TIME language

That ‘A System Cannot Fail…’ Quote? It’s Not From W.E.B. DuBois

Thank social media--and perhaps Rihanna--for the confusion

In the moments following Monday night’s announcement that there would be no indictment for Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, one line began to bubble up on social media: a system cannot fail those it was never built to protect.

The quotation, sometimes rendered as “designed to protect” or “meant to protect,” is attributed to historian and Civil Rights icon W.E.B. DuBois, and it captures the sense of futility felt by many who had hoped that Brown’s death would lead to a trial.

But, search for any variation on those words along with DuBois’ name, and you’ll come up blank. Look for a source in DuBois’ writings, and there’s nothing. Though it’s always possible that someone who produced work about a century ago would have work that was not available to be searched online, the phrase doesn’t turn up in lists of his most quoted lines — and, in fact, a Google search that limits results to those created prior to last summer, when it was similarly used to respond to the death of Trayvon Martin, provides no results at all.

So where did that quotation come from, and who actually said it?

A likely source of its proliferation is the singer Rihanna, who has a large social-media following and tweeted the quotation on July 14, 2013, a day after George Zimmerman was acquitted in Martin’s case:

Rihanna’s message was retweeted more than 11,000 times, but it doesn’t mention a source for the phrase. In the days that followed, the line was used many times on social media and in articles on the topic of Martin’s death, and within a single day it had acquired W.E.B. DuBois as its author — a source that makes sense, given DuBois’ activism, and his prolific and quotable body of work.

In reality, however, this was the source of the quote:

That’s Vann Newkirk, who tweets as @fivefifths with the Twitter handle “W.E.B.B.I.E. DuBois.”

Reached by email late Monday night, he confirmed that as far as he knows, the idea and the wording were “100% on the spot” from him. When Zimmerman was acquitted, he was talking to some people who felt let down by the justice system; he personally felt like even to feel let down was to expect too much from that system, so he said as much.

“It went pretty wild and got attributed to everyone under the sun, but the one that stuck was DuBois,” he continues, speculating that his Twitter handle was responsible for the confusion. “I felt some pride in how it spread and the fact that people reasonably believed it was the property of people I idolized. At the very least, it resonates, and with all that’s going on, I’m happy people were able to find some meaning in it, whether they attribute it to me or Ronald McDonald.”

Read next: Don’t Blame Social Media for Ferguson’s Troubles

TIME Civil Rights

These Slain Civil Rights Workers Are Getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Civil Rights Workers Murdered
From left, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman Underwood Archives / Getty Images

What happened to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner?

On Monday, President Obama will award 19 people with the highest honor possible for an American civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Though the majority of the honorees, like Tom Brokaw and Stephen Sondheim, are famous and living, one of the items on the list of recipients stands out: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

Not only is theirs the only item on the list honoring a group rather than an individual, but their names may also be unfamiliar to most people, as well as the achievement, half a century ago, for which the three men are being honored — one that resulted in their deaths.

Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were part of the “Freedom Summer” voter-registration drive that took place in Mississippi in 1964; they were killed that June. Their deaths, in the words of the White House, “shocked the nation and their efforts helped to inspire many of the landmark civil rights advancements that followed.”

Here’s what happened to them:

As TIME reported in its issue of July 3, 1964, Chaney and Schwerner were among the staffers at an “indoctrination course” in Ohio at which hundreds of Northern college students prepared to go to Mississippi to register voters. Schwerner, then 24, was a social worker from New York who had spent the previous two years, along with his wife Rita, working for civil rights with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Chaney was a high-school drop-out who had joined CORE and volunteered to be an instructor at the orientation for voter registration. Goodman was one of their students, a junior at Queens College who was relatively new to the civil-rights movement. They left the orientation, along with five other people, on June 20 and drove to Mississippi.

