The Brass Check: Politico, In Text Ads, and Chesapeake Energy’s Crimes

In October, a unit of Chesapeake Energy pled guilty to destroying a natural waterfall as part of its hydraulic fracturing operations in West Virginia.

“Chesapeake illegally filled at least three sensitive wetlands,” David McLeod, a special agent in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in West Virginia said at the time. “In one instance, Chesapeake obliterated a natural waterfall.”

Today, the company was fined $600,000 for that crime and put on supervised release for two years.

Haven’t seen a thing about Chesapeake’s crime or punishment in Politico.

Why not?

Could it be something similar to what Upton Sinclair wrote about almost 100 years ago in his best selling book The Brass Check?

“Brass check” was the term Sinclair used to refer to a chit issued to patrons of urban brothels at the time.

Sinclair was calling it as he saw it – journalists were like prostitutes – beholden to the monied elite that owned and controlled the press.

Fast forward to today and the dominant political publication on Capitol Hill – Politico.

Every issue of Politico is chock full of full page ads from the likes of the American Bankers Association, Goldman Sachs, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute.

But if you prefer to work the bowels of the publication, Politico will sell you text ads embedded in the stories themselves.

Take for example Politico reporter Alex Guillen’s Morning Energy Report.

You might be reading a snippet about Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-West Virginia) announcement that she plans to run against Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia).

And then you will see this text ad – buried right under the story:

** A message from America’s Natural Gas Alliance: Natural gas is creating jobs and adding tremendous value to state economies across the country. Curious what the role of this clean abundant resource is in your state? Visit our interactive map at **

Separated out by those four little asterisks – just so you’ll know that it’s an issue ad.

Yeah, I’m also curious how Chesapeake Energy is destroying Wetzel County, West Virginia.

Clicked on West Virginia on your interactive map – nothing about Chesapeake’s crimes came up.

We reached out to Politico’s Sara Olson, Politico’s director of media and special projects, for an explanation.

“Morning Energy is one of Politico’s daily e-newsletters,” Olson explains. “Politico sells sponsorships to those newsletters which includes in-text advertisements. ANGA is the sponsor of Morning Energy this week.”

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