Energy Department paid private firm to study, rank reporters
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The United States Department of Energy paid nearly $50,000 for a study of the media that included “favorability” ratings for reporters and their sources, the department admitted after the study was publicized in a Wall Street Journal article in early November.
CARMA International, an acronym for Computer-Aided Research and Media Analysis, tracked articles that appeared in U.S. newspapers between December and August 1994. The monthly reports included charts and graphs showing which sources and writers most favorably portrayed the DOE.
“In gauging favorability,” the overview of the report states, “consideration is given to: headline, length/placement of the article, number and quality of favorable/unfavorable sources, and the general tone of the article.”
The ratings were on a scale from zero (most unfavorable) to 100 (most favorable). A rating of 50 was considered neutral.
Associated Press journalist H. Josef Hebert received a 30.8 in July — the lowest rating for articles published that month. The report stated that all of the articles Hebert wrote that month were unfavorable. Hebert said he did not think the rating affected the department’s response to his queries.
Journalists, as well as members of the White House and Congress, were angered by the report, according to articles published by the Journal, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press in the days following the story.
“On the face of it … it is simply unacceptable,” said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry.
Some Republican members of congress asked for the resignation of DOE Secretary Hazel O’Leary.
“The Department of Energy did not use taxpayer dollars to create or develop a list of media ‘enemies,'” O’Leary responded in a mid- November statement. “The Department did not produce a list of favored reporters. It did not determine that some reporters should be denied access or not provided full information. It did not request any investigation of reporters. It did not contract with a company that performs investigations of any sort. In addition, we did not find the information to be very useful.”
O’Leary explained why CARMA was paid $46,500 by the agency. “The purpose was to allow the Department to better understand whether the products of the DOE Office of Public Affairs were useful and informative to reporters and the public.”
As of press time, the House subcommittee on Energy and Power and the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation scheduled a joint hearing on the matter for November 17.
The original Journal article reported the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Postal Service also used CARMA’s services.
Postal Service spokesman Frank Brennan said that organization’s marketing department paid CARMA $1,016 for a count of newspaper stories that appeared over a weekend in January. He added that information provided in the CARMA report was “useless.”
The IRS did not return a phone call regarding their use of CARMA’s services.