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North Dakota's Pelican Brief (Part 3) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chet   
Thursday, 29 September 2011 00:00

The_Pel_BriefThis is part three of our Pelican Brief story. You can read Part One by clicking here and Part Two here. After presumably reading part two, an AP writer did a good job writing a story about the oil companies' first court appearance and gave the public some helpful background about the cases based on sworn court documents like the ones linked in part two. 

Every so often we do a breakdown/takedown of the Scott Hennen propaganda machine. When we affectionately refer to Hennen’s operation as “the wing nuts” we mean, to the extent he even owns it, his communications company (Freedom Force), his radio show (owned by Freedom Force), the SayNothing Blog (also owned by Freedom Force), and the Plains Daily website (not surprisingly also owned by Freedom Force) since they are all one and the same. Together they spin and re-spin items advancing their funders' interests under the guise of reporting or opinion expressing. If you go to any of their websites, you will see that they intra-promote each others' stuff as if they are independent of one another, but they are not. 

The North Dakota U.S. Attorney office has charged out misdemeanor cases against seven oil companies for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Those prosecutions have become one of the Hennen Gang's propagandic, right-wing echo-chamber projects. As always, their goal is to hook the media with the linguistic frames, phrases, propaganda tricks and repetition/echo to advance their funders' interests. Their goal -- sometimes successfully attained -- is to dupe the media into believing the media is missing an important story. They do this by having all three of them (i.e. Hennen (on his radio show), Say Nothing and Plains Daily) repeat it, as if there were a burst of fresh, hot, new, newsworthy information coming from everywhere. If you follow the stuff they do and watch the traditional media, once in a while you’ll get an epiphany that – “Wow, that mainstream reporter or editorial board actually bought into some of the Hennen-non-sense” - which is why we periodically do stories like this one.

Whenever a U.S. Attorney’s office files a charge or settles a case a press release is issued by the staff. (Click here for a list with links to all the North Dakota U.S. Attorney’s office Press Releases from 2010 and 2011.) Issuing press releases appears to be quite routine for their office. The media sometimes picks up on the stories, sometimes not.  On August 25th, 2011, one of these mundane Press Releases announced the charging of seven oil companies for violating the MBTA. 

That Press Release caused the Hennen wing-nuts to spring into jihad and they began a constant personal and professional attack against North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon. In the links that follow you will note they never discuss the facts or allegations from the criminal cases other than to take things out of context and mix it with stuff they just plain make up. In this instance, their propaganda tricks use a repeated “referent power” technique. In other words, they use a recognizable person to make a statement about the cases and then use that person’s name along with their misguided drivel about the MBTA cases.

Let's walk through some examples of what the Hennenites are doing.  

On September 1st, 2011, former Vice President Dick Cheeney was pitching his war crimes confessional book on the Hennen radio show. At approximately 1:24 of this (click here) recording Hennen tells the former VP that although he probably hasn’t heard anything about these cases, the “Obama administration” through the North Dakota U.S. Attorney’s office has decided to “wage a war” on oil by suing seven oil companies for 28 dead birds over 45 days.  To which the former VP states he hadn’t heard anything about the cases but “isn’t surprised by it”.   

So -- breaking this down -- the former VP is clueless about the cases and Hennen even states that before bringing the cases up. Hennen clearly hasn't read the affidavits and doesn't know any of the factual allegations. Despite his ignorance, he tries to tell the VP about the case and the VP says he "isn't surprised" by it.  THAT -- Cheeney's lack of suprise -- becomes the talking point for Hennen's fatwa thereafter. Hennen winds up the Say Nothing arm of the right-wing message machine to issue its nonsense across the land inferring Cheeney thinks the cases are a political attack on oil: Cheeney Says He’s “Not Surprised” By Prosecutions Of Oil Companies In North Dakota.  Plains Daily, of course, chimes in to complete the Devil's Triangle. It's almost as if three different "news" outlets are charged up about this "story," right?  Turns out... that's what they want North Dakota's journalists -- and you -- to think.

