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A few months ago, we documented that the American Petroleum Institute (API), the trade group for oil companies including industry giants ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, was blanketing CNN’s airwaves with ads persuading Americans to support the oil industry’s agenda. It’s a standard formula for the well-heeled industry to control the on-air narrative around climate and energy issues -- and one that in this case drowned out the cable network’s meager discussion of the ominous global warming records that were being set.
Now, as the Republican and Democratic parties are in the midst of hosting their national conventions, we are reminded of yet another tool at Big Oil’s disposable for influencing media coverage of key energy issues. Vote4Energy, the same API campaign featured in the ads on CNN, is sponsoring events held by Politico, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post at both conventions.
As reported by The Intercept's Alex Emmons, at the recently concluded GOP convention, The Atlantic hosted a forum on energy and the environment that featured two climate science-denying congressmen and an API lobbyist -- with no one present to address the scientific facts of climate change. The Intercept added that API also sponsored events held by The Washington Post and Politico “where API literature was distributed, API representatives gave opening remarks, and not one speaker was an environmentalist, climate expert, scientist, or Democrat.”
Both The Atlantic and the Post said that they tried but were unable to find speakers who could represent the other side of the energy debate. In any event, the end result was a forum for misinformation. For instance, all three events included at least one speaker who espoused some form of climate science denial, according to remarks included in The Intercept article:
At The Atlantic‘s event, [North Dakota Rep. Kevin] Cramer and [Ohio Rep. Bill] Johnson both downplayed concerns about climate science. “The 97 percent of the scientists who believe [it’s] real, don’t all believe the exact same level,” said Cramer. “Whose fault it is, what’s going to stop it … there’s a wide range in that spectrum.”
At the Washington Post’s discussion, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said that in the past 15 years the earth was, on average, “cooling down,” but stressed “the point is that it’s not a settled science.”
At Politico‘s API-sponsored event, the oil lobbying group’s CEO, Jack Gerard, opened the event by telling the audience that “the United States has become the superpower of energy in the world.”
Rep. Cramer, who was also a guest at the Politico event, joked with the audience that in his home state of North Dakota, “we’re for a warmer climate.”
The media figures hosting the events provided limited pushback, according to The Intercept, even though the media organizations insisted that the presence of their journalists was enough to hold the panelists accountable. The most direct rebuttal to outright denial came from Washington Post opinion writer Stephen Stromberg, who informed Rep. Blackburn that “I think there would be a vast bulk of climate scientists who would disagree” with her statements about climate change, but then allowed that “we don’t have to litigate the science of it this morning.” The Atlantic’s panel moderator, Steve Clemons, told The Intercept that “I had trust in my own ability to be the alternative, and I had trust that the audience would ask questions to provide balance,” but he also conceded that he “should have done more.”
The Atlantic, the Post, and Politico all have similar events lined up for the Democratic National Convention, which has spurred advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote to launch a petition calling on Democratic officials not to appear at the API-sponsored events. As Hill Heat noted, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) recently condemned API for its role in spreading climate science denial during his contribution to senators’ “web of denial” speeches on the Senate floor.
Beyond the conventions, another reminder of the oil industry’s multifaceted approach to co-opting media is taking place at the Los Angeles Times, where the Occidental Petroleum spinoff company California Resources Corp. (CRC) has teamed up with the Times’ “content solutions” team to dole out more industry propaganda on the Powering California website.
As we’ve explained, the Times’ branded content department, which the newspaper says is wholly independent from its reporting and editorial staff, produced a fearmongering video for CRC last fall suggesting that life as we know it would descend into chaos without the oil industry.
A year later, as the oil industry stands in the way of California passing critical legislation that would set the standard for other states to fight climate change, Powering California is out with a series of new videos praising oil and attacking clean energy sources. One of the videos baselessly asserts that “renewable energy can’t replace oil,” falsely claims wind energy is “expensive,” and bombastically declares that “oil and natural gas are woven into the fabric of America.” Another video features feel-good man-on-the-street interviews with paid actors touting California’s oil and gas industry.
Concerns about these types of arrangements between media and the fossil fuel industry have not subsided, despite media organizations’ assurances that the relationships would not affect their coverage. Pointing to the API-sponsored events and The Hill’s offer to “sell interviews” at the conventions, The Intercept’s Emmons concluded: “What were once blurred lines in the journalism business are becoming increasingly clear -- because they have been crossed.”
Fracking industry billionaire Harold Hamm is the “leading contender” to be energy secretary in a Donald Trump administration, according to a Reuters source, which would make Hamm the first ever U.S. energy secretary drawn directly from the oil and gas industry. Hamm has a history of influencing government officials to promote legislation that benefits his company’s bottom line, exploited the Orlando shooting tragedy to call for more oil drilling, and tried to suppress scientific research that was unfavorable to the fracking industry.
