Teddy Borawski, the chief oil and gas geologist for Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, probably couldn't tell you the difference between Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering if his life depended on it.
But that didn't stop him from being supremely glib about what constitutes Nazi propaganda when it comes to the controversy about hydraulic drilling in Pennsylvania.
In an appearance before the Pennsylvania Dutch Chapter of the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Association in Lancaster County last week, Mr. Borawski took issue with the description of "fracking" as harmful to the environment in Josh Fox's Oscar-nominated documentary, "Gasland."
Asked by an audience member what he thought of the film's thesis that hydraulic fracturing and drilling are a threat to the state's water supply, Mr. Borawski went nuclear. The audio of his comments was posted on the website of the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal:
"Joseph Goebbels would have been proud," he said. "He would have given [Mr. Fox] the Nazi award. That, in my opinion, was a beautiful piece of propaganda."
As the Corbett administration's point man on leasing and forestry, what Teddy Borawski believes has some bearing on state policy and, more importantly, the governor's perception of the issues.
When Mr. Borawski uttered those words last week, did he truly believe that Josh Fox, the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors, was the equivalent of Leni Riefenstahl picking up a prize from Goebbels' own hands for directing "Triumph of the Will"?
If Mr. Borawski believes that "Gasland" is Nazi propaganda simply because it takes a critical look at industry practices that have resulted in environmental damage and residential woe in this state and beyond, then he isn't intellectually qualified for the job.
If Mr. Borawski knows better, but was simply lying about Mr. Fox being a Nazi propagandist to impress his audience, then it is an open-and-shut case of moral idiocy, which would also disqualify him for the job.
Mr. Fox, whose film speaks for itself as far as I'm concerned, doesn't need me to come to his rescue. He published an open letter on Monday that eloquently made the case for Mr. Borawski's firing:
"This kind of hateful speech," Mr. Fox wrote, referring to Mr. Borawski's comments, "shows a contempt for history, for truth, for science and sets a dangerous precedent in our state's government. Such slanderous mudslinging has no place in any rational or adult debate on ANY topic, let alone the most important issue facing the state in decades -- natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale."
Mr. Fox continued: "'Gasland' has helped forge a movement in Pennsylvania, New York, and increasingly worldwide. Millions of people saw the film when it aired on HBO. In addition, I have toured to over 100 cities in the United States. Everywhere I go, I hear the complaints, concerns, outrage and dismay of the citizens facing the driller's invasion.
"But instead of engaging in a real dialogue on the issues, the Pennsylvania government and the gas industry have mounted successive attacks against the honest journalism of the film. I and my team have been branded terrorists, extremists, communists, traitors, liars and now, Nazis. The state deserves better."
One of the most poignant passages in Mr. Fox's letter comes near the end: "Since the release of 'Gasland,' we have been subject to many kinds of attacks, not only in writing, but in action," he wrote. "Our family home in Pennsylvania has been vandalized several times since the premiere of the film. ... To call my work 'Nazi propaganda' is to dehumanize me and those working on the issue with great care and love for our community."
It took a few days, but eventually outrage began to bubble up from the nether regions of Pennsylvania politics over Mr. Borawski's remark. Even Gov. Tom Corbett described the comment as an "inappropriate analogy" during a news conference earlier this week. Without stating exactly what kind of disciplinary action would be taken, the governor made it clear that Mr. Borawski would not escape the woodshed.
Cornered, Mr. Borawski issued what he called "my sincerest and most heartfelt apology" to Mr. Fox a few days ago: "I used very poor judgment trying to compare the work of a filmmaker to the propaganda spewed by Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi regime in World War II," he said.
Mr. Borawski will keep his job for now, but it will be difficult for Pennsylvanians to forget the moral craziness of the analogy. Somewhere in hell, Goebbels is rolling his eyes at the banality of our political evils.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631.