By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams
Alabama Power and Florida Power & Light hired a political consulting firm that paid six news websites in the two states nearly a million dollars as they attacked officials seeking to hold the polluting utilities accountable, an investigation revealed Monday.
NPR‘s David Folkenflik, along with Mario Ariza and Miranda Green of Floodlight, found that the power companies hired consulting company Matrix LLC, which, along with clients and associated entities, paid six sites—Yellowhammer News, Alabama Political Reporter, Alabama Today, The Capitolist, Florida Politics, and Sunshine State News—at least $900,000 collectively between 2013 and 2020.
According to the report, “Matrix sought to ensure much coverage was secretly driven by the priorities of its clients. Payments flowed as the utilities in Florida and Alabama fought efforts to incorporate more clean energy in electric grids—a fight they are still waging.”
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Alabama Power—which operates a coal-fired plant holding the dubious distinction of being the nation’s largest single source of CO2 emissions—received “overwhelmingly positive coverage” in the three Alabama sites linked to Matrix during the seven-year period.
Meanwhile, Terry Dunn, a Republican elected in 2010 to the Alabama Public Service Commission said that, after winning his race, he was approached by a fossil fuel industry lobbyist who made him a promise. He could keep his roughly $100,000 per year job on the body that controls energy prices for years to come if he “remained a team player.”
Dunn—who ran on a pledge to compel Alabama Power executives to open their financial books and publicly answer questions—demurred, and soon found himself the target of what appeared to be a concerted smear campaign.
One 2013 headline in the right-wing Yellowhammer News claimed that “Democrats embrace” him, while a 2014 column by Alabama Political Reporter editor-in-chief Bill Britt accused Dunn of “using the state’s utility rates for political gain.”
In 2014, Dunn lost his race for reelection by 19 percentage points. To this day, Alabama has not had a rate hearing on power prices, and Alabama Power remains one of the nation’s most profitable utilities, according to NPR.
This is but a sampling of the alarming corruption detailed in the lengthy exposé. Reacting to the report, HEATED publisher Emily Atkin said that it “pulls back the curtain on yet another insidious corporate strategy to erode the core tenets of democracy for profit.”
“The most evil thing about this tactic is that it is designed to further erode public trust in the press,” Atkin tweeted. “These people constantly deride real journalism as fake news while simultaneously funding the creation of actual fake news. They’re confusing people into complacency.”
“These power companies and their political allies want you to believe all journalism is pay-for-play,” she continued. “Don’t fall into their trap.”
“Oh, and one more thing—If you’re a professional journalist, I am BEGGING you to speak out against people and practices described in this story,” Atkin added. “A free press relies on self-regulation. Defend our fucking profession.”