During Fox Business’ July 20 coverage of the Republican National Convention, host Maria Bartiromo and coal industry executive Robert Murray peddled industry-friendly myths while attacking clean energy with falsehoods. Murray also said he is thus far “elated” with the GOP convention, which is aligned with a radical anti-environmental platform, and he repeatedly declared that the energy policies of the Obama administration and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are “evil.”
Here are five Big Coal myths that Bartiromo and Murray espoused during the segment:
Myth #1: Obama regulations are to blame for the coal industry’s decline. Bartiromo aired a clip of Clinton that has repeatedly been distorted by conservative media to claim she wants to harm coal miners, and then Bartiromo claimed that “the policies in place have already put [coal industry employees] out of work.” Murray declared that “there’s hundreds of thousands of people” at the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies “writing rules against we who are trying to maintain jobs,” and added: “The coal industry is virtually destroyed … we had 200,000 miners before Obama. We now have 60,000.” But industry experts say market forces, including technological advances and competition from natural gas and renewables, are the primary cause of the coal industry’s decline -- not policies from the Obama administration.
Myth #2: Murray “cares” about coal miners. As he was attacking environmental protections, Murray stated: “I’ve been forced to lay off 3,300 coal miners this year. It just kills me because I am a coal miner. I care about these people.” Bartiromo might have pointed out in response that Murray has pressured employees to support his favored political candidates, allegedly fired employees to influence the 2012 presidential election, and has repeatedly fought against health benefits, safety protections, and labor rights for coal miners.
Myth #3: Coal energy is cheaper than wind energy. During the segment, Murray claimed that wind energy is highly subsidized and far more expensive than coal, which he said provides “low-cost reliable electricity.” However, according to both the U.S. Energy Information Agency and the investment banking firm Lazard, the unsubsidized cost of wind energy is substantially lower than that of coal.
Myth #4: It’s not possible to retrain coal miners for jobs in the clean energy economy. Bartiromo baselessly dismissed the concept of retraining coal miners for clean energy industry jobs, declaring: “The other thing is the skill sets and the training. What does a coal miner know about windmills? How do they know about solar panels? There’s no training." However, according to a recent study by researchers at Oregon State University and Michigan Technological University, “a relatively minor investment in retraining would allow the vast majority of coal workers to switch to [solar photovoltaic]-related positions even in the event of the elimination of the coal industry.”
Myth #5: There is a “war on coal.” The “war on coal” is a favorite talking point of the coal industry and the Republican party, most recently adopted in the GOP’s 2016 energy platform. Fox Business endorsed it with on-screen text:
The “war on coal” was manufactured by the GOP and the coal industry to attack Democrats during the 2012 election -- as Greenpeace has pointed out, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney released an ad claiming President Obama was “ruining” the coal industry around the same time that House Republicans pushed a “Stop the War on Coal Act.” Associated Press reporter Vicki Smith succinctly explained the misleading nature of the phrase at the time:
The war on coal is a sound bite and a headline, perpetuated by pundits, power companies and public relations consultants who have crafted a neat label for a complex set of realities, one that compels people to choose sides.
It's easier to call the geologic, market and environmental forces reshaping coal — cheap natural gas, harder-to-mine coal seams, slowing economies — some kind of political or cultural "war" than to acknowledge the world is changing, and leaving some people behind.
The full video, from the July 20 edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria:
A group of U.S. Senators took to the Senate floor on July 11 and 12 to expose the “web of denial” that the fossil fuel industry has spun to block action on climate change. Essential to this effort is a media misinformation campaign that several senators described in detail.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) remarked on the “unfortunate role” that the media has played in spreading misinformation by providing false balance on the science of climate change:
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) noted that “so-called experts” at the Koch- and Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation “publish op-eds and do interviews in media outlets around the country, talk radio, helping to spread disinformation or misinformation or what we sometimes call lies”:
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) noted that some of the same groups that deny climate science are also using the media to push for a “land grab” that would transfer public lands from federal to state control, which could pave the way for more drilling and mining:
And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) explained that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, whose website Watchdog.org has been described as “delivering political propaganda dressed up as journalism,” has extensive ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers:
Several environmental organizations called out the oil industry ties of U.S. News & World Report contributing editor Peter Roff, who in a recent column attacked efforts to hold the industry accountable while promoting its misleading talking points and downplaying the threat posed by climate change.