Freedom Summer map
From the July 3, 1964, issue of TIME

On the morning of June 21, they visited the office of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO)—an advocacy group that was one of the organizers of the drive—in Meridian, Miss., before driving to see the site of a recently burned-down church in the area. They met with one of the church’s lay leaders, who described to them what had happened during the fire, and then set off to return to Meridian. Their car was stopped for speeding around 5:00 p.m. near Philadelphia, Miss. They were booked at the county jail, fined and told to leave.

Late that night, the police deputy escorted them to the edge of town. But they never returned to Meridian. COFO alerted the FBI and the highway patrol. Within three days, their car was found — gutted and stripped — and a full-scale search was underway (see map). It was slow going, according to TIME:

At week’s end, there was still no sign of the missing men. Some people shared the suspicion voiced by Neshoba County Sheriff L. A. Rainey: “They’re just hiding and trying to cause a lot of bad publicity for this part of the state.” But with each passing day, the possibility of a hoax seemed less and less likely. Whatever their fate, whether dead or alive, the case of the three young civil rights workers would reverberate around the U.S. for the rest of this summer and beyond.

Their bodies were found more than a month later. All three had been shot.

Three years later, the local Sheriff and his deputy were indicted by a federal grand jury on civil rights charges. Though the deaths of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were considered, no murder charges could be bought. (Those would have had to have come from Mississippi, not the federal government.) When the related trial began that October, more than a dozen Mississippians faced charges.

During the trial, eyewitness accounts by paid informers revealed what had happened to the three men. As TIME reported:

Carlton Wallace Miller, 43, a Meridian police sergeant who received $2,400 from the FBI over a two-year period, testified that the Meridian chapter of the White Knights of the Klan had marked Schwerner for “elimination—the term for murdering someone.” To lure Schwerner from Meridian, where he and his wife Rita were operating a Negro community center, said Miller, Klansmen burned down the Mount Zion (Negro) Church at Longdale, outside Philadelphia. Five days later, Schwerner and two companions, Goodman, a white man, and Chancy, a Negro, drove 50 miles to Longdale to inspect the ruins of the church.

Near Philadelphia, the three men were arrested on a speeding charge by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, 29. Soon, said James E. Jordan, 41, who received $8,000 from the FBI and has been living safely in Georgia and Florida since turning informer nearly three years ago, the word went swiftly around Meridian that there were some “civil rights workers locked up and they need their rear ends torn up.”

Jordan and seven others, he said, armed themselves and drove to Philadelphia. There they parked by the courthouse where Ethel Glen (“Hop”) Barnett, 45, current Democratic nominee for sheriff of Neshoba County and one of the defendants, told them to wait. Two uniformed men in a city police car informed them that the prospective victims had been released. Later they were told by men in a highway patrol car that the victims would be stopped somewhere down the highway by Deputy Sheriff Price, who, along with Neshoba Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, is now on trial.

…They were driven into a deserted area, and Jordan got out to stand guard. “The cars then went on up the road,” testified Jordan. “I heard doors slam and loud talk. Then I heard several shots.”

Seven of the defendants in that trial were found guilty of conspiracy. In 2005, a former Klansman became the first person to face actual murder charges related to the case; he was convicted and sentenced, aged 80, to 60 years in jail.

President Obama mentioned each by name in his 2013 speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s March on Washington. “To dismiss the magnitude of this progress — to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed — that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years,” the President said. “Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King Jr. — they did not die in vain. Their victory was great.”

Read TIME’s original 1964 report on the search for the missing men in the TIME Vault: The Grim Roster

TIME Media

How TIME Secured Its First Interview with Osama bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden
Osama bin Laden is shown in Afghanistan in this April 1998 file photo Anonymous—AP

In 1996, the magazine tracked him down

After the car carrying Sheik Abdullah Azzam hit a land mine, on this day 25 years ago — Nov. 24, 1989 — it took years for TIME to take note of what had come to pass: Azzam’s death meant that his number-two in the jihadi organization Azzam had founded would come to lead the movement.

