Trutanich is from San Pedro, CA. He is earning his BA Degree in Marine Transportation at California State University, Maritime Academy.

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Joseph Chadwell is from Ketchikan AK. He is earning his BA Degree in Marine Transportation at California State University, Maritime Academy.

Contact Joseph:

Nolan Wyatt is from Montesano, WA. He is earning his BA Degree in Marine Transportation at California State University, Maritime Academy.

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Nolan Higdon is a professor of English and History of US and Latin American in the San Francisco Bay Area. His academic work focuses on nationalism, propaganda, and critical media literacy education. He sits on the boards of the Media Freedom Foundation and ACME. Higdon is the coordinator for the Global Critical Media Literacy Project. He has contributed chapters to Censored 2013, 2014, 2015, & 2016 as well as Stephen Lendman’s Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III (2014). He has published articles on media and propaganda including “Disinfo Wars: Alex Jones War on Your Mind (2013),” “Millennial Media Revolution (2014),” and “Justice For Sale (2015).” He has been a guest on national radio and television programs and a frequent guest host for The Project Censored Radio Show.

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