CBS’s 60 Minutes’ Hatchet-Job on Cleantech

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The CBS news show “60 Minutes” sports a history of hatchet-jobs that goes back almost half a century. They’re phenomenally good at selecting a certain conclusion and then supporting it with misleading reporting, trick camera-work, and quotes taken out of context.

Last Sunday’s segment on the demise of the cleantech industry was a beautiful case in point. People all over America came away with the idea that this business sector is dying — or dead — and, worse, that they, the rank-and-file U.S. citizen had been duped into paying for the failure with their tax dollars.

But couldn’t these handsome, smiling faces at CBS have made even the faintest attempt at fairness? They dredged up the story of Solyndra, the government-backed failure in which the all-powerful enemies of clean energy take such delight, then informed the audience about six or seven other losses.

But what about the numerous successes?

What about the imperative to develop cleantech in the first place, by virtue of things like climate change, ocean acidification, and lung disease? In 15 long minutes, there was not a single mention made of any of this.

What about the importance of American competitiveness in a global economy in which clean energy is clearly becoming an extremely important (arguably the single most dominant) industry?

What about the private sector, where the biggest banks in the known universe: Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, etc. are currently investing seven trillion dollars (that’s not a typo, nor a mistake; it’s trillions of dollars) of private capital?

Couldn’t CBS have noted what the solar PV industry did last year? The “TAN – Guggenhein ETF (Exchange-Traded Fund)” – the benchmark for the solar PV industry — was up a mere 129.64% in 2013. That’s not exactly moribund by my accounting. I don’t know what your portfolio did last year, but mine sure as hell wasn’t up 129%. Wasn’t any of this worth a single mention?

How about the fact the wind and solar industries are twice the size they were four years ago?

Mightn’t they have mentioned that the portion of grants given to ventures that later failed represented less than 3% of the total portfolio?

What about an even more basic fact? Three-quarters of all businesses fail — whether they’re in cleantech or healthcare or pizza, whether they’re government-backed or not.

I struggle to think of anything more irresponsible than fabricating a case like this and convincing tens of millions of innocent and credulous Americans who happen not to follow this subject closely, each sitting attentively in their living rooms all over this great nation, that cleantech is a failure, that they got ripped off, and that government malice or stupidity is to blame. That’s outrageously shameful stuff, but hey, 60 Minutes has been doing this quite successfully since 1968. I suppose I should have come to expect it by now.

“Simply put, 60 Minutes is flat wrong on the facts,” U.S. Department of Energy spokesman Bill Gibbons said in an emailed statement, as if it’s an accident, or as if this is the the first time this happened. He went on to explain, “The clean energy economy in America is real and we are increasingly competitive in this rapidly-expanding global industry. This is a race we can, must and will win.”

Good going, Bill. You said it well — and you managed to put it more calmly than I did (which is why you’re a DoE spokesperson and I’m not).

I’d love to have some insight into the decision-making that goes on at CBS, and I’ll close with two quick points on this:

1) Lesley Stahl’s net worth is estimated at $20 million. She’s extremely intelligent and talented, but if she had a conscience, wouldn’t she have told the producer of the show to take a hike? She wouldn’t exactly be working at Walmart if she did. I find it extraordinary that wealthy people toe the line to the demands from their higher-ups, at the expense of compromising what little’s left of their integrity.

2) As I mentioned above, it’s clear that the CBS brass picks its conclusions, and then goes about the task of supporting them. When the whole production is ready to air, their piece isn’t good; it’s not excellent; it’s letter perfect. Any viewer with the IQ of a turnip will be obliged to agree with whatever they happen to be selling at the moment. What’s the point of deliberately, with such totally admirable precision, killing the cleantech industry? Who stands to gain?

Wait a second; you don’t think…….?

I eagerly await your comment.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. Charles in SC on

    I think you are over reacting. The 60 minutes piece only dealt with corporate profits. Several US companies have lost a lot of money and gone bankrupt. Many Chinese companies and companies all over the world have lost a lot of money and many have gone bankrupt in this space as well. There are however millions of happy solar PV CUSTOMERS who are tickled pink not paying the rising cost of electricity. It appeared to be a hit piece but it didn’t make its point very well. In my mind it was pathetic and made Lesley Stahl look like a moron.

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