That man was named Osama bin Laden. It was 25 years ago that he went from being a financier and deputy to the top global proponent of jihad.

Bin Laden received a small mention in TIME in 1993 in a list of figures related to the history of fighting in Afghanistan — but in 1996 the magazine’s Scott MacLeod secured an exclusive interview. Here’s how it happened, as he would describe in the May 6 issue of that year:

Osama bin Laden is a hard man to find. An exile from Saudi Arabia, he has lived in Sudan for five years, but he is a recluse, and his whereabouts are known only to his aides and a handful of Sudanese officials. To arrange to see him, I first had to track down one of bin Laden’s associates in London. Then, at a tearoom near Charing Cross Station, I made a request for a meeting. Several weeks later, bin Laden sent encouragement. I traveled to Khartoum, and waited for a few days at a hotel when a message came through the front desk, “The businessman will see you.”

A Toyota with black-tinted windows picked me up and drove me through Khartoum. Finally, after arriving at a building on the outskirts of the city, I was shown into a cramped office where several bodyguards stood watchfully. Tall, barefoot, smiling broadly, bin Laden greeted me in a gold-trimmed robe and red-checkered headdress.

The final story functions more as an introduction to extremism than as a profile of the man in question, but it nevertheless appears to hint at what the world now knows was the extent of his influence.

Read the full story here in the TIME Vault: The Palladin of Jihad

TIME movies

Back to the Future II Turns 25 — Or, in Future Years, -1

'Back To The Future Part II'
'Back To The Future Part II' Universal Pictures

Read TIME's 1989 review of the futuristic favorite

When the first Back to the Future movie came out in 1985, it didn’t receive a review in TIME — but on the occasion of its release 25 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1989, Back to the Future, Part II provided a convincing argument for the magazine to want to go back in time and correct that oversight.

“Like its predecessor, Back to the Future, Part II does not merely warp time; it twists it, shakes it and stands it on its ear,” wrote critic Richard Schickel. “But as before, the film’s technical brilliance is the least of its appeals. Satirically acute, intricately structured and deftly paced, it is at heart stout, good and untainted by easy sentiment.”

In fact, he went on, in some ways Part II one-upped its predecessor: “…when [Marty] is reinserted into this moment in time and starts to meet himself and the situations of the previous movie, Back to the Future II ceases to be a sequel. It becomes instead a kind of fugue, brilliantly varying and expanding on previously stated themes.”

It also became known as the source of the world’s wish for a working hover board. In TIME’s original review of the movie, the accompanying photo is of Marty McFly in the year 2015 riding said mode of transport — which makes the movie’s 25th birthday a particularly exciting one. The year 2015 is fast approaching, no time machine required, and sure enough, here it is: a real-life hover board is featured on our annual list of the 25 best inventions of the year.

Read the full 1989 review, here in the TIME Vault: More Travels With Marty

TIME movies

How a 1960s Literary Trend Brought Us The Hunger Games

Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Murray Close—Lionsgate

Dystopian fiction used to be for adults

As Katniss & Co. get ready to storm movie theaters this weekend with Mockingjay, the latest installment in The Hunger Games series, it may seem like a foregone conclusion that futuristic teenagers will have to battle an oppressive dystopian regime alongside their crushes.

But it wasn’t always that way. As TIME’s Lev Grossman wrote back in 2012 while exploring the history of the teen romance-dystopia genre in books and movies, until the 1960s — notably, with the release of the Tripod series by Christopher Samuel Youd — dystopia wasn’t for teenagers. Books like 1984 and Brave New World are seen as classics of grown-up literature; during the last 50 years, their analogues have usually been meant for teenagers.

