Fareed Zakaria, Not a Muckraking Journalist -- More Like a 'Buckraking' Shill
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To be fair to Zakaria and to columnists and television hosts everywhere, it is very difficult to dig deeply into an issue in a short column or television segment. The more important question is whether Zakaria’s conclusions are based on careful and independent consideration of the issues. The public’s confidence in his endorsement of shale gas would be shaken much more by the revelation that he has accepted significant speaking fees from people and organizations with stakes in shale gas.
In the nationwide shale-gas craze, three regions are especially booming: West Texas, Western Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma. Zakaria has attended speaking engagements in all three, thanks to the money and hospitality of people and companies with financial stakes in shale gas.
Last April, Zakaria traveled to West Texas as the guest speaker of the Davidson Distinguished Lecture Series hosted at Midland College. Midland and Odessa are thriving, thanks to shale gas prospects in Texas’s Permian basin. Among other topics, Zakaria spoke about “the future of energy” and discussed “how shale gas is a crucial energy component.”
A co-sponsor of Zakaria’s talk and host of the post-lecture party was Harris E. Kerr, a local oil, gas, and real-estate lawyer. A vocal proponent of domestic drilling, Kerr paid for an advertisement in the Midland Reporter-Telegram that took the form of an op-ed arguing for the importance of Midland’s oil and gas industry for the U.S. economy and energy security.
Kerr heads Permian Abstract Company, which maintains land ownership records for area oil and gas properties. The shale-gas craze has led to a real-estate boom in West Texas, as landowners seek to cash in on mineral rights. (He seems to have tried to launch a natural gas company, Andrews Consolidated, judging from records with the Texas Secretary of State. The company was dissolved in 1998.)
Other sponsors of the talk included oil and gas businessmen Frank Cahoon and Jim Woodcock, and petroleum engineer Jayne Krawietz. Kerr, Krawietz, and Woodcock were photographed with Zakaria at Kerr’s post-lecture reception.
Zakaria was also the headline speaker at the October 2009 conference of the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute (now called American Middle East Institute), a nonprofit dedicated to building business, educational, and cultural relationships between the Pittsburgh region and the Middle East.
“We do a lot of different things, but we are really leading with a business focus, of providing a forum for businesses to learn about the Middle East and to also allow these delegations from the Middle East to learn about Pittsburgh,” said Simin Curtis, PMEI’s president, CEO, and founder. Area companies involved in the shale-gas industry, such as EQT Corporation, Range Resources, and Universal Well Services, credit Curtis and PMEI for opening doors with the Sultanate of Oman and its state-owned oil company.
The Oman Oil Company is, in fact, an affiliate of the institute. The special guests to the 2009 event at which Zakaria spoke were an Omani delegation that included several government officials in the country’s energy and engineering sectors. Oman’s oil and gas ministry is keen for foreign investment in its shale-gas deposits.
Four of the six major sponsors [PDF] of the 2009 conference, entitled “Pittsburgh and the Middle East: Forging Partnerships in Energy Sustainability and Green Technologies,” were EQT, CONSOL Energy, dck worldwide, and NOVA Chemicals—all of which have significant financial interests in shale gas. The corporate host committee for the event was chaired by Massy Paul, President of Monaloh Basin Engineers, a company heavily involved in the Marcellus shale-gas bonanza.
Last May Zakaria also visited Tulsa to deliver the keynote address at the awards banquet for the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a nonprofit that supports public education. The patrons and sponsors of the foundation include Chesapeake Energy, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy Corporation, ONEOK Inc., and OGE Energy Corporation—all of whom have major stakes in shale gas. The Foundation’s spokesperson refused to disclose the terms of their agreement with Zakaria but said that the Foundation’s founder and chairman, David L. Boren, was behind the selection.