Politico offers up a defense today in response to critics who say the media is overhyping Solyndra and ignoring Keystone XL.

It’s tempting to get bogged down by Darren Samuelsohn’s occasional word choices that seem to reflect a thinly-veiled contempt for environmental activists. They’re “desperately trying to change the narrative,” “working to throw the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under the bus,” “bemoaning the ‘out of proportion’ Solyndra coverage,” and “hyping” emails that show a potential conflict of interest between the State Department and TransCanada.

Oh, those environmentalists. What a bunch of conniving whiners!

But that’s a minor point. While few people dispute that Solyndra is an important story, what’s most important to note about the Politico piece is that there’s no analysis — none — defending why Solyndra deserves the volume of attention it’s getting.

Well, other than perhaps this:

House Republicans have shown that their hearings and subpoena power on Solyndra generate headlines…

In other words, the “scandal” is getting the attention it’s getting because the people perpetrating it are just better at manipulating the media cycle. As opposed to environmental activists, whose efforts to manipulate the media cycle are underhanded and whiny, as we learned earlier. Journalists, evidently, must just helplessly play along in all of this.

As if that alone isn’t maddening enough, consider this tidbit that comes later:

House Republicans have made it clear they plan to use Solyndra as a weapon to kill Obama’s energy policies.

Let’s be perfectly clear about something. Headlines don’t just “generate” spontaneously. They’re written by journalists who have made a judgment (or whose bosses have made a judgment) that something is important. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

So Politico, and other news outlets, have made a decision to elevate the GOP’s Solyndra hearings, even though they’re well aware that it’s a political tactic to dismantle public policy that might otherwise stand on its own merit.

Is that journalism? Or is it activism? Or just allowing your coverage to be carried along wherever the political winds take you?

Or, as Grist’s David Roberts suggests, is this just a function of reporters’ “propensity to cover ‘what’s new, novel and interesting’.”

“The corruption that goes on in Washington, D.C., around fossil fuels and the fossil-fuel industry every day makes anything done around Solyndra pale in comparison,” Roberts said. “But the corruption is so routine it becomes invisible. … That’s the imbalance that I think frustrates people.”

I personally don’t find the Solyndra vs. Keystone XL framing particularly persuasive. It’s true that this website leans heavily toward the latter, because it’s an issue that more directly impacts the Midwest (and for what it’s worth, those stories tend to generate less traffic than other issues we cover). But Keystone XL and Solyndra are so different it’s hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison.

What’s more compelling is the analysis done by Media Matters (also mentioned in the Politico article) which compared Solyndra coverage to a corruption case at the Minerals Management Service and another story about military contracting fraud that resulted in a much larger loss of public money.

The chart below says it all:

Now, let’s go back to this idea that news outlets that are playing up Solyndra are carrying water for Republicans. Isn’t it interesting, then, that the TV network that tends to carry the most water for Republicans on other issues is also the most disproportionately focused on Solyndra?

Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?

Politico deserves some credit for having the courage to take on the issue in the first place. But I’m not so sure they haven’t succeeded in making the critics’ case for them.

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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