The last time Newsweek published an anti-environment op-ed without disclosing the author's oil industry ties, the esteemed news outlet was forced to acknowledge the error and provide proper disclosure to its readers. Now it's happened again.
On October 1, Newsweek published an op-ed by the Cato Institute's Walter Olson that argued against calls for the government to investigate climate science deniers under the federal racketeering law. But Newsweek identified Olson only as “a senior fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies,” failing to disclose that Cato has received funding from the oil industry, including ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil is currently under fire after an InsideClimate News investigation revealed that although Exxon's own scientists discovered decades ago that fossil fuel emissions could lead to catastrophic climate change, the company subsequently “spent more than 20 years discrediting the research its own scientists had once confirmed.” Additionally, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and a group of 20 prominent scientists have called for an investigation of “corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change” under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the same law that tobacco companies violated by deceiving the public about the health risks of smoking.
In his Newsweek op-ed, Olson pushed back against the idea of investigating climate science deniers under the RICO statute, claiming it threatens the right to free speech. Olson asserted that “controversial speech need not be true to be protected” and defended the right to use “half-truths, selectively marshaled data, [and] scientific studies that spring from agendas,” arguing that these tactics are merely “common currency of everyday debate in Washington.”
Newsweek failed to disclose the Cato Institute's industry funding, which includes at least $125,000 from ExxonMobil. Cato was co-founded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and has received millions of dollars from the Koch family.
The Cato Institute is also home to long-time climate science denier Patrick Michaels, and once published a fake "addendum" to a federal climate report, which Climate Science & Policy Watch characterized as “counterfeit.”
In April, Newsweek published a deeply-flawed op-ed attacking wind energy by Utah State University professor Randy T. Simmons without disclosing that Simmons' full title at Utah State was the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy, or that he is a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. After Media Matters and others drew attention to the lack of disclosure and other problems with the op-ed, Newsweek added a correction and an editor's note disclosing Simmons' oil industry ties, and also published an op-ed responding to his misleading claims.
Following the incident, Newsweek Managing Editor Kira Bindrim told Politico: “Admittedly, we did not do an outside vetting of Simmons, and we are not in the habit of fully fact-checking opinion pieces picked up like this from outside sites. These are aspects of our workflow that we're looking at now.”
Image at the top from Flickr user Tommaso Galli with a Creative Commons license.