Sometimes it becomes painfully obvious how hard the North Dakota media works to produce negative stories about oil development in North Dakota, especially in election years. I don’t know if it’s bias, or just a desire to attract page views, but we get a steady diet of stories about spills and crime and housing shortages which are often exaggerated (I’m a little tired of “breaking news” and oil spills that are tiny and contained with zero environmental impact, that’s not news) or just a rehashing of policy challenges that have already been reported.
Or they’re giving a pedestal to some political crank who started an online petition.
Lauren Donovan of the Bismarck Tribune – fresh off her breathless series of articles about filter sock dumping in western North Dakota which, while a problem, isn’t quite the radioactive armageddon she made it out to be – devotes a few hundred words to Ron Schalow who started a Change.org petition targeting the ND Industrial Commission over oil by rail safety.
Who is Ron Schalow? He’s a 9/11 truther for one. You can find his allegedly non-fiction book entitled Bullshit Artist: The 9/11 Leadership Myth on Amazon. He’s got another admittedly fiction book about Americans kidnapped by the U.S. government to be used as suicide bombers against al Qaeda.
Sounds like a great read, except it’s not clear that anyone actually has.
But, hey, we’re all entitled to our personal sort of crazy, so whatever. Maybe Schalow is leading a grassroots movement on oil development and train safety. Except…he’s not.
His Facebook group, pleasantly called “The Bomb Train Buck Stops With North Dakota” (I feel like he should have added some exclamation marks at the end) has just 635 likes at the time of this posting.
And his petition, which Lauren Donovan and her editors at the Tribune found newsworthy? It has just 159 signers. We can’t see a record of all the signers, but of the 37 people who left public “reasons” for signing the petition, just 19 were from North Dakota while 18 were from out of state (mostly from California and Washington).
Seeing as how you could get a few hundred people to sign a petition for just about anything online, what Schalow has accomplished is really nothing other than organizing a few of his fellow conspiracy mongers and cranks.
So why exactly is this news? Why is it in one of the state’s largest newspapers? Oh. Right. It fits the narrative. Particularly the election year narrative.
We need to, and are having, a robust debate about the safety of oil production and train safety. What’s frustrating is when that debate gets derailed by extremists who would rather rant about “bomb trains” (it’s worth noting that more than 99 percent of trains carrying hazardous materials reach their destinations without incident) and working to end oil development altogether than have a meaningful conversation about balancing energy development with public safety and environmental impacts.
There are plenty of serious voices on all sides of this debate. We don’t need to give unwarranted attention to the unserious ones.