In December of 1979 News Director Ian Pearson, KOTV CBS affiliate, was in charge of a news team that included Melanie Roberts, Clayton Vaughn, Ken Broo, Bob Losure, and the present writer as a journalism intern. Ken Broo would later serve on the news staff of WUSA in Washington, Vaughn became a news legend in Oklahoma, Bob Losure became the news anchor for CNN Headline News, and Melanie Roberts taught the present writer to never use profanity period. And the entire KOTV Eyewitness News Team gave a valuable lesson in covering breaking news.
Pearson created a journalism internship that provided practical experience in covering late breaking news and in the unseen research that takes place behind the scenes in covering a news story. When Pearson received a report that a group of oilmen were planning to stage an oil rig convoy from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. to protest President Jimmy Carter’s Windfall Profits Tax he assigned the story to his journalism intern to get the facts and to research the story.
Calls to the President of the Osage Oil Company revealed that there was indeed a plan to stage a massive protest against a law that the oilmen felt was an unjust, unfair, and a train wreck of a law. Duane Carnes of Osage Oil in an exclusive interview for KOTV explained that the founders of the American government gave American citizens a blueprint for a government where every American citizen has the right to protest any law that they felt was unjust. Carnes felt that the law was unjust and unfair. He felt that the law would bankrupt independent oil producers. So the oilmen from Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas gathered in Oklahoma City to plan a cross country protest convoy to Washington, D.C. to let President Carter and the United States Congress know that the law was a bad law.
Pearson had no intentions of sending Vaughn, Roberts, Losure, or Broo on a cross country trek following a convoy of oil rigs to Washington. But the story seemed important enough to send somebody. Pearson assigned the story to the KOTV Journalism Intern. An assignment that other reporters might have rejected seemed like a very important story to the intern.
Carnes thought the idea of having a journalist to travel in the convoy to cover the Windfall Profits Tax Protest was a good idea. After meeting with the other leaders of the protest movement Carnes extended an invitation to the reporter to join the oilmen and to ride in the convoy from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. As the first national news story out of Journalism School the Windfall Profits Tax Protest assignment was memorable and important. Bob Losure was a great friend and encouragement. Losure carried the live reports from Washington and broadcast the reports on KOTV in Tulsa.
At the beginning of the Windfall Profits Tax Protest it was not certain that the protest would garner national support. The very idea of having a convoy of oil rigs barreling down the interstate to D.C. did create a great visual image and that is exactly what the protesters wanted to do. They wanted to call attention to a law that would put them out of business. In going from one oil rig to the next with writing pad in hand the reporter listened to one independent oilman after the next and realized that the image of the oilman as seen on television was not true. All oilmen were not filthy rich, double-dealing, unscrupulous small businessmen as portrayed by actor Larry Hagman in the CBS series Dallas.
Many oilmen were struggling small business owners who put nearly every penny they earned back into their small business. The oil rigs that they used to drill for oil were major investments that in some cases came up with nothing but mud. Having worked as a Thermal Evolution Analyzer for the Amoco Oil Company in Tulsa as a summer job through Manpower in the summer of 1979 the reporter knew that big business oil company executives spent millions of dollars on research and development. These small business oilmen were not JR Ewing.
Interviews were conducted in Washington in March of 1980 that revealed difference between the public perception of oilmen and the reality of the work they actually did. D.C. residents, federal employees, and men and women on the streets of D.C. were interviewed in and around the Congress. Congressman Jim Jones was interviewed by the present writer in his office. Jones served as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.
White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan later told the reporter that once a law has been passed it is the law. The oilmen had the right to express their displeasure with the law but they did not have the power to change it.
The current debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act calls to mind the anger and rage that some Americans felt after the Windfall Profits law was passed. Even though many Americans hated the law, they still obeyed the law as law abiding citizens.