Repetition is the key to any good propaganda scheme and the wing nuts repeated this same “referent power” trick to try and create the impression that lots of people were weighing in about the MBTA cases.    Previous to Cheeney’s appearance on the Hennen show he had Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe on his program where he used the same tricks.  If you click on to “hour one” on August 29th, 2011, at 18:40, Hennen tells the Senator that the “Obama Justice Department charged seven oil companies criminally with killing 28 ducks in 45 days” and then Hennen and Inhofe stroke each other about how the cases are about the Obama Administration trying to do everything they can to stop oil production. (Note: Oil production is actually booming under the Obama Administration.) During their conversation Hennen asks Inhofe -- whose single largest donor is the Koch Oil brothers' company and whose top donor industry is "oil & gas" -- whether he thought the cases were “another way for Obama to take on oil”, and Inhofe agrees. (Side note: Inhofe recently landed his airplane on a closed runway full of construction equipment, got in trouble with the FAA, and then went back to Washington and tried to freeze the FAA’s budget.  He’s a real winner.)

Inhofe and Hennen never discuss the allegations of the MBTA cases during the interview because Hennen didn't know them. Just as with Cheeney’s statements, fatwa’s were then sent out, this time by the Plains Daily entitled: Senator Inhofe: Justice Department Prosecution of Oil Companies “An Attack” on Oil.  The Say Nothing blog again steps in to round out the ignorance trifecta to try to make it seem like their nonsense is "news."

Another part of the Hennen show that day had Ron Ness from the North Dakota Petroleum Council.   Regarding the MBTA cases, Plains Daily published this:

When the North Dakota energy industry learned of the case, “I think there was a fair amount of shock and awe,” commented Ron Ness, President of the ND Petroleum Council.

“I can’t ever imagine going running out to the media with what really is still an allegation,” said Ness, a 10 year veteran regulator, “running out before my team has even done the investigation or had an opportunity to visit with the accused.”

Ness pointed out that the industry works closely with both state and national game and fish departments on successfuinlly implementing compliance measures. “All of a sudden to be leap-frogged to the US Attorney’s office,” Ness said, “the operators subject to that news release did not have any idea that anything had even occurred,” much less that they were being accused of such a serious offense.


Say Nothing blog, of course, repeated this "story" as surely you are smart enough to expect.

Poor Ness -- a "veteran regulator"?!? --  is pretty good at playing the victim. There was a “fair amount of shock and awe”. Really?!? According to the FWS affidavits we linked to in part II the FWS had been warning oil companies for years and years about the MBTA and waste pits, and some of the companies charged now had been getting insignificant administrative fines on more than one past occasion, as warnings. Additionally, Ness’s own organization was given trainings and power point presentations by the FWS in 2008, teaching them how to avoid criminal charges. Yet, he’s in “shock and awe” when companies continue to disregard the law and the government puts its foot down?

“I can’t ever imagine going running out to the media with what is really still an allegation”…”running out before my team has even done the investigation or had an opportunity to visit with the accused”…”All of a sudden to be leap-frogged to the US Attorney’s office”.


If you go back and look at the links to U.S. Attorney’s office Press Releases for 2010 and 2011 you will see that these oil companies were treated the same routine way as everyone else charged with crimes in federal court.   What Ness is really saying is “It is shameful that oil companies don't get special treatment. We are special!!! If the government wants to charge one of my multi-million-dollar corporate members they shouldn’t do so until I have had a chance to talk to the companies, investigate the matters for myself and help them avoid being held accountable.”. The fact the U.S. Attorney’s office treated these cases just like every other case shows they weren’t acting politically, and that's what's gotten Ness's goat.

The clown parade continued. On September 6th, 2011, Congressman Rick Berg appeared on the Hennen show to give the Hennen crew more material for more fatwa’s, which went out on the Plains Daily as: Congressman Rick Berg says Purdon’s Prosecution “Increases Uncertainty. If you check out that fatwa you’ll notice, once again, it is devoid of information about the cases - just frames and right-wing, focus-grouped catch-phrases. “Uncertainty” is one of those en-vogue Republican terms these days that is used on a host of topics so I guess it was second nature for Berg to use the term here. When Berg was running for Congress, you may recall that he advocated for drilling for oil in the Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  When the public reacted negatively to his proposal, he quickly changed his story. From the interview, Berg appears to be as clueless about these cases as he was about drilling in TR Park. But with Hennen’s propaganda techniques, that isn’t a problem.

