In recent months, media investigations have revealed that Exxon Mobil peddled climate science denial for years after its scientists recognized that burning fossil fuels causes global warming, prompting New York's Attorney General to issue a subpoena to Exxon and all three Democratic presidential candidates to call for a federal probe of the company. But despite these developments, the nightly news programs of all three major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- have failed to air a single segment addressing the evidence that Exxon knowingly deceived its shareholders and the public about climate change.
Media Reports Revealed Exxon's Acceptance Of Climate Science Pre-Dated Its Funding Of Climate Denial, Prompting Calls For Investigations
Media Report: Email Shows “Exxon Knew Of Climate Change In 1981 ... But It Funded Deniers For 27 More Years.” On July 8, InsideClimate News and The Guardian reported on an email from a former Exxon employee that was highlighted by the Union of Concerned Scientists. InsideClimate News noted that the email showed “Exxon scientists studied the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming as far back as 1981,” and that “company's early awareness of climate change and willingness to factor it into business decisions starkly contrasts with the path it took a decade later, when it led efforts to cloud public understanding of climate science and delay action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.” The Guardian similarly reported that ExxonMobil “knew as early as 1981 of climate change -- seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm's own scientists. Despite this, the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.” The Guardian further reported:
[An] email from Exxon's in-house climate expert provides evidence the company was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, and the potential for carbon-cutting regulations that could hurt its bottom line, over a generation ago -- factoring that knowledge into its decision about an enormous gas field in south-east Asia. The field, off the coast of Indonesia, would have been the single largest source of global warming pollution at the time.
However, Exxon's public position was marked by continued refusal to acknowledge the dangers of climate change, even in response to appeals from the Rockefellers], its founding family, and its continued financial support for climate denial. Over the years, Exxon spent more than $30m] on thinktanks and researchers that promoted climate denial, according to Greenpeace. [Union of Concerned Scientists, 7/8/15; InsideClimate News,7/8/15; The Guardian, 7/8/15]*
InsideClimate News Published Six-Part Series Revealing Exxon's Early Knowledge Of Climate Change And Subsequent Shift To Promoting Climate Denial. InsideClimate News published a six-part investigation in September and October detailing “how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed.” InsideClimate's eight-month investigation was “based on primary sources including internal company files dating back to the late 1970s, interviews with former company employees, and other evidence.” [InsideClimate News, Exxon: The Road Not Taken, accessed 11/13/15]
LA Times Investigation Further Detailed How Exxon's Public Statements Contradicted Company's Research. The Los Angeles Times, in collaboration with Columbia University's Energy and Environmental Reporting Project, reviewed hundreds of documents and interviewed “dozens of experts, including former Exxon Mobil employees” for an ongoing series of reports on Exxon. An October 23 article in the series, headlined “How Exxon went from leader to skeptic on climate change research,” illustrated how Exxon, “a leader in climate research, [became] one of its biggest public skeptics” because the company “feared a growing public consensus would lead to financially burdensome policies.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/23/15]
Democratic Presidential Candidates Have All Called For Federal Probe Of Exxon. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, and Hillary Clinton have all called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether Exxon violated federal law by “allegedly hiding what it knew about climate change,” as The Hill reported. The Hill noted that the candidates' calls to investigate Exxon were prompted by the investigations at InsideClimate News and the Times. [The Hill, 10/29/15]
New York Attorney General Is Investigating Whether Exxon Lied To The Public About Climate Change. The New York Times reported on November 5 that New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman had “begun an investigation of Exxon Mobil 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.” As The Times reported, Schneiderman issued a subpoena to Exxon Mobil on November 4 “demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.” The Times also reported that, according to people with knowledge of the case, the attorney general's investigation into Exxon started a year ago, but "[n]ews reporting in the last eight months," including the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News reports, “added impetus to the investigation.” [The New York Times, 11/5/15]
Major Broadcast Networks' Nightly News Shows Have Completely Ignored Exxon Developments
Evening News Programs On ABC, CBS, And NBC Have Yet To Address Exxon's Climate Deception. Nexis and Snapstream searches for “Exxon” and “ExxonMobil” revealed that the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC all failed to air a single segment about the growing Exxon story, covering neither the media investigations, the Democratic candidates' comments, nor the New York Attorney General's actions.
ABC And CBS Briefly Mentioned New York Attorney General Investigation On Morning News Shows. ABC's Good Morning America and CBS This Morning both briefly mentioned New York Attorney General Schneiderman's investigation into Exxon in news rundowns. [ABC, Good Morning America, 11/6/15; CBS, CBS This Morning, 11/6/15]
By Contrast, Exxon Developments Have Received Widespread Coverage From Other Media Outlets
Many Media Outlets Have Covered Exxon Story. In contrast to the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC, other media outlets, including PBS, NPR, and many large newspapers and wire services have reported on the presidential candidates' calls for a federal investigation of Exxon and/or the New York Attorney General's investigation into Exxon. These include:
PBS NewsHour: “Has Exxon Mobil Misled The Public About Its Climate Change Research?” [11/10/15]
NPR: “N.Y. Attorney General Investigates Whether Exxon Mobil Lied On Climate Change” [11/5/15]
The New York Times: “More Oil Companies Could Join Exxon Mobil As Focus Of Climate Investigations”; “Exxon Mobil Investigated For Possible Climate Change Lies By New York Attorney General”; “Exxon Mobil Accused Of Misleading Public On Climate Change Risks” [11/6/15, 11/5/15, 10/30/15]
The Washington Post: “New York Is Investigating Exxon Mobil For Allegedly Misleading The Public About Climate Change” [11/5/15]
USA Today: “Exxonmobil Investigated Over Climate Change Statements” [11/5/15]
The Wall Street Journal: “Exxon Mobil Gets Subpoena From N.Y. Regarding Climate-Change Research” [11/5/15]
Associated Press: “Official: NY Probes Exxon, Peabody Climate Statements” [11/5/15]
Reuters: “New York Investigating Exxon Over Climate Statements: Source” [11/6/15]
*Post has been updated to more fully reflect the organizations that drew attention to the former Exxon employee's email.