But that doesn’t mean that the genre hasn’t changed further during that half-century:

The Hunger Games is every bit as grim as the Tripod books, but it also tells us a lot about how the future, and the present, has changed since the 1960s. Now we have a great tradition of strong female characters in young-adult fiction thanks to writers like Madeleine L’Engle, Judy Blume and Anne McCaffrey. And along with coed dystopias comes, inevitably, romance: it’s understood now that if you’re fighting to save the human race, you’re going to have to deal with a star-crossed crush at the same time. If the Tripod books were published today (they’ve been reissued with covers that make them look like novelizations of the boy’s-own science-fiction cartoon Ben 10), Will Parker would fall for a tough fellow resistance member with a fetching pageboy haircut over her mind-control cap. Or better yet, a Tripod would crack open and disgorge a nubile, sufficiently humanoid alienne.

Read the full article here: Love Among the Ruins

TIME remembrance

Mike Nichols: A Half-Century of Raves

The June 15, 1970, cover of TIME
The June 15, 1970, cover of TIME Cover Credit: SANTI VISALLI (NICHOLS); BOB WILLOUGHBY (ARKIN

He was 'the sort of director whom most writers and actors only meet when they are asleep and dreaming'

When Mike Nichols, who died on Wednesday at age 83, first gained notice, it was not as a director. In 1958, Nichols, then 26, appeared along with his comedy partner Elaine May, on NBC’s Omnibus revue; within six months, the two were touted by TIME as “the fastest-sharpening wits in television.” The two had met at the University of Chicago and began their dual career as sketch and improv comics in that city, as part of a group that would eventually feed into Second City.

Though they were an instant hit on TV, the question of how to translate their comedy to the censored and scripted world on screen. They found their footing on Broadway instead with An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which debuted in 1960. “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May,” TIME’s critic declared, “is one of the nicest ways to spend one.” From that point on, the rave reviews just kept coming.

By 1962, Nichols was acting in a play written by May, and in 1963 he directed Barefoot in the Park, earning another rave: “If the theater housing this comedy has an empty seat for the next couple of years, it will simply mean that someone has fallen out of it. Barefoot is detonatingly funny.” He would later tell TIME that it had been a turning point, the moment he realized he was meant to direct:

Nichols remembers: “The first day of rehearsal, I knew, my God, this is it! It is as though you have one eye, and you’re on a road and all of a sudden your eye lights up, and you look down and you know, ‘I’m an engine!’ ”

For his next Broadway foray, Luv, he earned the headline “The Nichols Touch” and was called “the sort of director whom most writers and actors only meet when they are asleep and dreaming.” As for 1965’s The Odd Couple, “[t]he only worry they leave in a playgoer’s head is how to catch his breath between laughs.”

In 1966, when he made his first foray into movies with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the performance he got out of star Elizabeth Taylor was deemed “a sizeable victory.” By 1970, when he made a movie of Catch-22, he landed on the cover of the magazine, with a multi-page feature that praised the maturity of the work:

Fully loaded, the bombers take flight, make their lethal gyres and return empty. Under Nichols’ direction, the camera makes air as palpable as blood. In one long-lensed indelible shot, the sluggish bodies of the B-25s rise impossibly close to one another, great vulnerable chunks of aluminum shaking as they fight for altitude. Could the war truly have been fought in those preposterous crates? It could; it was. And the unused faces of the flyers, Orr, Nately, Aardvark, could they ever have been so young? They were: they are. Catch-22‘s insights penetrate the elliptical dialogue to show that wars are too often a children’s crusade, fought by boys not old enough to vote or, sometimes, to think.

Despite his much-acclaimed career — which would continue for decades — not every one of his projects won applause.

In 1967, for example, TIME gave one of his films a rare pan. The picture in question “unfortunately shows his success depleted” because “[m]ost of the film has an alarmingly derivative style, and much of it is secondhand” with “a disappointing touch of TV situation comedy.”

But, as befits a comedian by training, he had the last laugh: that movie was The Graduate.

Read the full cover 1970 story here, in TIME’s archives: Some Are More Yossarian Than Others

TIME Transportation

What Happened to the Car Industry’s Most Famous Flop?

