Misinformation from Jon Stewart

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I watch very little TV, but one show I always make it a point to watch is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. While I find that Bill Maher (who has similar political views to Stewart) generally gets on my nerves, Stewart always makes me laugh, and usually has very witty insights into politics, the media, etc.

Because I am not usually in a position to watch The Daily Show live, I generally record it or watch it on the Internet. Last night I finally got around to watching the May 7th episode (that’s the direct link, in case the embedded video doesn’t work for you) in which Stewart interviewed Secretary of the Interior (and Colorado rancher) Ken Salazar. The questions start out by mentioning the issues with corruption at the MMS, and then go on to oil leases and coal. Position on the clip is noted in parentheses.

Jon Stewart (2:30): Famously, there is a corruption issue in the MM..what is it? (Salazar: The Minerals Management Service.) They were accused of corruption, of being literally in bed with oil and energy executives. How did you clean that up, because obviously that’s under your office, no?

[RR: For more on that particular story, see Report Says Oil Agency Ran Amok.]

Ken Salazar (2:50): We cleaned it up, new code of ethics, and you know, a few bad apples at the very top essentially created lots of problems; but we cleaned up the mess, and they are out. We continue to clean up the mess every day.

JS: (3:03): What is the Interior responsible for; aren’t you sort of the oil company landlord? They pay you, you lease the public lands to the oil companies, and then they pay you for it?

KS: (3:18): That’s right.

JS: (3:20): Now you are looking at me like you don’t know. (Laughter). For a second there you were looking at me like “I’m not sure about that one.”

KS: (3:25): No, that’s not all that we do. We manage 20% of the land mass of the United States on behalf of the American citizens. We also manage 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf with the Department of America [RR: ?]; we go coast-to-coast, sea to shining sea, and way, way out into the oceans. We really are the department of America; the department of everything that happens in America.

[RR: Skip down to 4:35]

JS: (4:35): What about the oil companies? The relationship is obviously changing. I am under the impression that the oil companies are not paying the American taxpayer to lease these lands over the past 8 years to the tune of about $50 billion. Is that correct?

[RR: That’s a blatantly false statement, and incredibly irresponsible for Stewart to spread misinformation like that. As far as I can tell, Stewart is talking about the contracts that were signed by the Clinton administration that supposedly amounted to an error in the calculation of royalties. I have never heard anything like what Stewart charges here about lease payments. Salazar looked at him for a moment as if he doesn’t know quite what to say, but then doesn’t correct him.]

KS: (4:50): Well, there needs to lots of reform, and royalties – we need to collect more royalties on behalf of the American taxpayer. The American citizen has to get a fair return and we are in the process of getting that done.

JS: (4:58): Would you call up Chevron, and be like, “What’s up man, Ken Salazar.” (laughter) (KS: Fork it over.) “Listen, where’s my money?”

JS: (5:05): What recourse do you have?

[RR: I want to know what recourse the oil industry has for Stewart spreading this sort of misinformation. With junk like this being spread around, it is no wonder people hate oil companies. The only problem is that Jon is grossly misinformed.]

KS: (5:08): We have the authority to adjust royalties, and we are working with Congress right now to take a look at them.

JS: (5:14): Can you kick them off? Can you say “If you don’t give us our royalties, that’s my derrick now brother?”

[RR: This is just awful. Stewart needs to retract this whole line of questioning and apologize.]

KS: (5:23): We probably can’t kick them out, because they have lease arrangements. But we need to make sure those lease arrangements are fair to the American taxpayer, and that’s what President Obama has charged us to do. That’s what I am trying to do in the Department of the Interior.

JS: (5:38): Coal is our oil. That’s the natural resource we have the most of. We have got to make good use that in a responsible way, because we can’t just give up on that. Coal’s good stuff.

[RR: Not something I would have expected Stuart to say.]

KS: (5:50): Coal is good stuff, (JS: That’s what I’m talking about.) but we have to make sure we use it and burn it cleanly.

JS: (5:55): What? (laughter)

KS: (5:58): We have to use it and burn it cleanly.

JS: (6:00): I like the use it; burn it cleanly doesn’t sound right to me.

KS: (6:03): You have to sequester the carbon; put it in the ground.

