Marc Thiessen is a fellow at the fossil fuel-funded American Enterprise Institute; is a paid contributor at Fox News; and has a column at The Washington Post, where he frequently advances the same Big Polluter agenda and false narratives of his other two paid gigs.
Thiessen’s most recent Washington Post column falsely claims that President Joe Biden’s “war on coal” will cause rolling blackouts this summer. To make his argument, Thiessen cherry-picks from a recent Washington Post article on U.S. grid vulnerability and recycles climate disinformation that has been refuted repeatedly – most notably, in an article published in the Scientific American by 12 climate scientists.
To stop the spread of deliberate and harmful misinformation that undermines the work of its own climate reporters and erodes its credibility as a trusted source, The Washington Post should fact-check the fossil fuel talking points of industry-backed figures like Thiessen rather than passing on right-wing media’s climate misinformation to its readers.
Thiessen’s recent Washington Post column grossly misrepresented the Post article that inspired it
Thiessen’s June 7 column, “Think things are bad under Biden? Get ready for the blackouts,” attempts to argue that Biden’s so-called “war on coal” will cause mass power outages this summer. The foundation of his bad-faith argument is a recent Washington Post article by Evan Halper that lays out the various factors that could impact grid stability this summer. In fact, the retirement of coal plants, which Thiessen plucked out and isolated for his column, is just one of multiple factors that could impact one of the at-risk regions – the grid that supplies energy to the upper Midwest and mid-South along the Mississippi River.
But Halper’s article makes clear that grid stability in the Midwest is also threatened by increased demand due to extreme heat and lack of adequate transmission – the region is lacking capacity to transfer excess power due to missing a key transmission line that was damaged by a tornado in December 2021. Thiessen completely dismisses the former concern (more below) and mentions the latter not at all.
Notably, several energy companies that service this region have said that they are confident that they have enough supply to avoid blackouts – but that didn’t stop Thiessen from framing the risk of shortages as an inevitability to advance his fossil fuel industry-backed agenda. He also seemed to suggest that coal plant retirements are the driving factor risking potential power outages across the country. In fact, it is only a factor in the Midwest region – Halper’s article is clear that major risk factors include droughts, wildfires, water shortages and extreme heat, all of which are exacerbated by climate change, combined with aging or inadequate grid infrastructure.
Thiessen’s recent Washington Post column contains climate denial and disinformation that have already been debunked
Interestingly, Thiessen cites Halper’s article to bolster the credibility of his pro-coal argument, but then essentially tries to discredit the notion that “extreme weather precipitated by climate change” could strain an already fragile grid. In fact, Thiessen borrows the exact same language to begin his disinformation-laden screed, claiming, “The left will be quick to blame extreme weather precipitated by climate change.”
In this case, “the left” is actually the same analysts from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) whose assessment is the basis of Halper’s article and includes extreme weather from climate change along with coal plant retirements and myriad other risk factors. Thiessen then attempts to specifically dismiss the role of extreme heat by citing Steve Koonin, another senior fellow at AEI whose book on climate was widely discredited and debunked.
Addressing Koonin’s argument (also used by Thiessen) that “heat waves in the U.S. are now no more common than they were in 1900, and that the warmest temperatures in the U.S. have not risen in the past fifty years,” Scientific American notes:
This is a questionable statement depending on the definition of “heat wave”, and so it is really uninformative. Heat waves are poor indicators of heat stress. Whether or not they are becoming more frequent, they have clearly become hotter and longer over the past few decades. … Moreover, during these longer extreme heat events, it is nighttime temperatures that are increasing most. As a result, people never get relief from insufferable heat and more of them are at risk of dying.
“The warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years.” According to what measure? Highest annual global averages? Absolutely not. That the planet is has warmed since the industrial revolution is unequivocal with more than 30 percent of that warming having occurred over the last 25 years, and the hottest annual temperatures in that history have followed suit.
But Thiessen and The Washington Post should already know that Koonin’s book and his claims specifically around temperatures in the U.S. are problematic, because the above Scientific American article addressing his book and these claims was published on May 13, 2021 – one day before Thiessen published another Washington Post column heralding Koonin’s book and the climate denial contained therein – and a group of 12 climate scientists published a second piece on June 1, 2021, specifically calling out Thiessen’s column. Yet more than a year later, the Post inexplicably allowed the same thread of disinformation to underpin Thiessen’s main argument for why climate change is not contributing to potential grid instability in his latest column.
Not only does Thiessen’s climate disinformation undermine his most recent column for the Post, but allowing a repeat offender to peddle climate misinformation under the Washington Post banner erodes the paper’s credibility and undermines the efforts of its climate reporters in providing readers with the facts about the climate crisis, especially those explaining the clear and strengthening links between extreme weather and our warming climate – links that Thiessen’s other employers have long worked to deny.
Thiessen’s financial ties to the fossil fuel industry are not fully disclosed in his Post column
Thiessen is able to launder pro-fossil fuel industry talking points by exploiting the Washington Post’s good-faith attempt to include conservative voices on its opinion pages. But he is more than just a conservative voice; he is a fellow at a think tank that is the largest recipient of fossil fuel industry money among its peers.
Thiessen’s columns disclose that “he is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.” Scientific American points out, “For those unfamiliar with the tangled world of organized climate denial, a recent study paints a pretty clear picture: of all the conservative, climate-denying think tanks that get Koch and other industry funding, AEI has gotten the most. It received some $380 million to peddle industry-friendly denial like Koonin’s, much of it through dark money pass-throughs to conceal that it’s coming from conservative and dirty-energy donors.”
AEI has a decadeslong history of opposing climate action and promoting climate denial; in 2007, the organization reportedly sent letters to scientists and economists offering $10,000 as “payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” in “an attempt to cast doubt over the ‘overwhelming scientific evidence’ on global warming.”
Arguably, merely including “fellow at the American Enterprise Institute” in Thiessen’s bio without further context about the group’s ties to the industry he is writing about does not fully inform the Post’s readers, who may be unfamiliar with the nondescript-sounding think tank, that the content is penned by someone who receives money from fossil fuel interests.
And it is not even consistent with how other opinion writers are treated. A recent analysis of Biden’s executive actions cutting U.S. carbon emission by Leah Stokes, that appeared in The Washington Post on the same day as Thiessen’s column, included this disclosure after her bio:
In her nonacademic advisory roles, Stokes has written in favor of using the Defense Production Act for climate action. This article draws on her academic research to explain the policy and its potential consequences.
Thiessen is Foxifying the Washington Post
In addition to his position at AEI, Thiessen is also a paid contributor at Fox News – where climate denial and pro-fossil fuel industry rhetoric are common and consistent practice – but this role is not part of his Washington Post bio.
According to Media Matters’ internal database, he has appeared at least 700 times across the network’s programming since August 2017. As of June 10, he has appeared at least 72 times this year alone – 32 of those appearances were in segments that included discussion of climate or energy issues. In fact, Thiessen appeared on America’s Newsroom on June 6 in segment about gas prices and pivoted to the exact arguments that would appear in his Washington Post column the following day:
MARC THIESSEN (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): First, we have high gas prices. Now we’re going to have blackouts. Next is going to be locusts, OK. The Washington Post reported that we'll have nationwide blackouts this summer because coal plants are shutting down rather than investing in upgrades because of the Biden war on fossil fuels. So we’re now going to have on top of – we'll be like North Korea where we don't have enough energy to power our homes.
Writing in the Post, Thiessen’s June 7 column expanded on these same talking points to declare that “blackouts will be on the ballot” in this year’s midterm elections:
Access to cheap, abundant energy is a hallmark of a free society. Just look at a satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night. At the bottom, free and democratic South Korea is awash in light, while North Korea is in almost complete darkness, save for a pinprick of light in Pyongyang. The two countries share the same people and the same natural resources, yet one is glowing with the light of freedom, while the other is enveloped in the darkness of human misery.
How has the United States come to the point where swaths of our country might look like North Korea this summer?
Thiessen’s columns for the Post are often a direct representation of the most dominant and dangerous climate and energy narratives on Fox News; his most recent column on potential summer blackouts perpetuates a false Fox narrative blaming renewable energy for grid vulnerability going back at least as far as the Texas grid failure in February 2021.
In his May 31 column, “Gas prices are through the roof. That’s just how Biden wants it,” Thiessen perpetuates the narrative that Biden is intentionally raising gas prices. This same narrative has been gaining momentum on Fox News since May.
On February 24, Thiessen's column “Biden’s war on fossil fuels has strengthened Putin and weakened America” advanced the exact narrative that Fox News programs were pushing shortly after Russia first invaded Ukraine, which suggested that Biden’s climate policies emboldened Vladimir Putin to act.
Bad actors like Marc Thiessen, industry front groups like AEI, and right-wing media like Fox News all work together as a pipeline to promote climate denial and misinformation. It is vital for outlets like The Washington Post to shut off this pipeline by rigorously fact-checking fossil fuel talking points to avoid laundering their Big Polluter agenda to mainstream audiences.