Chris Berg had Governor Jack Dalrymple on television tonight to talk about his budget address from yesterday (video of that here). During the interview, Berg asked Dalrymple about my recent column in the Grand Forks Herald which was critical of the Governor for not engaging New York Times reporters in advance of the two-part story series about oil regulation in the state.
“The New York Times is a powerful platform, and if you leave the newspaper a vacuum into which it can spew its narrative, its perception of North Dakota’s oil and gas situation will become reality,” I wrote in the Herald. “Subtlety is the watchword for Dalrymple’s brand of politics, but now is the time to stand and fight. Dalrymple needs to speak out, not hide behind press releases.”
The Times spent months on those stories, and you can be bet there will be follow-ups over at least the next year. The paper is invested in this issue.
Dalrymple said that he didn’t respond to the Times because the reporters had an agenda.
“Every once in a while you get into a situation where it’s obvious the treatment is not going to be fair, it’s not going to be balanced, the agenda is already there,” Dalrymple said. “I think in that situation there’s not much you can do about it. We continue to communicate every day in North Dakota about the things we’re doing to manage our growth and development. The truth will win out.”
The problem is that the truth won’t win out if you don’t speak the truth.
Berg described me in the segment as a “cheerleader” for Dalrymple. I laughed at that because I doubt the folks in the Governor’s office feel that way as I’ve been very critical at times, but it is true that I’m generally a fan of the way the state has handled oil and gas regulation. I don’t think the oil boom would have happened at all if the state had taken a hostile, instead of collaborative, approach to regulating oil and gas development. North Dakota would have missed out on a huge opportunity if that had been the case.
But that’s an approach which must be defended, and not just to North Dakotans. The New York Times isn’t some left-wing blog. Though its stature is much diminished in this new media era, it still can set the tone for national media coverage.
If the Times decides the story they’re going to tell is one of failed regulation by state officials all but bought off by the oil industry, someone has to tell the other side of the story. And that someone is our state’s top elected official.
Earlier in Berg’s interview he asks Dalrymple about why the state cuts the fines for so many oil industry companies. Dalrymple explains that it’s because they want the companies to change their behavior, and when they do change, they’re rewarded with a lower fine.
That was a great answer. One he could have given to the Times, but didn’t.