JS: (6:05): And you just repealed a law, making it where they can’t dump their waste in the Appalachian streams any more. Because weren’t they doing that over 8 years?

[RR: Salazar again looks confused, as if he doesn’t know what Stewart is talking about.]

KS: (6:13): That’s right, we have to protect our streams. We have to protect our water.

JS: (6:16): You act like I am babbling secrets here. (laughter) You are sitting there like “Oh, you are going to tell them about the coal in the water.” Those people don’t deserve that. They should have some clean streams. And we should use their coal. And we should get that money back from the oil companies. Come on, brother! Who’s with me?

KS: (6:35): I’m with you.

[RR: The interview wrapped up at that point. I know that it is a comedy show, but people who watch it regularly know that the underlying messages from the show are serious. Plus, the interviews are generally serious, with high-profile guests. John needs to do a much better job of explaining the issues he brought up, or he just furthers ignorance on the topic of energy. He gave everyone the impression that oil companies decided to simply stop paying on their leases, therefore ripping off American taxpayers. That just is not the case.]

29 thoughts on “Misinformation from Jon Stewart”

  1. Of all the injustices in the world…
    John Stewart said some wrong things about oil companies. Dude, it IS just a comedy show. Relax.

  2. You say it’s a blatantly false statement for Stewart to say, “I am under the impression that the oil companies are not paying the American taxpayer to lease these lands over the past 8 years to the tune of about $50 billion. Is that correct?

    Stewart could very well be under the impression. I think it was really up to Salazar to correct Stewart and clarify things for those (like myself) watching puzzled, especially since Stewart kept on returning to that idea. I blame Salazar, not Stewart.

    Thanks for the reuter’s link.

  3. Like the oil companies have never told any “whoppers?”

    How about Enron for starters ?

    I agree with BC. It’s just a comedy show.

    Leave Jon Stewart to the oil company lobbyists.

    They’ll eat him up.


  4. RR-

    There is story today on TOD about the KSA storing in seagoing tankers 1.5 million barrels of gasoline. No home of it.
    And there is the good news from gas-patch: 120 years supply, thanks to shale gas.
    Jon Stewart? I don’t even know who he is.
    Obscure biofuels companies collapsing? Who cares?
    I realize you are in the “Peak Oil Lite” camp, but lately you seem to be positively avoiding the elephant in the room: Peak Oil may not matter. We have NG, and crude demand is going down, not up. The price mechanism swings a slow, but wide scythe.
    I notice the doomer crowd is talking about financial markets, melting polar caps, struggling alternative fuels, everything except glutted markets and the potential for NG.
    But jeez, the elephant is farting, and you pretend not to smell anything. We will have NG coming out of our rear ends for generations.

  5. Two things, bc. First, oil companies are already hated by most of the public, and they end up getting a lot of punitive legislation as a result of politicians trying to calm the public rage that they have helped create. This distorts energy policy.

    Second, The Daily Show has a very large audience, is very popular with young people, and isn’t “just a comedy show.” As much as I like Jon Stewart, he hides behind that “just a comedy show” but he takes on very serious topics, and is taken very seriously. When things blow up in his face he says “We are just a comedy show.” But he is certainly taken seriously by the media. Just look at his guest list, and listen to some of those interviews.


  6. How about Enron for starters ?The guys responsible went to jail.

    The point is not whether oil companies have deceived. If they have, hold them accountable. But don’t do it by further deception.


  7. RR is correct. A lot of people look at the Daily Show as a source of real news.

    While we're on the topic of Enron, let's no forget that Cap and Trade was heavily promoted – by Enron.

    Enron is frequently used as a perjorative as if every energy company was Enron. I hardly ever see it applied to cap & trade, renewable energy credits, renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency and other schemes that were heavily promoted by Enron. Do you not remember Enron Energy Services? Their business model was to invest in efficiency projects then trade the credits on the open market.

  8. We will have NG coming out of our rear ends for generations.Colorado Independent » DeGette takes aim at natural gas industry to protect groundwater supplies“There have been cases where an operators have made mistakes and the casing that is done for a well has not been done correctly, and when that happens the state is the regulatory agency, and they ensure that the operators take corrective measures, so that’s already being regulated,” Sgamma said.