Democratic senators are speaking out against the fossil fuel industry and its efforts to promote climate science denial for financial gain. This comes as ExxonMobil is under investigation by several attorneys general for possibly committing fraud by deliberately misleading shareholders and the public about climate science for decades after its own scientists confirmed that fossil fuels are causing global warming. The senators also introduced a resolution that compares the oil industry’s misinformation campaign to the tobacco and lead industries’ efforts to deliberately deceive the public about the health impacts of their products, stating that each industry “developed a sophisticated and deceitful campaign that funded think tanks and front groups, and paid public relations firms to deny, counter, and obfuscate” peer-reviewed research and “used that misinformation campaign to mislead the public and cast doubt in order to protect their financial interest.”
In response, U.S. News’ Roff penned a July 11 column lashing out at the senators and proclaiming that there is an “as yet unsettled debate about climate change and what to do about it.” Roff labeled the senators’ resolution an “attack on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.” But as the dean of Yale Law School has explained, Exxon and its allies are blurring “the essential difference between fraud and public debate,” and if Exxon has indeed committed fraud, “its speech would not merit First Amendment protection.”
And as environmental advocates pointed out on Twitter, Roff’s misleading defense of Exxon is hardly surprising given his own ties to Exxon and the oil billionaire Koch brothers. The Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch.org tweeted to Roff: “[W]hy don't you report Exxon's denial funding @usnews? Because you're a ‘fellow’ at an Exxon-funded op.” Common Cause’s Jay Riestenberg pointed out that Roff “once worked for a Koch funded org.” Greenpeace’s Connor Gibson stated that Roff “often recycles the Koch bros talking points in their defense.”
Indeed, Roff is currently a senior fellow at the conservative think tank Frontiers of Freedom, which received more than $1 million from ExxonMobil between 2001 and 2007. In both 2012 and 2014, Roff’s organization received $50,000 from DonorsTrust -- the dark money group with significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests -- and it got $75,000 from the Charles G. Koch foundation in 2014.
As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) put it, it is “long past time that we shed some light on the perpetrators of this web of denial.” He’s right, and that includes detailing the oil industry ties of a U.S. News contributing editor defending Exxon’s climate change deception.
Image at the top via DeSmogBlog.
If it’s a day that ends in “y,” then The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board is probably carrying ExxonMobil’s oily water.
In yet another misleading defense of Exxon’s documented deception about climate change, a July 7 Journal editorial asserted that it’s “hard to prove” that Exxon “defrauded shareholders by hiding the truth about global warming … when the company’s climate-change research was published in peer-reviewed journals.”
Exxon’s research confirmed that fossil fuels were causing global warming, but the Journal’s focus on the fact that Exxon published its research in scientific journals is a distraction. The issue at hand in the investigations of Exxon launched by the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts is whether Exxon officials violated the law by intentionally misleading investors and the public about climate change in order to achieve financial gain, regardless of whether its scientists published their findings elsewhere.
Indeed, The New York Times reported that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation seeks to “determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business,” and “whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as  were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has similarly indicated that her investigation “seeks information regarding whether Exxon may have misled consumers and/or investors with respect to the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and climate change-driven risks to Exxon's business.”
In other words, publishing research showing that fossil fuels are causing global warming but withholding that information from your shareholders -- or even telling them that the science of human-induced climate change is uncertain -- could fairly be described as “hiding the truth.” And simply having published its scientific findings in journals wouldn’t get Exxon off the hook.
If the Journal’s defense of Exxon sounds familiar, it’s probably because you heard it straight from Exxon itself. When the New York investigation was announced last November, one of the claims put forth by Exxon’s then-vice president for public affairs, Kenneth Cohen, was that Exxon had “published dozens of scientific papers” on climate change.
That may be true, but time will tell if Exxon also committed fraud.
The Washington Post published a letter to the editor by the Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky that appears to directly violate the newspaper’s policy against publishing letters that deny the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.
In the June 29 letter, which took issue with a recent Post op-ed by Yale Law School Dean Robert Post, von Spakovsky asserted:
[Robert Post] called global warming “perhaps the single most significant threat facing the future of humanity.” But human-induced global warming is unproven, not an undisputed fact.
However, in 2013, the Post’s then-letters editor Michael Larabee told Mother Jones that the newspaper has a policy against running letters that flatly deny human activities are causing climate change. Larabee stated: “It's our policy as well not to run letters to the editor that are factually inaccurate, so we wouldn't publish a letter that simply says, 'there's no sign humans have caused climate change.' … That's a broad absolute that doesn't take into account the existence of large amounts of science indicating otherwise." Larabee is now the oped editor at the Post; Jamie Riley Kolsky is now the Post’s letters editor.