A 1958 Edsel Convertible
A 1958 Edsel convertible made by Ford Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Market researched failed in a major way

Any crossword puzzler knows there’s a five-letter word for a Ford that flopped: Edsel.

At the heart of any big flop–like when Ford ended the Edsel 55 years ago, on Nov. 19, 1959–lies high expectations. The Edsel was named after Henry Ford’s son, no small honor, and it had its own division of the company devoted to its creation. As TIME reported in 1957 when the car debuted, the company had spent 10 years and $250 million on planning one of its first brand-new cars in decades. The Edsel came in 18 models but, in order to reach its sales goals, it would have to do wildly better than any other car in 1957 was expected to do. The September day that the car first went on the market, thousands of eager buyers showed up at dealers, but before the year was over monthly sales had fallen by about a third.

When Ford announced that they were pulling the plug on the program, here’s how TIME explained what had gone wrong:

As it turned out, the Edsel was a classic case of the wrong car for the wrong market at the wrong time. It was also a prime example of the limitations of market research, with its “depth interviews” and “motivational” mumbo-jumbo. On the research, Ford had an airtight case for a new medium-priced car to compete with Chrysler’s Dodge and DeSoto, General Motors’ Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick. Studies showed that by 1965 half of all U.S. families would be in the $5,000-and-up bracket, would be buying more cars in the medium-priced field, which already had 60% of the market. Edsel could sell up to 400,000 cars a year.

After the decision was made in 1955, Ford ran more studies to make sure the new car had precisely the right “personality.” Research showed that Mercury buyers were generally young and hot-rod-inclined, while Pontiac, Dodge and Buick appealed to middle-aged people. Edsel was to strike a happy medium. As one researcher said, it would be “the smart car for the younger executive or professional family on its way up.” To get this image across, Ford even went to the trouble of putting out a 60-page memo on the procedural steps in the selection of an advertising agency, turned down 19 applicants before choosing Manhattan’s Foote, Cone & Belding. Total cost of research, design, tooling, expansion of production facilities: $250 million.

A Taste of Lemon. The flaw in all the research was that by 1957, when Edsel appeared, the bloom was gone from the medium-priced field, and a new boom was starting in the compact field, an area the Edsel research had overlooked completely.

Even so, the Edsel wasn’t a complete loss for Ford: the company was able to use production facilities build for Edsel for their next new line of, you guessed it, compact cards.

Read the full report here, in the TIME Vault: The $250 Million Flop

TIME People

TIME’s ‘Sexiest’ Men Alive (and Dead)

In honor of PEOPLE crowning a new Sexiest Man Alive, here are TIME's "sexiest" men past and present

So Chris Hemsworth is PEOPLE’s Sexiest Man Alive. PEOPLE has been making this pronouncement since 1985, but sexy men were around long before that — so, to celebrate our sister publication’s announcement, we’ve rounded up some of the men dubbed “sexiest” something-or-other by someone-or-other throughout TIME’s history. Click on “MORE” in the gallery captions to find out how each guy made the list.

TIME Crime

Who Is Charles Manson?

USA, Circa 1971, American cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson is shown in these three pictures demonstrating how he has changed his appearance during his trial for the Tate-La Bianca murders in Los Angeles in 1969
Charles Manson's appearance changes in these three photos from circa 1971 Popperfoto/Getty Images

News of a potential marriage has brought him back to the limelight, many years after his crimes

Charles Manson returned to headlines on Monday, after decades in prison, with the news that he and Afton Elaine “Star” Burton, a 26-year-old who has been corresponding with him for nearly a decade, have secured a marriage license.

As Manson returns to public consciousness, so do his crimes: some physical similarities between Burton and the Manson Family followers of earlier years have been noted, and his relationship with the much younger woman generally calls to mind the enthralling power that Manson was once said to have, a power that captivated the attention of both his adherents and the appalled nation alike.