    But a study conducted for Garfield County and released in December showed elevated levels of methane in groundwater supplies in the gas-rich mountain area: “There is a temporal trend of increasing methane in groundwater samples over the last seven years coincident with the increased number of gas well installed in the study area,” the report concluded.”Also: Officials in Three States Pin Water Woes on Gas Drilling – ProPublica This issue will have to be resolved satisfactorily before this permaglut becomes the norm.

  9. RR,

    JS is not the expert, KS should be. It is up to KS to correct JS or at least say (if he is unfamiliar) that he has not heard of a number that high.



  10. Dear Kingo,

    It appears to me that ENRON was basically a “holding company” which accumulated existing natural =gas” assets and potential Gulf Oil assets. with well-known productive reserves.

    The “Mariner” reserve is of course just another fiction conjured up by Jeff Skillings and other accountants interested in “cooking the books” so that the hyped-up stock price would allow company “insiders” to retire fat and sassy.


  11. I was under the impression that oil companies give government employees cocaine and sex so that they don’t have to pay any royalties.

  12. About verifying his message, I poked around to get some idea where that massive $50 billion figure came from. So far the closest I’ve found has very little to do with “the past 8 years”.

    Assuming that the District Court’s ruling in the Kerr-McGee case is upheld, future forgone royalties from all the DWRRA leases issued from 1996 through 2000 could range widely–from a low of about $21 billion to a high of $53 billion. The $21 billion figure assumes low production levels and oil and gas prices that average $70 per barrel and $6.50 per thousand cubic feet over the lives of the leases. The $53 billion figure assumes high production levels and oil and gas prices that average $100 per barrel and $8 per thousand cubic feet over the lives of the leases.

    $21 to $53 billion over 25 years doesn’t sound a huge royalty break compared with:
    In fiscal 2008, the Department of the Interior (Interior) collected over $22 billion in royalties and other fees related to oil and gas.

  13. The Dude:
    Imagine being in a small, enclosed freight elevator with an elephant that has just overeaten beans.
    That’s how much gas is in shale.

  14. Robert,

    On a more cheerful note……….

    Chevron is the World’s Largest Producer of geo-thermal energy.

    Don’t worry Robert, the Oil Industry is not just going to dry up and blow away………



  15. I wonder what sort of induction/education process there is for new cabinet members? At the very least, their first question should be “tell me the top ten negative questions a reporter could ask me” and then go about having a good darn good disarming answer for each of them. Salazar was weak.

    However, is it just me or are ALL interviewees on the Stewart show acting incredibly dumb and goofballish? It comes across as amateur hour. Bring back the adults.

    I can barely watch Stewart at the best of times. His conceitedness makes me cringe. He is a marxist reporter hiding behind the veil of “comedy” when convenient. Stewart is all about tax those guys, fine that group, levy the others. He is a lame duck while Obama is in power as he will not bring himself to be critical of anything the administration does.

    Jon Stewart is no friend of oil and instead is a friend of coal? You know that he is just against oil becuase he hates republicanism. He would rather destroy the environment and give his watchers health problems than support to any issue Republicans support. He is a lame conceited marxist buffoon without wit or humor. I have to go now and rinse my eyes.

  16. No John, ENRON was a real energy company producing energy.

    “ENRON was originally involved in transmitting and distributing electricity and gas throughout the United States. The company developed, built, and operated power plants and pipelines while dealing with rules of law and other infrastructures worldwide. Enron owned a large network of natural gas pipelines which stretched ocean to ocean and border to border..” from wiki

    I worked for #2 behind ENRON in that business sector (natural gas & electricity generation). In an era of deregulation, the basic problems for such energy companies with large cash reserves was to stay large enough to keep from being taken over by bankers or holding companies.

    The mistake that ENRON made was a common one. That is namely thinking if you are good at one thing, you will be good at everything everyplace. My company got into some of the same things like ENRON but got out with a modest profit rather than getting greedy. To grow a business you need innovation. To maintain a mature business, you need discipline. ENRON wind was a money loser, but the same business unit now called GE wind is a world leader.

