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On Tuesday, a handful of Semafor's bold news disruptors hosted a panel in Washington, D.C. titled "What's The Deal With Permitting Reform?" It featured a bunch of D.C.-types whose headshots were taken in front of American flags talking about, well, permitting reform.

One of those speakers was West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, whose whole deal is ensuring that future generations of Americans will never have to live in a world where they are not choked by the fossil fuel industry's globally devastating pollutants. Manchin was on stage with Semafor Founding Editor at Large Steve Clemons, who has previously worked for The Hill, The Atlantic, and Quartz. Clemons began their conversation with a jolly greeting—"Congrats on that Mountain Valley Pipeline!"—before he and Manchin were interrupted by climate activists who rushed the stage. That led to an incredible scene, in which Clemons was reduced to a shouting, bumbling mess trying to get the protestors off, as he put it, his stage.

Climate activists (and residents living near its path) have been fighting against and stalling the construction of the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline for years, but Manchin and the fossil fuel executives he takes his marching orders from got the breakthrough they've been looking for when the senator was able to sneak some language into the debt-ceiling bill which will not only force federal agencies to issue the remaining permits that are needed for construction of the pipeline, but prevent any of those approvals from being challenged in the courts. The proposed 300-mile pipeline will cut through the Appalachian Mountains and a national forest. According to Oil Change International’s Gas Pipeline Climate Methodology, it will emit the equivalent of "26 average U.S. coal plants or over 19 million passenger vehicles" in greenhouse gases annually, much of that as leaked methane, a problem endemic to gas pipelines despite their industry-backed branding as "clean" or "transition" fuel.

The M.V.P. is a joint venture between several fossil fuel companies, one of them being NextEra Energy Resources. That company's CEO, Rebecca Kujawa, also sits on the board of directors for the American Clean Power Association, a lobbying group made up of executives from the fossil fuel industry that has taken an interest in passing permitting reforms that would make it much easier to build natural gas pipelines throughout the country. And hey, would you look at that, the American Clean Power Association was the sponsor of Semafor's event.

I don't think I'm blowing anybody's mind here with the shocking revelation that a "clean energy" lobbying group with a comically vague and misleading name is actually a fossil fuel industry front, or that a publication like Semafor is all too happy keep its lights on by gobbling up that group's money in exchange for having one of its journalists say, "Congrats on that Mountain Valley Pipeline!" to Joe Manchin in public. That's just how things have gone for a long time in this country. But I do think it's worth lingering momentarily on Clemons's reaction to the protestors.

There's a certain type of journalist, and a certain type of publication, that prizes objectivity and even-handedness, not so much as actual principles, which would require serious thought about the meaning and history of those terms, but mainly as branding devices. Semafor's whole sales pitch to investors and sponsors lies in its claims that it will "cut through the noise" and "reduce polarization" by reporting the news without bias, and with space for competing points of view. The company is so committed to embodying this brand that it forces its writers to construct stories in the stupidest, most condescending format imaginable. The idea is that readers (and more importantly potential sponsors) will look at a publication like Semafor, and a journalist like Clemons, notice all the trappings of seriousness and objectivity, and not care to look any further. It's not even that hard of a trick to pull off: If your copy is dry enough, and your hair gray enough, and your khakis billowy enough, you will convince a lot of people that you are not so much a person with a viewpoint but a vessel for Unbiased Journalism.

Which is why it's nice, occasionally, to be reminded who these twerps really are: bullies and knobs. Someone like Clemons might never betray those facts about himself in what he writes or says on TV, but now you've seen his bright red face, heard his quaking voice, and seen him feebly attempt to push an activist off the stage, and you know what's really in there.

Clemons doesn't seem all that concerned about how he acted, though. After the event, he only wanted to clear the air about one thing:

Wouldn't want those sponsors thinking their money had gone to waste!

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