The public confrontation, controversy and conversation about fracking has been going on for a while here in New York. We have gotten to the point now where it is possible to write a book review on several books, a newspaper article series, and an Emmy-award-winning movie. That’s what Bill McKibben has done here in the New York Review of Books; you really should go read the whole thing.
A different level of public understanding evolves when a controversial issue remains unresolved long enough that books, article series, and movies are created to help explain. This has become a Topic about which engaged citizens might become informed. Something that different journalists and authors see from different perspectives. Amid all the gas company paid spin, there is more and more effort being made by writers, filmmakers, and ordinary citizens to better understand what is going on. This is the very process of public democracy that became popular during the American Revolution and the years following– vigorous public discourse, with information provided to a newly literate population by a truth-seeking Fourth Estate.
From McKibben’s review, we learn that the full story is better understood by seeing from more than one perspective– the views are complementary–
The accounts in these two books are complementary. McGraw is the better writer, and because he grew up in the region he has a better story to tell; he describes believable characters and provides a perceptive account of what rural poverty feels like. Wilber is the better reporter; he covered the shale story for the Binghamton newspaper for years, and grounds it in the setting of both Pennsylvania and New York politics.
The two books, however, don’t manage to cover some important aspects of the fracking issue. In fact, the most remarkable work on the subject has been done by Ian Urbina, a New York Times journalist, and by the rebel filmmaker Josh Fox. Urbina’s stories, which seem likely to win a Pulitzer, demonstrate why we can’t do without serious newspapers.
For real democracy to work in a state, the people and the lawmakers must have… truthful accounts and serious newspapers. Movies often change the narrative. Gasland, as movies often do, had an outside effect on public opinion, by changing the way the story of gas drilling was framed. Gasland II is currently being filmed, and will come out this year. It will be interesting to see how the film, which will include footage of NYS Senator Greg Ball’s trip to Pennsylvania to investigate fracking, impacts the NYS political discourse on the topic.