Aaron Harber said he owes his career not to the presidents, legislators, industry leaders and Supreme Court justices he’s interviewed, but … to an angry Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh tried suing him.
After starting out doing stints on “Talk of the Rockies Network” on the Denver Broncos & Colorado Rockies satellite channel, Harber was offered a gig at Talk America Radio, which would appear on 51 stations across the country.
“We named it ‘After the Rush,’” said Harber, “but Rush Limbaugh didn’t like that and sued us for $20 million.”
The suit took a year and a half before being dismissed – a period in his life that Harber said “was a gargantuan waste of time and money,” but “due to the publicity of our victory, I was offered the opportunity to try out for a program on Colorado Public Television. So, while it wasn’t fun to be facing a $20 million claim (that’s real money!), I owe my television career to Rush!”
“The Aaron Harber Show,” a weekly television program seen nationwide on AXS (a show on which Harber also acts as executive producer) is aimed at promoting mutually respectful civil discourse, which is the way Harber wants it. He said the show is in “diametric opposition” to television’s typical use of gratuitous conflict, false controversy, polarization and personal attacks – and that includes the interviewing of geologists and discussing the issues facing the industry.
Running such a show in Colorado, of course, entails coverage of numerous topics that directly affect the oil and gas industry – topics like hydraulic fracturing, energy resources, petroleum geology, environmentalism and others.
A Background in Geoscience
Harber knows those topics as well as his guests.
“Communicating with the geology profession, especially in the energy arena, is easier for me than most journalists. My geology professor at Princeton was Kenneth Deffeyes and I served on the Advisory Council for the Department of Civil and Geological Engineering at Princeton University,” he said.
Harber also has an academic background that includes thesis-level research in energy. Moreover, he has worked for the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as well as Xcel Energy.
“The fact I am a mineral rights owner and royalty recipient also adds to that unique perspective few journalists have,” he said.
Harber said that when he talks to geologists, unlike many politicians, he finds the give-and-take to be relatively straightforward, easy and welcomed.
“I also believe geologists, as a group, are open-minded when involved in fact-based discussions and, although passionate about issues, are willing to be convinced if the evidence leads to conclusions they may not otherwise have surmised,” he said.
He said other disciplines, especially the political arena, could benefit from such a mindset.
“We need more people like geologists,” he said.
Evidently, geologists feel the same way about Harber. His reputation among geologists and AAPG members in particular for his integrity and effectiveness as a journalist in advancing public understanding of issues related to the industry and profession earned him this year’s Geosciences in the Media Award, which AAPG awards in recognition of “notable journalistic achievement in any medium which contributes to public understanding of geology, energy resources, or the technology of oil and gas exploration.”
Making Complexity Intelligible
Harber studied at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. When asked about the intersection between politics and the geosciences, whether the two are ever taught in tandem, he said there is always something missing.
Guess which one?
He explained, “While I was at the Kennedy School – and I enjoyed my experience there – I can’t say there was much of an intersection between politics and the geosciences. There were a lot of politics and related fields, but there was a paucity of the geosciences. Surprised?”
He said part of the reason is because the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to cursory coverage.
“The industry is complex and I would say many journalists (though he said there are some who are top-notch) do not always fully understand the profession,” he said.
One of the challenges, then, for both reporters and even Harber himself, is making complex subjects intelligible to a reader or viewership that often is less knowledgeable than even they are.
Watching Harber’s ease with a variety of people from a variety of professions, it’s understandable how he lands so many top-notch interviews.
Speaking of, the Mueller pieces for him were a special point of pride.
“Having done more television interviews and having more time with Robert Mueller, a decorated war veteran and American hero, has been one of the highlights of my career. Mueller is not fond of the press, to put it mildly, and generally does not trust reporters,” he said.
It seems Mueller trusted him more than others.
“The fact the deputy director of the FBI told me Mueller gave me more time than any other television journalist while he was director of the FBI was and remains humbling,” said Harber.
Considering the role Mueller occupied in the national conversation over the past few years, Harber thinks everyone should watch one or more of his interviews with the former FBI director to see and hear firsthand how the man thinks and reasons.
Harber is not a political firebrand and his purpose is not just to get at the truth, but to get at the commonality between sides and dispel the hoary clichés and misconceptions, including those in the geosciences.
“While I understand the knee-jerk assumptions that (a) Republicans are good for the Industry and bad for the environment and (b) Democrats are bad for Industry and good for the environment, this very often simply isn’t true,” he said.
He said the divisions are more complex.
“After all, it was Republican President Richard Nixon who led the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. And, historically, for the most part, Republicans in many states, especially Colorado, have supported all kinds of environmental protection: open space, wildlife refuges, water conservation, etc.,” he explained.
On the area of regulations, he sees both sides often over-shooting their targets.
“Complex regulations proposed by Democrats can backfire, especially when they fail or end up hurting lower income citizens far more than anticipated. Similarly, Republican proposals to reduce or eliminate regulation are not always analyzed thoroughly ahead of time and can result in changes backfiring,” he said.
Harber, who has won Broadcaster of the Year from the Colorado Broadcaster Association, has interviewed – more than anyone else, actually – Democratic presidential candidate and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who also happens to be a geologist and former AAPG member.
“We’ve done over a dozen shows together, starting before he even ran for mayor of Denver. He’s a sharp, smart, successful, strategic, funny and caring man,” said Harber.
The Great Debate
As for the biggest debate still out there – the one that does intersect politics and geology, Harber said it’s time for a debate among those with different views.
“We have begun a project titled, ‘The Great Climate Change Debate: What Does The Science Really Say?” he said.
It is a show that will run through 2020, and is part of “The American Civility Initiative.” As the title indicates, the show aims civil discussions on the great issues of the day.
On climate, he said he thinks it’s been a mistake, as well as arrogant, for climate scientists to have avoided debating the science of climate change, as public opinion polling demonstrates.
“If the science is settled, then those most concerned about climate change should be eager to confront those they believe are wrong?” he said.
A Platform Without Preconception
Harber said that creating such a platform – for this or any topic – and doing it without preconception, is worth pursuing. It’s one of the reasons he’s receiving this award – even if he’s not entirely sure how it happened.
“I’m very honored to receive the award and appreciate those who evidently nominated me without my knowledge (I’m not complaining),” said Harber.
He said that to be recognized by the extraordinary membership of the AAPG has been “one of the highlights of my career” because of the recognition of the contribution he’s made to the profession – a contribution that includes creating more broadcast programs on energy and the environment than anyone else in the history of television.
His goal is to create a forum where people, from celebrities to experts to public officials to businesspeople to artists to regular folks, “can discuss and debate both important issues and not-so-important issues of the day for the educational and entertainment benefit of all viewers.”