But Burton was not even born when the Manson family first made headlines, almost half a century ago. So who exactly is Charles Manson and what did he do?

It was 45 years ago that TIME first reported on the man it dubbed “The Demon of Death Valley.” A “band of hippies” had broken into a Los Angeles house and murdered five people, including the actress Sharon Tate, who was nearly nine months pregnant at the time. “Please let me have my baby,” Tate reportedly pleaded before being stabbed 16 times.

The killers were, the magazine reported, the “zombie-like followers” of a “semi-religious hippie drug-and-murder cult” — the leader of which was Manson, then 35 years old. Manson was not one of the killers himself, though he was charged with both murder and conspiracy for having ordered the acts (because, police suggested early on, the previous occupant of the house had once refused to record a song by Manson). The crimes were proof of the remarkable influence that he had acquired in just a few short years:

Manson is a drifter with a five-page criminal record stretching back 20 years. Born in 1934, to a teen-age mother, he never saw his father. His prostitute parent was often in jail, and young Manson was shifted around from relatives to foster parents to reformatories. As he grew up, he turned to petty crimes, mainly car theft. His education never went beyond the seventh grade. It was during these years that he apparently developed his hatred of the affluent and a loathing for women. In and out of prison, Manson became interested in music and the occult, and when he was last released in 1967, he headed for San Francisco as a “roving minstrel.”

Manson began to gather followers in Haight-Ashbury in 1966, and in 1968 he moved his retinue by bus to Los Angeles to further his music-writing ambitions. Last winter, Manson moved his clan to the Spahn Ranch in western Los Angeles County, and it was from there that they made their alleged commando forays against their affluent victims. Manson busied himself converting stolen cars into dune buggies, and after the ranch was raided in August, he led his followers to their own hell in the inhospitable depths of Death Valley.

Among the greasewood and rattlesnakes, they holed up in run-down cabins and led an indolent, almost savage existence, singing Manson’s songs, dancing, swimming in a small pool, stealing cars for cash and picking through garbage for food. Miners in the area reported being chased away by amazons wielding knives. Manson reportedly held an almost hypnotic spell over his followers, who called him “God” and “Satan.” His women lolled harem-like around the commune nude or barebreasted, catering to his every whim. One chagrined ranchhand relates discussing business with Manson while one of Manson’s girls performed a sex act upon the “guru.” But women in the “family” saw him in a different light. “He gave off a lot of magic,” said one, Lynn Fromme. “To me, to us, he was everything,” added another, Sandy Good Pugh.

During the 1970 Tate-LaBianca murder trial — a months-long ordeal so called because it focused on the killings of Tate and those with her, as well as another double murder that took place the following night — further details of life with Manson began to emerge. Prosecutors claimed that Manson was inspired by the Beatles song “Helter Skelter” and that his goal was to make the white population believe that a “violent black uprising” had begun. The star witness for the state was Linda Kasabian, a defector from the Manson family who was granted immunity in exchange for testifying about what she had seen.

Manson, for his part, attempted to get the court to agree to let him represent himself, with the idea that his three co-defendants — young women whom he had told to actually commit the murders — would testify that they had indeed committed the crimes but that Manson was innocent. He had not told them to kill anyone, he would later say; rather, society had. A judge decided that Manson was incompetent to do represent himself, that he must take on an actual lawyer. In the end, Manson and the three women did not testify in front of a jury at all. All four were found guilty of first-degree murder. Manson would not allow any of them to plead insanity.