Speaking to Media Matters in 2014, Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said that climate science deniers would not be completely barred from the Post’s opinion pages. But Hiatt also reiterated that the Post seeks to avoid publishing letters that are “factually inaccurate,” which should certainly apply to von Spakovsky’s claim that “human-induced global warming is unproven.” At least 97 percent of climate scientists say that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are causing climate change, and scientists are as certain that human activities are driving global warming as they are that cigarettes can kill.
To make matters worse, the Post also failed to disclose a glaring conflict of interest in von Spakovsky’s letter. The letter was a defense of ExxonMobil, which is currently under investigation by several attorneys general who are seeking to determine whether Exxon committed fraud by deliberately withholding truthful information about climate change from shareholders and the public in order to protect its profits. Yet the Post identified von Spakovsky only as a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, neglecting to mention that the Heritage Foundation has received almost $800,000 directly from Exxon since 1998.
The letter by von Spakovsky also marked at least the fourth time that the Post has published the bogus claim the attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil for fraud are trampling the company’s First Amendment rights. If Exxon has indeed committed fraud, “its speech would not merit First Amendment protection,” as Yale’s Robert Post explained in his June 24 op-ed.
UPDATE (7/7/16): Reached for comment over email, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters:
Our policy hasn’t changed, but I do feel that when someone is mentioned, and especially in an unflattering way, in an article, we should lean toward allowing a response if space allows, and we should lean toward allowing the writer to say what he or she wants to say as far as possible within our bounds. In this case, the writer had been mentioned (in a June 24 oped by Robert Post); and the fact that the letter writer sides with what you describe as the 3 per cent of scientists, and wants to say that climate change is not an “undisputed fact,” is relevant to the argument that Robert Post was making. We thought it fair to let him express his view; useful to readers to understand the debate Robert Post was describing; and then fair to allow for further debate, as happened five days later with David Dunn’s July 4 letter, “Climate-change deniers are spreading a fraud.”
This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared on Buzzfeed.
The Daily Caller is a right-wing “news” website that founder Tucker Carlson claimed could be the conservative answer to The New York Times. To say that it’s failed to meet The Times’ standards is an understatement; since its launch in 2010, the Daily Caller has published baseless conspiracy theories, creepy slideshows, tabloid-style click-bait, uncorrected errors, false smears -- and many, many misrepresentations of climate science.
The Daily Caller’s atrocious coverage of climate change shouldn’t be all that surprising when you consider it got its start with an influx of cash from climate science denier Foster Friess, a key ally of the oil billionaire Koch brothers, and has since received steady funding from the Kochs’ political network. Even so, the foul stench of the Daily Caller’s climate change “reporting” demands a quick whiff before we take it out to the trash bin.
So without further ado, here are worst climate change stories the Daily Caller has published so far this year, put in their rightful place:
After CBS discovered footage from a 2012 documentary of Orlando, FL shooter Omar Mateen criticizing workers who were cleaning up the BP oil spill, the Daily Caller ran an article with the headline, “Was The Orlando Shooter An Anti-Fossil Fuel Zealot?” The Daily Caller is just asking, people.
The Daily Caller thought it was newsworthy to point out that in the season finale of The X-Files reboot, “the villain’s master plan was to kill all of humanity to prevent global warming.” The article then compared Pope Francis’s climate adviser and President Obama’s science adviser to the X-Files villain, writing, “Reality does contain many powerful people who think humanity is the root cause of most environmental problems.”
It’s probably true that Alex Epstein, founder of a for-profit “think tank” that celebrates dirty energy and “man’s impact on nature,” is “popular” among oil industry executives. But that doesn’t excuse the Daily Caller promoting Epstein’s smear of Al Gore as the “leader of the climate fascists,” or Epstein’s canard that Gore is leading an “unconstitutional crusade against the freedom of scientific speech.” As if that weren’t enough rubbish for one article, the Daily Caller also described Gore’s efforts to fight climate change in China as “propaganda missions” to “properly indoctrinate Chinese citizens” about global warming.
The same week that Epstein smeared Gore, the Daily Caller also managed to base an entire article on Epstein swearing at Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Healey recently announced an investigation into whether ExxonMobil worked with climate denial organizations -- including Epstein’s Center for Industrial Progress -- to fraudulently deceive shareholders and the public about climate change. The Daily Caller eagerly promoted Epstein’s “terse response” to Healey:
After The New York Times reported that a Louisiana indigenous community receiving government funding to relocate due to sea level rise would comprise the “first American ‘climate refugees,’” the Daily Caller complained that “it’s not the first time the media claimed to have identified America’s first climate refugees.” It’s true that multiple media outlets have used that designation when discussing Alaskan communities. But even the Daily Caller noted that the Louisiana community’s relocation will be “the first time a government has used global warming to justify moving people,” which means, in the words of Daily Kos’ Climate Denier Roundup, that the Daily Caller “has spun an entire story out of a pedantic nitpick.” The Climate Denier Roundup concluded that "turning the suffering of these peoples into clickbait is pretty despicable."
“Eco-nut jobs” is not exactly the wording used in the study, which found that Americans are “more willing to take advice” about how to act on climate change “from climate researchers who reduce their own carbon footprint.” The study author noted, “To communicate effectively, advocates of energy conservation need to be the change they wish to see."
On the day of the Brussels terror attacks, the Daily Caller cited four random Twitter users (including one who has 49 followers) who “bash[ed]” President Obama and other Democrats on Twitter for having said that climate change is America’s biggest long-term threat. “Now, conservatives with Twitter accounts are throwing these remarks back in their faces,” the Daily Caller gloated.
This was the lede of a February article at the Daily Caller: “An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agent mistakenly left a gun in a restroom stall in the agency’s headquarters, according to a Freedom of Information Act request from Environment & Energy Publishing’s Greenwire published Monday.” The article went on to tout efforts by a GOP Senator to “strip EPA of its firearms.” But while the Daily Caller is apparently concerned with EPA agents carrying guns when pursuing violators of environmental laws, that concern doesn’t extend to anyone who entered to win “free guns” by signing up for Daily Caller email updates. Maybe if a few EPA officials signed up, the Daily Caller would finally get off the agency’s back.
When Christiana Figueres announced she would step down as executive secretary of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Daily Caller objected to the fact that she once criticized the United States Congress’ “deep partisan divide” and praised China’s efforts to advance renewable energy. According to the Daily Caller, Figueres “will long be remembered for her remarks castigating democracy and praising communist China’s progress on global warming.”
The Daily Caller tried to debunk a recent analysis by Carbon Brief showing that solar energy generated more electricity than coal in the United Kingdom for an entire month. The Daily Caller declared that Carbon Brief “claim[ed] that solar out-produced coal in May by almost 50%, but The Daily Caller News Foundation has found that number to actually be only 36%.” Unfortunately, the Daily Caller’s math was completely wrong, as a reader pointed out in the comments. Or as the Climate Denier Roundup put it, the Daily Caller “claims that solar out-produced coal by only 36%, when in fact it’s 49.6%, which is what Carbon Brief said in the first place.” And even if the Daily Caller’s math had been right, the fact that British solar outpaced coal for the first month ever would still be a historic milestone.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will attend a fundraiser hosted by coal industry CEO Robert Murray, who has pressured and even allegedly fired employees for political gain and has repeatedly fought against health benefits, safety protections, and labor rights for coal miners. Media covering the event should contrast Trump’s claims of staunch support for coal miners with his willingness to raise money with Murray.
Yale Law School Dean Robert Post took to The Washington Post to completely dismantle the bogus claim that the attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil for fraud are trampling the company’s First Amendment rights. And in doing so, he pointed to one of several opinion writers who have misinformed the Post’s readers by advancing this “free speech” defense of Exxon's alleged deception on climate change.
Writing in The Washington Post on June 24, Robert Post criticized “ExxonMobil and its supporters” in the media for deceptively “[r]aising the revered flag of the First Amendment” to condemn attorneys general who are investigating Exxon. The attorneys general are looking into whether the oil company committed fraud by deliberating withholding truthful information about climate change from shareholders and the public in order to protect its profits. As Post explained, Exxon and its allies are “eliding the essential difference between fraud and public debate,” and if Exxon has indeed committed fraud, “its speech would not merit First Amendment protection.” He added: “Fraud is especially egregious because it is committed when a seller does not himself believe the hokum he foists on an unwitting public.”
One of the conservative media figures that Post called out for distorting the Exxon investigations was The Washington Post’s own George Will, who penned an April 22 column peddling the false claim that the attorneys general pursuing Exxon are seeking to “criminalize skepticism” about climate change. And that wasn’t the only basic fact that Will butchered, as the Climate Denier Roundup explained at the time:
George Will used his column in the Washington Post to offer a lesson on how this campaign [against Exxon] is part of a larger progressive strategy to shut down debate. But apparently it’s Will that needs a history lesson, as he uses as evidence a story about a 2013 IRS investigation accusing the agency of targeting conservatives. But that investigation “found no evidence” that the IRS actions were politically motivated.
Unfortunately, Will is not the only voice on the Post’s opinion pages who has misrepresented the facts to defend Exxon.