    ENRON got burned doing business in some countries where contracts are not honored the way they are in the US (Dabhol Power Project-2,184 MW combined cycle plant). The irony is that ENRON covered up the loses and destroyed the company with with deceptive practices.

    “everything except glutted markets”

    Having an adequate reserve margin is not a glut. Understanding that the contracts are not the same as energy. These are basic principles that regulated utilities and responsible public servants understand.

    Unfortunately we are living in an era of untested 'smart grid', windmills and, solar concepts concepts to solve insignificant problems like AGW.

    So while the journalist and liberals blame ENRON, oddly the solution in California was building more power plants. Also oddly, the solution for high NG prices was building more coal plants and drilling for more NG.

  17. “BTW: what do you think of this as a feedstock and EROEI?”

    While I think conventional algae to biodiesel is a long shot for commercial success, that link describes gasification of algae, except the product is natural gas and not syngas. That’s quite interesting; I am not sure how they do it but I would like to take a look at their patents. The major problem with algae is that it is going to be wet, so what are they doing with the water between the time you harvest and the time you gasify? How they handle the water would be important, and directly relevant to the EROEI question.

    Thanks for bringing that to my attention.


  18. stewart uses a schtick to entertain and get/keep ratings. he also has a personal agenda[we all do]. any responsible person to go on air in that forum should know the exposure faced and be ready for it. or stay away. or send a better mental acuity representative to manage the dialogue.

    salazar is not the first, nor the last, fool to be manipulated in this fashion. one wonders who and why allowed this to happen. adult behavior and responsible communication SHOULD BE uppermost in the conduct of governmental leaders.

    even worse, salazar has made no obvious attempt to clarify/correct the facts. as if most of that viewership would care to hear/know if he had.

    ROBERT, your in the minority who cares


  19. At the other end of the political spectrum, I saw Billy O’Reilly on Fox tonight noting that oil is only up 20% since the start of the year, while prices at the pump are up 41%. (As usual, Bill doesn’t seem to realise or care that there’s a difference between crude and gasoline). His explanation? — speculators and avaricious oil companies.

    Seems like the oil industries has few friends in the media of any political persuasion.

  20. Bill O’Reilly: a weatherman now turned oil expert?

    Nothing new in media becoming ever more fragmented and thus becoming more pandering to the extremist views of isolated groups (O’Reilly to elderly middle class/poor xenophobes; Stewart to naive lame suburban kids looking for a scriptwritten jokester “adult” to provide background noise while they study).

    These guys get their “core” watchers and then extrapolate to pretend they have much wider audience than they do.

    The Stewart show only gets 1.45 to 1.6 million viewers nightly (from show wikipedia page). O’Reilly gets 2.3 milion viewers nightly (from show wikipedia page).

    They are hollow vessels rightly relegated to their tiny immaterial corner.

  21. Not all Stewart's interviewees are dumb. Cliff May held his own on the torture issue. Stewart doesn't agree with him, but May presents a coherent argument and Stewart even says the audience likes May, and the audience applauds in agreement. Interestingly, May says it is best conversation he's had on the subject; better than on CNN, Fox, etc.
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=226121 , 226122 & 226123

    Ken Salazar sounded more like a politician toeing the party line, saying vague things to the effect that the previous administration made mistakes and that the current people should, can and will improve things, while not saying anything specific that might make the people working for him in the Interior Department or his former cohorts in Congress upset, and so he wouldn't correct Stewart.

  22. Kit P – So you worked at El Paso or Dynegy?

    There were actually about 3 Enrons. There was the regulated subsidiary that held the pipelines an storage facilities, and utility companies, the oil and gas exploration/production unit, and the non-regulated trading/business development subsidiaries.

    It was the last of these three businesses that was the problem.

    Richard Kinder was president of Enron Transportation. He could see the looming disaster at Enron and left to form Kinder-Morgan pipeline before things got out of control. I feel bad for those who worked in the regulated subs who did nothing to bring down Enron but got caught in the vortex nonetheless.

    I find it curious now that progressives throw out Enron as an insult to oil and gas companies, when it was Enron that was promoting global warming, cap & tax plans, and capitilizing on its political connections. (find a copy of the Enron John Palmisano memo and read what Enron thought about Kyoto and carbon trading plans). Enron wasn't representative of oil and gas companies,.

  23. Yeah, it was Enron’s deceptive accounting practices that got them in trouble. When a large part of your business is being a market-maker for options, swaps, and other derivatives and your trading partners find out your aren’t trustworthy, you quickly lose any and all trade partners. A derivative contract is only good if your trading partner honors their end of the bargain. Nobody trusted them so nobody traded with them–game over.


  24. “Kit P – So you worked at El Paso or Dynegy?”

    Close King, but no cigar. It is not like you need a scare card to keep track of energy companies. Duke Power merged with PanEnergy to become Duke Energy. They also formed a joint venture called Duke/FluorDaniels to build NG fired power plants.

    If you go back 10 years the future was NG. CCGT plants are cheap to build and cheap to operate. That is if NG is cheap. And gosh darn, what if NG is not cheap; just pass the cost along to the customers. One CCGT that came on line just in time to meet demand and it made more profit for Duke Energy with 24 employees than the entire traditional engineering group that made Duke a great company. We got sold off.

    There is a conflict of cultures between the sweet taste of excessive profits from screwing your neighbors and the pride of serving your neighbors by keeping the rates low and the environment clean. Doing the right thing for your community, should have as result of making a decent living.

    For the who think ENRON executives were scum, what do you think of journalists, actors, and government workers?

    When our president speaks out against lobbyists, I wonder if he has the wisdom to listen to lobbyists representing different issues and then decide the right thing for our community. When it comes to energy and the environment, our current president has demonstrated no leadership.

  25. The major problem with algae is that it is going to be wet, so what are they doing with the water between the time you harvest and the time you gasify? How they handle the water would be important, and directly relevant to the EROEI question.
    Nope, RR, they claim to have found a way around that: Over the past 10 years, PNNL scientists advanced the technology to include a more stable catalyst that enables it to also convert wet biomass, such as algae. PNNL has tested the gasifier with terrestrial plants, kelp and water hyacinths. It works especially well for aquatic biomass such as algae, because the feedstock doesn’t require drying before fuel production.

    And: The method, called catalytic hydrothermal gasification
    This is the wet gasification that I commented on some time ago (can it be 18 months already?).

    In a nutshell the claim is: take wet biomass (the work started with manure from CAFOs) heat it to 350°C and 20 MPa of pressure in the presence of the secret catalyst and violà, you have biogas (mostly CH4 and CO2), after a 20 minute retention time (if memory serves).

    They even claim this works if the solids concentration is more than 2% which is quite low. Last I checked, they had issues with sulfur poisoning the catalysts. Not sure if the algae works well due to low S content…

  26. Jon Stewart, we should not forget, is in it for the money. His show works, mainly, because the network news is so terribly uninformed and politically correct. So what Stewart does is read the news, and pause for laughs. The sad reality is that much of what happens in the world and is this country is patently ridiculous, when you stop and think about it. Stewart saw easy money and went for it. Good for him!

    Stewart leans left, like much of the media: so what? Question to conservatives: If the liberal media is such a threat to your existence, why can’t they get a Democrat elected to the White House, unless he run on Republican issues (Clinton) or he benefits from the actions of an obvious bonehead (Obama and Carter)? My advice: let the liberal media be, they’re not changing anybody’s opinions.

    On this issue, I believe, Stewart is intentionally stirring the pot, expecting to be corrected by Salazar. I’d be surprised if Salazar didn’t get a copy of the questions beforehand – we all know how spontaneous these things have become. So the it’s Salazar’s fault for not doing his homework and using the opportunity to set the record straight. Maybe he just likes vilifying Big Oil.

    Bill O’Reilly is another comic who happens to lean right. His idea of an in-depth analysis of the oil business: talk to the attendant (maybe it was the owner) of the closest gas station. I kid you not: O’Reilly actually uncovered price fixing in his area, only he didn’t realize it, and wanted to blame that convenient sucker, Big Oil.

    O’Reilly was at his most entertaining when he set out to “name and shame” the man (“Charlie over there”) who set gas prices in the US! Needless to say, we’re still waiting, Bill! You take this guy seriously at your own peril…

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