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ANALYSIS: Wall Street Journal Opinion Section Is Chief Apologist For Exxon’s Climate Change Deceit

The Wall Street Journal has published 21 opinion pieces since October opposing state or federal investigations into whether ExxonMobil violated the law by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change, a new Media Matters analysis finds, far more than The New York Times, The Washington Post, or USA Today published on either side of the issue. The Journal has yet to publish a single editorial, column, or op-ed in support of investigating Exxon’s behavior, and many of its pro-Exxon opinion pieces contain blatant falsehoods about the nature and scope of the ongoing investigations being conducted by state attorneys general.

  • Attorneys General Launch State Investigations Of Exxon, As Congressmen Request Federal Probe

    State Attorneys General Are Investigating Whether Exxon Deceived Shareholders And The Public To Protect Its Profits. Reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that Exxon’s own scientists had confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterward. That prompted the attorneys general in New York, California, and Massachusetts to each launch investigations of Exxon. In addition, California Reps. Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier have requested that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) conduct a federal investigation into whether Exxon’s actions violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO); DOJ has since forwarded that request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for consideration. [InsideClimate News, 9/16/15, 3/2/16, 7/13/16; Los Angeles Times, 10/23/15]

    WSJ Opinion Pages Have Been Blanketed With Defenses Of Exxon’s Climate Change Deception

    WSJ Published More Than Twice As Many Opinion Pieces About Exxon Investigations As NY Times, Wash. Post, And USA Today Combined -- And All Of Them Sided With Exxon. In total, The Wall Street Journal has published 21 opinion pieces about current or potential Exxon investigations, all of which were critical of government entities investigating Exxon, including seven editorials and eight columns by Journal editorial board member Holman Jenkins. By comparison, The Washington Post published six opinion pieces about government investigations, USA Today published three, and The New York Times published one. Many of the Journal pieces included blatant falsehoods and other misinformation, such as claiming that it’s “hard to prove” that Exxon committed fraud simply because Exxon published some climate research in journals; that supporters of investigating Exxon are trying to “silence climate dissidents” and punish people for “scientific skepticism”; and that the “real target” of the investigations is “a broad array of conservative activist groups.” This tally includes only those opinion pieces that specifically addressed government investigations of Exxon. [Media Matters, Exxon Investigations Spreadsheet, 7/8/16, 3/21/16, 3/15/16, 6/17/16]

    Several Wash. Post Opinion Pieces Also Misrepresented The Facts To Defend Exxon. Although the Post published only six opinion pieces about Exxon investigations, several of them distorted key facts to defend Exxon. Columns by George Will and Robert Samuelson, as well as an op-ed by Competitive Enterprise Institute officials, each pushed the false claim that the attorneys general investigating Exxon are seeking to “criminalize skepticism” in violation of Exxon’s First Amendment right to free speech. [Media Matters, Exxon Investigations Spreadsheet, 6/27/16]

    WSJ, Wash. Post, And USA Today Editorial Boards Criticized Exxon Investigations, While NY Times Has Yet To Weigh In. The Post, USA Today, and Journal editorial boards have all criticized government investigations of Exxon’s climate change deception. In its only editorial on the issue so far, the Post editorial board prematurely concluded that Exxon “didn't commit a crime,” just as the Post initially criticized an ultimately successful DOJ lawsuit against tobacco companies in the early 2000s. Similarly, USA Today wrote one editorial on the topic, which declared that “ExxonMobil's history of climate denial is not a reason for prosecution.” The Journal, meanwhile, has already published seven editorials attacking state or federal investigations of Exxon, including several that falsely claimed attorneys general are prosecuting “dissent” and a June 16 editorial that claimed they are engaging in a “harassment campaign against Exxon and free-market think tanks over climate change.” The New York Times has yet to publish an editorial addressing current or potential government investigations of Exxon. [Media Matters, Exxon Investigations Spreadsheet, 11/17/15, 6/27/16]


    We searched the term “exxon!” in Nexis and Factiva to identify opinion pieces about current or potential state and federal investigations of Exxon’s climate change deception from October 1, 2015, to August 31, 2016. This analysis includes only opinion pieces that specifically addressed current or potential government investigations of Exxon. It does not include an October 10 Times op-ed by Harvard professor Naomi Orsekes or a December 14 Times op-ed by founder Bill McKibben that each criticized Exxon’s behavior but did not address government investigations, or a November 17 Journal op-ed by former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN) that defended Exxon’s behavior but did not address government investigations. Nor does it include opinion pieces about a possible federal investigation of fossil fuel companies that did not mention Exxon specifically, such as a May 29, 2015, Washington Post op-ed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). [The New York Times, 10/10/15, 12/14/15; The Wall Street Journal, 11/17/15; The Washington Post, 5/29/15]