As the Climate Denier Roundup noted, the same day that Will’s column ran, the Post also published an op-ed by two officials at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a think tank that peddled climate science denial while receiving funding from Exxon. The CEI op-ed repeated the falsehood that the attorneys general are seeking to “run roughshod” over Exxon’s First Amendment protections and prosecute “dissent.” It also engaged in carefully crafted legalese about CEI’s relationship with Exxon, as the Climate Denier Roundup observed:
Worth noting CEI’s careful phrasing about its relationship with Exxon, which CEI says “publicly ended its support for us after 2005.” With Donors Trust and others making it possible to anonymize giving, the key word is “publicly.”
Flashback to November 2015, and the story at the Post is much the same. Like Will, the Post’s Robert Samuelson claimed in a November 8 column that investigations of Exxon are an “assault” on free speech, and that the “advocates of a probe into ExxonMobil are essentially proposing that the company be punished for expressing its opinions.” Samuelson also repeated Exxon’s bogus talking point that a 1989 Exxon document proves that groundbreaking reports about Exxon by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times "'cherry-pick[ed]' their evidence."
Then there’s the Post editorial board itself, which prematurely concluded in a November 15 editorial that Exxon “didn’t commit a crime.” Perhaps the Post will reconsider after hearing from Robert Post on that matter.
From Robert Post’s June 24 op-ed in The Washington Post:
If large oil companies have deliberately misinformed investors about their knowledge of global warming, they may have committed serious commercial fraud.
ExxonMobil and its supporters are now eliding the essential difference between fraud and public debate. Raising the revered flag of the First Amendment, they loudly object to investigations recently announced by attorneys general of several states into whether ExxonMobil has publicly misrepresented what it knew about global warming.
The National Review has accused the attorneys general of “trampling the First Amendment.” Post columnist George F. Will has written that the investigations illustrate the “authoritarianism” implicit in progressivism, which seeks “to criminalize debate about science.” And Hans A. von Spakovsky, speaking for the Heritage Foundation, compared the attorneys general to the Spanish Inquisition.
Despite their vitriol, these denunciations are wide of the mark. If your pharmacist sells you patent medicine on the basis of his “scientific theory” that it will cure your cancer, the government does not act like the Spanish Inquisition when it holds the pharmacist accountable for fraud.
The obvious point, which remarkably bears repeating, is that there are circumstances when scientific theories must remain open and subject to challenge, and there are circumstances when the government must act to protect the integrity of the market, even if it requires determining the truth or falsity of those theories. Public debate must be protected, but fraud must also be suppressed. Fraud is especially egregious because it is committed when a seller does not himself believe the hokum he foists on an unwitting public.
If ExxonMobil has committed fraud, its speech would not merit First Amendment protection. But the company nevertheless invokes the First Amendment to suppress a subpoena designed to produce the information necessary to determine whether ExxonMobil has committed fraud. It thus seeks to foreclose the very process by which our legal system acquires the evidence necessary to determine whether fraud has been committed. In effect, the company seeks to use the First Amendment to prevent any informed lawsuit for fraud.
Thirteen Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, led by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), are wrongly accusing 17 attorneys general and eight environmentally focused organizations of trying to “silence speech” by ExxonMobil and other companies that may have intentionally misled shareholders and the public about climate change. Media coverage of the committee members’ actions should note that they have taken a combined $3.4 million from the fossil fuel industry -- and that all 13 members have received money directly from Exxon. Moreover, Smith has a track record of baselessly attacking climate scientists, and the committee members announced their efforts on the same day that Exxon-funded fronts groups made the same deceptive “free speech” allegation in a full-page ad in The New York Times.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has tried every trick in the book to wrongly defend ExxonMobil against allegations that the company intentionally misled shareholders and the public about the science of climate change. Now one member of the editorial board is pushing yet another defense of Exxon so riddled with errors that it completely falls apart upon a basic review of the facts.
In a June 16 column, the Journal’s Kimberley Strassel alleged that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s recent subpoena of ExxonMobil shows that the attorneys general investigating Exxon aren’t really concerned with whether the company’s climate science denial constitutes fraud. Rather, Strassel declared, “The real target is a broad array of conservative activist groups that are highly effective at mobilizing the grass-roots and countering liberal talking points.”
As supposed proof, Strassel pointed to Healey’s request for Exxon’s communications with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Strassel asserted that Healey targeted ALEC because it is “one of the most powerful forces in the country for free-market legislation,” an argument she based on the false premise that “ALEC doesn’t now, and hasn’t ever, taken a position on the climate.”
The truth is that ALEC has crafted model legislation that misrepresents the science of climate change and hosted prominent climate science deniers at its conferences, and ALEC officials – including CEO Lisa Nelson – have refused to acknowledge or outright denied the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels and other human activities are causing climate change. ALEC, a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel industry executives with legislators to serve industry interests, has also pushed model bills that would mandate teaching climate science denial in public schools. So it’s not hard to understand why Healey would want to know whether Exxon and ALEC have teamed up to undermine climate science.