During the sentencing portion of the trial, however, followers like Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme — who was not accused in the Tate-LaBianca murders but would, a few years later, attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford — did speak up to describe life among the Family. They told of how “Charlie” was both a father figure and a lover to them, and described seeing Manson reanimate dead animals. The testimony also included an alternate motive, the idea that the murders would suggest that the state had been off-base in its findings about a separate but similar killing, of which another Family member had previously been convicted. Susan Denise Atkins, one of the convicted killers, also described the night of the Tate killings in vivid and gruesome detail, as TIME reported:

“She said, ‘Please, all I want to do is have my baby.’ I said, ‘Don’t move, don’t talk to me. I don’t want to hear it.’ I just stabbed her, and she fell, and I stabbed her again. I don’t know how many times I stabbed her.” Atkins dipped a towel in Miss Tate’s blood and wrote PIG on the front door of the house.

Did she feel hate toward any of the five persons who died that night? “No. I didn’t know any of them. How could I have had any feelings—nothing. What I was doing was right. I was coming from love. I had no thoughts in my head. I have no guilt in me.” How can someone be killed out of love? “To explain the feeling would be almost impossible to relate so that you could understand it. It was like, when I would stab. I was stabbing myself. The touching of a flower, looking at the sun, whatever I do and I know is right when I am doing it, feels good.”

Manson and the three women were sentenced to death, but California abolished its death penalty before the executions could be carried out. And, despite having been denied parole several times of the years, Manson has never completely receded from the public eye — as this week’s news once again proves.

See more photos of Charles Manson and his followers here, at LIFE.com.

Read next: Charles Manson Gets Marriage License

TIME

The Politics of the Keystone XL Pipeline in 3 Stories

House Votes On Full Passage Of Keystone Pipeline
Members walk down the steps of the House side of the US Capitol after voting on the Kyestone XL Pipeline, Nov. 14, 2014. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The controversy around the project is not just a matter of environmental impact

On Friday, as the House voted to approve a proposal for the long-debated Keystone Pipeline, we rounded up TIME’s past coverage of the environmental questions behind the controversial pipeline — but, with the Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on their own version of the proposal, it’s clear that the environmental impact isn’t the only factor influencing decision-making.

As these three stories make clear, the politics are nearly as complex as the science:

July 22, 2013: Beyond the Keystone Pipeline

Michael Grunwald posits that the energy agenda could be a big part of President Obama’s legacy, and that there are reasons beyond the climate why he might want to veto the pipeline even if the legislature approves it, as has been suggested he will:

It’s true that Keystone isn’t the ideal battleground for the fight against global warming. The Canadian tar-sand glop that Big Oil hopes to send to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico might come out of the ground even if the pipeline is rejected. Oil isn’t quite as awful as coal, and its competitors aren’t yet as viable as coal’s. But the Montgomery, Ala., bus system wasn’t the ideal battleground, either; it was just where Rosa Parks decided to fight. Presidents don’t get to choose what activists care about. Presidents just get to choose sides. “After all he’s done on climate, I just can’t imagine that he’d approve this,” says Tom Steyer, a billionaire Obama donor who is bankrolling a crusade against the pipeline. “It would be so disappointing to his supporters. Such a self-inflicted wound.”

Nov. 13, 2014: The Politics Behind Mary Landrieu’s Pipeline Power Play

Alex Rogers analyzes Senator Mary Landrieu’s call for the Senate to bring the matter to a vote:

The frantic maneuvering started Wednesday morning when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell promised [Landrieu’s challenger Bill] Cassidy a spot on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee if Cassidy beats Landrieu in the December runoff. Landrieu chairs the committee and has touted her tenure there as a symbol of her influence on Capitol Hill.

Nov. 13, 2014: GOP Prepares for an Energy Battle

Denver Nicks takes a look at broader feelings about energy and the environment among the Republican leadership, revealing that the pipeline is just the beginning:

Near the top of [Mitch McConnell’s] to-do list is bringing the Keystone XL pipeline to a vote. Climate activists have made a priority of killing the proposed pipeline from oil sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, but it may soon become their Alamo. With the cooperation of a handful of centrist Democrats, the GOP could have a filibuster-proof majority on the question, forcing President Obama to approve or veto the project. Either way, he will be forced to show his hand on a question about which he’s been coy to date.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser