Breaking Down The Byline is a series that examines the editorial choices, writing and content of front-page stories from some of Canada's daily papers.
NOTE: None of the opinions expressed in this series reflect what are to be seen as beliefs or deliberate decisions by the author - this is purely structural analysis and critique. Take from it what you will.
By Daniel Dale
Reading the headline with the summary, it's blatantly plain and to the point. I do find it strange, however, that The Star made the choice to run the article as "Obama calls Canada's oilsands 'extraordinarily dirty'" rather than "Obama calls oilsands extraction method 'extraordinarily dirty'". As we see in the opening three graphs, the latter is far more accurate to the events than the former, which, as of right now, comes off quite assumptive for an article that reads like hard news. It becomes clear how this can be a problem as soon we jump into the lead.
Right off the bat, the first graph alone contradicts the title and does so in a very dangerous way. By conflating Obama's vocal disagreement about the way that oilsands are harvested with the inherent dirtiness of the sands themselves, The Star paints the picture that Obama is making a statement against Canada rather than corporate negligence, which is essentially putting words in his mouth.
Furthermore, in the third paragraph of The Star article, the quote provided directly contradicts the title itself, with Obama clearly saying that the process, not the place of extraction, is dirty.
"The way you get the oil out in Canada is an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil," Obama said.
This is an important distinction that must be made, especially in a case where public opinion coming into election season is going to have a heavy impact on the future of this project. Knowing that most people only read headlines and perhaps the lead/nut graph, this is a very poor choice on the editorial end of things.
Following up Obama's quote with an opposing perspective from a TransCanada spokesperson - being that Keystone is a TransCanada project - is fine. But the progression of the next four graphs is questionable at best.
In graphs six and seven, the author points out (rightfully so) that Obama misrepresented how the pipeline actually delivers oil.
Interestingly, however, the article does not follow up with any sort of mention of the EPA's findings on Keystone, or any sort of other perspective to counter the gargantuan statements from Mark Cooper, the spokesperson whose quote was used in graph five. What has been done instead is emphasizing Obama's indecisiveness on the matter in graph 8 and a cherry on the pro-pipeline cake with the State Department's findings in graph 9.
Let's try and understand this: The Star publishes an article that first misrepresents Obama's statement, then reinforces it with a quote from an energy company spokesperson (someone who clearly has a stake in the pipeline being built) and then makes the President look like a bumbling fool by fact-checking him and utilizing a stance from the State Department (comedically ignoring the EPA's perspective on this - an actually agency dedicated to research on the environment) to further end the article on a low note.
For most mainstream readers, what they will take out of this is the following: a) Obama thinks Canada's land is dirty, and b) Obama is running a weak argument.
I don't think further explanation is needed here. The format speaks for itself.
TIMESTAMP - 6:06 AM - thestar.com