In other words, what Berg isn’t saying is: “Even though the companies charged were also in violation of state law for putting oil in the pits; failing to close them within a year as required, failing to put nets over them as required by state law, failing to heed the previous warnings from and training by the FWS when dead birds were found in the pits – you know; the facts of the cases -- I still think charging them creates “uncertainty”.  He’s on the Hennen show so Hennen can get a phrase like “increases uncertainty” and add Berg to the list of other names that appear to weighing in on the cases.

Since these cases were charged in August, the wing nuts have been mashing and grinding about them, often many times a week -  occasionally doing a compilation piece of their prior fabrications such as this one:  Criticisms Continue to Mount Against US Attorney Tim Purdon.

You’ll notice from that story that they and/or other wing nuts using their fabricated ginned-up controversy are the only ones criticizing Purdon or these cases. A couple final points before we get to their funding sources.  First, you’ll notice they like to start their posts with personal attacks on Tim Purdon, who was appointed to be our U.S. Attorney by President Obama.

Grown-ups understand presidents get to pick U.S. Attorneys for each state, and both parties pick active members of their political parties as a matter of course. Purdon's immediate predecessor was Drew Wrigley. Wrigley was appointed by President Bush. Prior to his political appointment, Wrigley was executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party.  Before that he was one of George W. Bush's vote suppressing henchmen in Florida during the attempted ballot count in 2000. Every job Wrigley has ever had in North Dakota -- before or after being U.S. Attorney -- has been a Republican Party favor. Purdon was active in Democratic politics and North Dakota Democrats asked Purdon to be the state’s representative on the Democratic National Committee before he was appointed to be the U.S. Attorney for North Dakota.  But Purdon was never a full-time, salaried employee or hatchetman for the Republican Party, like Wrigley.  The hypocrisy of the Hennen spin machine would be laughable if there weren't suckers out there buying their garbage.

Second, the wing nuts are fond of spinning these seven misdemeanor cases as something that came down from on-high in the Obama Administration to try to kill off the oil industry.  (Something tells me the President and his inner-circle have bigger fish to fry.)  Wing nuts, especially really dumb ones, eat that stuff up, so the Hennen machine likes to throw those kinds of shots into their posts. The truth is, however, that Bush appointed U.S. Attorneys during that administration also charged oil companies with violations of the MBTA. (Click here and click here.) How come when the law was enforced under the Bush Administration the Hennen Crime Family didn't issue fatwas about the Bush Administration's “war on oil”? Somehow, when the law is enforced today, it is some sort of high-level, political/conspiratorial effort to destroy the oil industry? I'm just sayin'….

Why play all these games and tricks? Because sometimes it works, that’s why. North Dakotans will remember about a year ago we had this fancy, quarter-of-a-million-dollar bus driving all over North Dakota with “FixTheTax” painted on the side and Minnesota license plates on the back. That bus gimmick was part of the fake grassroots effort of a secretive newly-formed group called "Invest in North Dakota" which was ironically headquartered in suburban Minneapolis. The front men for the bus tour were former North Dakota governor Ed Schafer and Scott Hennen, who went around trying to get North Dakotans to feel bad about having the “highest oil taxes in the lower 48 states”. The corporate board for the "Invest in North Dakota" company (based in Minnesota) that proposed to "fix the tax" was made up primarily of Hennen's Freedom Force employees. Schafer admitted the group was funded by Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources (a company that would have benefited hugely if the FixTheTax scam had worked. To instill fear, Schafer and the Hennen wing nut machine (especially including Say Nothing blog and Plains Daily) repeatedly told the public that “if we don’t lower our oil taxes the oil companies will just leave the state and drill elsewhere”. At every stop the media would interview Schafer where he repeated these lines over and over again. The media wasn’t challenging either assertion, just repeating the claims being made.

