Should The Post run a correction to the Koch oil sands story?

Last week, a story by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin declared that Koch Industries was “the biggest lease owner in Canada’s oil sands.” This claim was made in the headline and opening paragraph. After receiving some push-back, the pair wrote a follow-up claiming that Koch is only “one of the region’s largest,” citing figures showing that other companies had larger confirmed holdings and unnamed industry sources who believe Koch’s holdings are greater than the 1.1 million acres reported. In other words, the reporters no longer stood by the claim made in the headline and lead. Moreover, when Phil Kerpen checked the official records, he found that a Canadian company’s holdings exceed all estimates of Koch holdings and may be more than double those owned by Koch.  If the numbers Kerpen compiled are correct, Koch is not the largest lease owner, even if it owns more than the 1.1 million acres confirmed in story.

From the above, it would appear that the central factual claim trumpeted in the headline and lead of the original story is false. Is this not the sort of thing that calls for a correction?

Note: I have no quarrel with the decision to run a story looking at who might stand to benefit from Keystone XL.  If the Kochs stand to benefit, and if Koch-funded groups support the pipeline, that’s potentially newsworthy (though I would hope we could evaluate Keystone XL on the merits). The issue here is simply whether a central fact of this story was correct.

DISCLOSURE: Some readers have asked about my “connections” to the Kochs. Over the years, I have spoken at various programs sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation, for which I received modest honoraria. I even spoke at Koch Industries once over a decade ago. I assume I was paid for my time, but I honestly can’t recall. I have also solicited and received grants for projects from the Charles Koch Foundation, the most recent of which funded this 2009 roundtable (but for which I received no compensation). I was also quite critical of the Kochs in their dispute with the Cato Institute.

Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in constitutional, administrative, and environmental law at the Case Western University School of Law, where he is the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation.

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Eugene Volokh · March 27, 2014

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