Strassel similarly claimed that Healey targeted the oil billionaire Koch brothers’ front group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) because “its 2.3 million activists nationwide are highly effective in elections.” This must be true, Strassel argued, because “AFP confirms it has never received a dime from Exxon.”
However, as Climate Hawks explained in response to a Daily Caller article that made the same claim, “Americans for Prosperity's predecessor Citizens for A Sound Economy got hundreds of thousands from ExxonMobil,” meaning that “the group in question simply went by another name when it was funded by ExxonMobil.”
Moreover, it remains an open question whether Exxon is continuing to funnel money to AFP via DonorsTrust and the Donors Capital Fund, dark money groups largely backed by the Koch brothers. In October, InsideClimate News reported that a group of Democratic senators wrote a letter to Exxon “questioning Exxon's contributions to Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, which provide a conduit between well-heeled contributors and various conservative public policy organizations, including many at the forefront of climate science denial.” InsideClimate News further noted that the senators cited research from Robert Brulle of Drexel University, who provided evidence that Exxon may have engaged in an effort to “simply reroute its support” of climate denial organizations:
Brulle is a leading sociologist who has been published extensively in the peer-reviewed literature on the climate denial movement.
In material supplementing one of his studies, Brulle documented Exxon donations directly to climate denial groups such as the Heartland Institute, up until about 2008. At about the time Exxon scaled back its giving to those groups, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund stepped up their donations to them.
Americans for Prosperity “frequently provides a platform for climate contrarian statements,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation has received approximately $23 million in combined contributions from Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund since 2008.
In his new book The War on Science (Milkweed Editions), science writer and ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto describes the ongoing assault on scientific knowledge that is occurring across public life, from our churches to our courts and classrooms, and from the halls of Congress to the pages of our largest newspapers. Otto points to many culprits, but as he explained in comments about the book, it heavily focuses on the role our “broken media” has played in allowing the “war on science” to undermine our collective understanding of the world around us.
Otto identifies many common journalistic failings that he says “aid the slide into unreason,” provide unwarranted support for extreme views, and play into the hands of industry groups and other vested interests to such an extent that they represent a “danger to democracy” itself. Chief among these is what Otto refers to as reporters’ “laissez-faire, hands off view” that “there is no such thing as objectivity,” which has led to false balance in news reports by giving inaccurate claims equal weight to scientific facts.
A primary reason for false balance, according to Otto, is that journalists approach questions in a fundamentally different way from scientists. “Journalists look for conflict to find an angle,” he writes, “so there are always two sides to every story.” A scientist, by contrast, would say that “one of these claims can be shown to be objectively false and it’s poor reporting to paint this as a controversy.” As a result, the journalistic approach “tends to skew public policy in counterfactual directions.”
A good example is climate science denial. Although 97 percent of climate scientists say that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are causing global warming, claims disputing man-made climate change appear far too often in major print and television media. Noting the prevalence of climate science denial in opinion pieces about the historic Paris climate agreement, Otto argues that this kind of misrepresentation “deprives the public of the reliable information necessary for self-governance.”
Otto adds that journalists’ “confusion about the nature of objectivity” has not only enabled the industrial war on science, but also “directly caused” much of it by spurring the development of the public relations industry. Otto argues that reporters’ failure to establish the truth and willingness to cite anti-science views on matters of fact has provided an opening for public relations campaigns to emerge and influence coverage. And indeed, he writes that many journalists ultimately move into the public relations industry themselves, “seeking to manipulate the thinking of their former colleagues in the media.”
At the same time, reporters frequently underestimate the public’s interest in hearing about scientific topics, Otto says. He recounts asking media figures to cover the 2008 presidential candidates’ refusal to debate science policy issues, despite widespread calls for such discussion from major players in the scientific community. But the news directors and editors he spoke to “said they thought it was a niche topic, and the public wasn’t interested.” Otto and others commissioned polling data showing otherwise, but Otto believes that this incorrect media assumption about public disinterest in science persists to this day.
The War on Science also points to another newsroom bias that has worked against science reporting. According to Otto, “There is a long-standing tradition in newsrooms for editors and news directors to forbid political reporters from covering science issues and to rarely place science stories in the political pages.” This might not seem like such a big problem, except that commercial news media have faced tightening budgets and increasing competition from free online news, forcing staff cutbacks. And as Otto points out, “Among the first things to go were the most expensive: investigative and science reporters.”