So we wrote a blog post called “Nix The Fix” to show how Hennen and Company are a bunch of pathological liars but, more importantly, to debunk the FixTheTax claims. First, we showed that our state oil taxes were not out of line compared to other states.  We showed that, among other things, we don’t levy property taxes on oil wells like many other states do. Second, we pointed out how stupid it was to claim that the oil companies would leave North Dakota if our tax wasn’t lowered for them.  (Has anybody noticed a mass exodus of oil companies lately?) Once the broader media and talk radio picked up our NixTheFix story, a couple things happened. First, the FixTheTax bus must have gotten repainted and sent out to advance some other public deception cause elsewhere because it disappeared. Second, the wing nuts changed their shtick from “we have the highest” to “we have one of the highest oil tax rates” – which is still not true, but less untrue than their previous lies. (About the same time we also broke the story about the $60 million stripper well tax scam in North Dakota, which the AP picked up and those stories assisted in quieting some of the wing nut tax propaganda.)

Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, the state’s largest oil extraction company, also admitted in a radio interview that he was one of the funders of "Invest in North Dakota," the secretive Minnepolis group paying for the FixTheTax bus tour. Hamm showed up at a state senate hearing with House Majority Leader Al Carlson attempting to tack an amendment onto some bill that would -- without a public hearing -- lower our oil taxes. Both through his funding of the FixTheTax bus tour and his legislative testimony Hamm wanted the people of North Dakota to think we had an abusive oil tax that was harming the oil industry. However, we did a section on Hamm in our Nix story and showed that what was being told to Continental’s shareholders about the great profits Hamm was obtaining in North Dakota under our current tax structure was wholly different from what he was trying to make North Dakotans believe about our oil taxes.

Hamm is also in the “million dollar” a year club of the Koch brothers funding of wing nut causes nationally such as their un-American efforts to deny seniors, young people, and minorities of their right to vote.   

Then along comes this fellow named "Mike Cantrell," who appeared on the Hennen show on September 13th, 2011, as a representative of a group calling itself the “Domestic Energy Producers Alliance”.  The Plains Daily fatwa about his appearance was titled: No Due Process Involved In Political Prosecution of Dead Birds Case, says Oil Representative”

Multiple things crack me up about Plains Daily's blog post. First is Cantrell’s multiple fabrications about the cases, like this quote: “…under this administration (the anti-Christ president is always behind these things)…we spent 45 days in helicopters looking for dead birds (you don’t look for dead birds in waste pits from the air because you’ll never see them covered with oil in a pit full of oil. The FWS might fly an airplane around and see if the pits are netted as required, but then they would have to check the unnetted pits from the ground to see how many birds they killed the day they checked. According to the FWS affidavits we posted in part II they spent a couple days between May and June checking unnetted pits) …and then basically instead of contacting the companies, they called a press conference to announce their findings” Cantrell said.   (I am unaware of any press conference being called? In fact, I am fairly certain there wasn’t and he’s just making that up also.  All I have seen is the standard written press release sent out in every case.)

Second, the title of the post says that Cantrell said “No Due Process Involved”. I love things that remind me of 8th grade where we learned that “due process” is what happens when you go to court, get your rights, etc.   The U.S. Attorney’s office summoned the oil companies into court on September 22nd, where their due process rights start being applied. How can there be a complaint that there is no due process on September 13th, before the court process has even started? Another small fact, nowhere in the story did I find any place where Cantrell talks about due process, but the title quotes him as saying that?  Must have been the bullet point Hennen wanted out there even though the source of it didn’t say anything about due process.

The final thing about this post is how clear it is that Cantrell and Ness went to the same oil industry seminar on how to play victim and whine like a spoiled six year olds about how the world is descending on you when a Democrat is president.

Cantrell followed up this gem of an interview with a letter to the editor in the Fargo For’um. His letter is full of some of the worst made-up stuff, ever. One thing is this business about a "press conference" from the U.S. Attorney's Office coinciding with a Jim Cramer (of "Mad Money" fame) story about how cool is the Bakken. Again, as an insider at Continental Resources, he surely knows the criminal case started August 2nd, 2011, and was only made public around the time of Cramer's gush-fest. And, since I didn't ever see or hear anything about a press conference, I'm gonna call "shenanigans" on that claim, too. To its credit, the For’um did note that Cantrell is a political consultant for Continental Resources, but doesn’t mention that Hamm pays a chunk of his salary or -- and this is what amazes me -- that Continental Resources -- for whom Cantrell is a political consultant -- is one of the defendant’s in the MBTA criminal cases.

