Sunday, October 07, 2007

Who's Writing Dan Fagan's Oil Columns?

Today's Dan Fagan column was, what, his third or fourth on oil? Has anyone besides me noticed that when he writes about oil his style changes completely? The normal stream of conscious ramble that we hear on his radio shows and the rest of his columns is gone. When he writes about oil the columns have a real structure, lines of argument with supporting facts. (Remember facts don't have to be true, but they are concrete enough to be tested for truth.) The closing lines actually bring some closure by referencing the beginning. Today he starts with a McCarthyism theme and brings us back to it at the end.

So, does the ADN have some kind of written agreement with their regular columnists in which the writers say that what they write is their own writing, and they aren't having others supply them with a draft or more? I don't know for sure that Fagan has ghost writers, but the difference in style between most of the articles and the oil articles is really pronounced.

So who might be writing the oil pieces? The Voice of the Times regularly represented the oil industry in their columns, in fact they were owned by Veco, now CH2M Hill. OK, so Allen and Smith are out of the picture now, but they probably had people writing the columns for them anyway. Are those folks still at it, helping Fagan now?

The basic points seem to be:

* The PPT tax is giving Alaska an extra billion so why change it?
* Tax high and you get nothing, tax low and you get a lot
* Government is bad, oil companies are good
* Keep the tax climate stable
* Sarah Palin's an idiot to want to change the PPT tax (on the other hand she's clever, go figure)
* The tax wasn't corrupted by VECO, they didn't get what they wanted.

Here's a comparison of what appear to be oil industry talking points.

Notes: Fagan Column Sept 2, 2007
John Shively, President Resource Development Council, August President's message
Gail Phillips, Voice of the Times, 10/6/07

Of course, 20% was the amount the oil companies agreed on with the Governor Murkowski. We know that good bargainers don't start out with what they are willing to accept. They probably would have been happy with 25% or even 30%. But I'm not here to argue the facts, but the style and the lack of originality of the columns. Here's another comparison:

Notes: Fagan Column Oct. 7, 2007
Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) Pioneer TV Spot
Gail Phillips, same link as above

My point is that even if someone else isn't giving Dan a draft to work from, he's not being an original columnist on oil, but is merely giving us the oil company's talking points. We had that with the Voice of the Times. And after the Veco, I mean, Kott trial, we know that they were doing more than passing out talking points. Isn't this enough reason to give Dan his pink slip?

If not, there's another problem. Dan is starting to repeat himself. Below you can see what was in the June 17 column and what reappeared in the October 7 column.

June 17, 2007

In Canada the government wanted more cash out of companies developing oil sands in Alberta. So Canadian politicians lowered royalty rates.

That's right, lowered them. What happened? Alberta's oil sands royalty revenue increased 12-fold in just three years. Lowering royalty rates made oil sand development palatable for industry so they invested more.

Then again on October 7, 2007

Remember what happened in Canada? The government wanted more cash out of companies developing oil sands in Alberta so it lowered royalty rates. Lowered them. Those politicians must have been shills of the industry, corrupt and anti-Canadian.

What happened when royalty rates dropped? Within three years, Alberta's oil sands revenue increased 12-fold.

I don't agree with the people who want Fagan's column cut because of his views. But if he's not really writing his own stuff, if he's getting drafts or talking points from the oil industry, then he shouldn't be a regular columnist. And if he's running out of things to say and has to pad his columns with things he wrote just a few months ago, then it's time to bring in someone fresh, someone who can write original, thoughtful columns.


  1. well, in radio everybody is rambling, they are doing it spontaneously. but when someone writes an article he or she can think it over

  2. YOU have not taken up ghostwriting perhaps ? ;)

  3. Excellent analysis, Steve! Fagan is scripted, both on radio and in print. You're right that his columns seem to have more than one personality.


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.