The end result of all these factors is insufficient coverage of scientific topics like climate change. In remarks discussing the book, Otto noted that moderators completely ignored climate change in the first two presidential debates following the Paris agreement, and observed, “There’s something wrong when you have Leonardo DiCaprio using his Oscar speech to talk about climate change but journalists and presidential candidates are largely ignoring science.”
Of course, there are also some more intentionally nefarious causes of media misinformation on climate change, such as Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon’s infamous 2010 directive that the network’s journalists cast doubt on climate science, which Otto says “set the tone of junk-science skepticism for all Fox News reportage” that followed. And the problem’s not just cable news: Otto writes that the rise of conservative talk radio programs like The Rush Limbaugh Show and right-wing websites have also helped “[o]ne-sided rhetorical arguments backed by outrage and sheer wattage” drown out facts and reason, particularly when it comes to climate science.
So what can be done about it? To start, Otto suggests reporters begin covering the war on science itself. As InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times demonstrated with important investigations into ExxonMobil’s climate change deception, journalists “have a wealth of stories at their fingertips when they start exploring how science is being intentionally misrepresented by vested interests.”
Otto also implores media to devise a “journalistic method” comparable to the scientific method, which could seek to “strip away biases and leave verifiable knowledge.” This could include obtaining a “meta-consensus from fellow reporters,” essentially a journalistic peer review process to ensure that news reports are accurately conveying the known facts.
Otto further argues that reporters can avoid false balance and improve reporting if they “go deeper” into science topics. Here, he cites the impressive work of Minnesota Public Radio News’ Climate Cast, which manages to avoid false balance about the existence of climate change by producing detailed reports on climate impacts and steps being taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Finally, Otto proposes the creation of a National Center for Science and Self-Governance with initiatives focused on journalism, education, elections, religion, law, and more. Otto describes a series of actions the center could take to improve science coverage, including certifying the accuracy of stories, training journalists to cover scientific topics, and honoring journalists who consistently get the science right.
The Washington Post’s editorial board lambasted the energy proposals put forth by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump as “illogical” and “dangerous,” adding that his vow to undue environmental protections will cause future generations to “suffer.”
After Trump gave a speech about energy issues at an oil conference last week, media figures quickly ripped apart his comments as “utter nonsense” demonstrating a “lack of basic knowledge” about the energy industry. Industry experts later questioned the feasibility of Trump’s energy-related pledges in The New York Times, in part by pointing out that his vow to restore coal jobs contradicts his pledge to expand the natural gas industry, which according to Harvard economics professor Robert N. Stavins “would actually have the effect of lowering demand for coal, causing more mines to close.”
The Post added to the criticism by pointing out that Trump’s promise to achieve energy independence is misguided because the “best way to insulate the country from oil price volatility would be to make the economy less dependent on oil, but Mr. Trump has no interest in doing so.” The Post also argued that Trump’s pledge to kill the U.S.’s major climate policy and “cancel” the Paris climate agreement would be a “massive blow to the global fight against climate change,” concluding that if he succeeds, “[f]uture generations will suffer.”
From the May 29 editorial:
Last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that voters think Donald Trump would handle the economy better than would Hillary Clinton. But from his destructive tax proposals to the illogical energy plan he detailed on Thursday, there is little basis for that belief.
Setting “energy independence” as an overriding policy goal is a policy mistake of long standing in Washington. In fact it is far less risky to participate in the global market than to erect barriers to energy imports or ban them entirely. If you rely only on yourself for your oil, you put all of your eggs in one supply basket. Disruptions due to a natural disaster or anything else that would be relatively localized in a global oil market would cause major volatility in a closed domestic one. The best way to insulate the country from oil price volatility would be to make the economy less dependent on oil, but Mr. Trump has no interest in doing so.
Mr. Trump’s error reflects a deeper contradiction in his thinking. He praises the unencumbered free market, insisting that, “the government should not pick winners and losers” and that he would “remove obstacles” in the way of private enterprises. At the same time, he promises energy independence, a renaissance for the coal industry and other goals that would require government interference in the market. The decline of coal, for example, has occurred in large part because under the Obama administration natural gas drilling has boomed, lowering the price of gas and spurring utilities to move away from coal.
Mr. Trump’s plan is dangerous as well as incoherent. In his zeal to revoke environmental regulations, Mr. Trump promises to kill the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide rules and pull the country out of the Paris climate agreement. He also promised “clean air and clean water,” but over the past half-century, it has been government regulation, sometimes market-based, that has helped clear up the nation’s air and water. Mr. Trump’s plan would lead to dirtier air and water — and to a massive blow to the global fight against climate change. With great care and difficulty, President Obama persuaded major polluting countries such as China to listen to scientists and move with the United States toward cuts in emissions.
Future generations will suffer if Mr. Trump succeeds in reversing that progress.