The FWS affidavit regarding their case against Continental Resources shows this isn’t Hamm’s first rodeo with the MBTA. In 1997 his company was administratively fined $10,450 for dead ducks found in five of his waste pits in South Dakota. In 2007 he was fined $750 for MBTA violations in Montana. In 2008 he was fined $375 for a North Dakota violation. I wonder if those previous violations were part of a pre-Obama presidents' “war on oil” also? As with the other cases, the FWS affidavit states that Continental was sent the information needed to comply with the MBTA , and they apparently decided to ignore those prior warnings and information.

The whole thing is one big tangled web when you look at the funding sources.  Not only is Cantrell a paid political shill form Hamm and Continental -- one of the defendants -- and a person who can’t get his facts straight, he's also a political contributor to Rick Berg. Inhofe’s number one campaign contributor is the Koch brothers' company, who also fund the Hennen wing nut machine, even though the wing-nuts never disclose their funding sources when they put out their fake news. Inhofe told Hennen during their interview that Hamm is one of his favorite Oklahomans, and Hamm funded Hennen’s pretend grassroots bus trips around the state last year trying to drum up support to have North Dakotan’s reduce our oil tax rates.  And the Koch Brothers -- presumably using some of Hamm's million dollar donation to their cause -- fund Scott Hennen's fake news website, the Plains Daily.

The theme of Grisham’s The Pelican Brief is a secretive billionaire oil man named Victor Mattiece funded elaborate schemes to deceive the public and manipulate the government and media so he could drill for oil at the expense of some birds. In our case, we can drill for oil in North Dakota without endangering our waterfowl if the oil companies net their pits as they’ve been warned, and are supposed to do. If some of the millions of behind-the-scene money Hamm and others are spending to try and manipulate public opinion were spent on complying with the law there wouldn’t be any problems.

The only question is: Who is the “Victor Mattiece” of our real life story?  Is it Harold Hamm? The Koch brothers? Hennen and his wing nuts? I do know Tim Purdon. I promise he doesn’t look anything like Julia Roberts, so he isn’t Darby Shaw. 

Comments (6)add comment

nimrod said:

So, it is the wing-nuts' point that if you violate a law enacted by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President, i.e., the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a US Attorney should not be allowed to prosecute you if you are an oil company. Where is that in the US Constitution? Are we free to choose the federal laws that we will comply with and those which we will violate with impunity? Should an oil company executive be immune from prosecution for exceeding his daily bag limit of waterfowl? Same difference.
September 29, 2011
Votes: +2

Cynical Old Bastard said:

Oil Gang: the privilieged class

_Due process obviously means one cannot "leap frog" over Ron and his "team." Everyone should know you have to get permission from oil companies to charge them with a crime.
September 29, 2011
Votes: +2

justawriter said:

We can only hope
I recently moved to Mountrail County for a non-oil job. The folks up there would gladly support a tax that would slow oil development down for a while. Highway 23 is New Towns main street and was built to handle about 150 trucks a day. The most recent traffic count showed there were about 2,200 semis headed ON THE TOWNS MAIN STREET and about 9,000 other vehicles every day. Crossing the street is, well, the best metaphor I've heard is 'Remember the game Frogger?' New Town was going to redo the street next year. Now they don't know how they are going divert the traffic to do it, so they might just give up on it. Schaefer should put that in his Minnesota bus and smoke it.
September 29, 2011
Votes: +1

What the Heck said:

If Berg gets his way, there will be a new God-like, all-knowing congressional super committee (modeled after ND) to review and approve all government regulations before they're enacted into law.

Leave it to him to take ND's 'best practices' to Washington.
September 30, 2011
Votes: +0

nimrod said:

I nominate you for the Rough Rider Award.
September 30, 2011
Votes: +0

Zyvix said:

I'm really interested in how Hennen, Hamm, etc., will spin this http://ndpolitics.areavoices.com/?p=92127. Probably either ignore it, or turn it into some wild conspiracy theory.
October 10, 2011
Votes: +0

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