Exxon Knew | Media Matters for America

Exxon Knew

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  • How Broadcast Networks Covered Climate Change In 2016

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial -- the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.

  • Five Key Climate Takeaways From The Rex Tillerson Confirmation Hearing

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Secretary of state nominee and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11. Tillerson is already under fire for making the seemingly false claim that Exxon has not lobbied against sanctions on Russia and other nations that would affect Exxon’s business dealings, but here are five other climate change-related takeaways that reporters should keep in mind in their coverage of the hearing and Tillerson nomination going forward.

    1. Tillerson distorted climate change science … again.

    As researchers at Harvard and MIT have documented, Tillerson has falsely claimed in the past that the temperature record “really hadn’t changed” over the previous decade and repeatedly made scientifically inaccurate claims “seeking to sow doubt about the reliability of climate models.”

    Tillerson again wrongly cast doubt on climate models during the confirmation hearing. When asked by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) whether climate change is caused by human activities, Tillerson replied that the “increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect,” but that “our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”

    In reality, “climate models have proven themselves reliable in predicting long-term global surface temperature changes,” as The Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli has noted. Indeed, in remarks to Mashable responding to Tillerson’s comments, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann similarly said, "Climate models have proven extremely skillful in predicting the warming that has already been observed.” And David Titley, the former head of the Navy's climate change task force, explained, “The ability of climate scientists to predict the future is significantly more skillful than many other professions (economics, intelligence, political science) who try and predict the future."

    As Texas Tech University climate researcher Katherine Hayhoe told Mashable, climate projections of emissions scenarios are “based on physics and chemistry, the fundamentals of which have been understood” since the 1850s.

    2. Tillerson disputed the Pentagon’s determination that climate change is a significant national security threat.

    When Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked Tillerson whether he sees climate change as a national security threat, Tillerson answered, “I don’t see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.”

    Among the “others” who disagree with Tillerson is the Pentagon, which has called climate change a “security risk” and said that considering the effects of climate change is essential to meeting the Defense Department’s “primary responsibility” to “protect national security interests around the world.” A 2014 Defense Department report similarly stated that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” and a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders recently sent a briefing book to President-elect Donald Trump containing recommendations for addressing these risks.

    For its part, the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change calls climate change a “global threat.”

    3. Tillerson refused to discuss the “ExxonKnew” scandal.

    Tillerson refused to answer questions from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) about media investigations documenting 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. Tillerson declared that he was “in no position to speak on [Exxon’s] behalf," and that “the question would have to be put to ExxonMobil." Kaine explained that he wasn't asking Tillerson to respond on behalf of Exxon, but rather to confirm or deny the accuracy of the allegations against the company, which he ran until the end of December. When Kaine asked Tillerson whether he was unable or unwilling to answer Kaine’s questions, Tillerson replied: “A little of both."

    The media reports on Exxon, published in the fall of 2015 by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, prompted attorneys general in New York, California, and Massachusetts to each launch investigations of Exxon that are still ongoing. As InsideClimate News noted, “If Tillerson spoke about this under oath at this hearing, it conceivably could complicate matters for lawyers at the company he led.”

    4. Tillerson declined to endorse the Paris climate agreement.

    Under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon issued several statements in support of the Paris climate agreement, which committed countries around the world to cutting emissions, with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees Celsius. However, Tillerson declined to explicitly endorse the Paris agreement during his confirmation hearing.

    When initially asked about the agreement by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tillerson did not address the agreement specifically, but he did say that it’s “important that the United States maintain a seat at the table on the conversations around how to address the threats of climate change, which do require a global response.” But when asked about the agreement by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) later in the hearing, Tillerson left open the possibility of renegotiating -- or even withdrawing from -- the agreement, as InsideClimate News noted:

    In case you missed it, Tillerson answered questions about whether the United States would remain in the Paris climate accord in a such a non-committal way that he left open the possibility for the Trump administration to ditch the agreement or pull out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as some of the President's team have recommended. 

    Tillerson suggested that the "America First" motto that Trump ran on would be the main criterion in assessing participation in the global climate accord.

    Responding to a question from Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey about staying in the accord, Tillerson said that Trump would conduct a thorough review of global and bilateral accords on climate and that he would make his views known to the new president, who has vowed to 'cancel' the agreement and who has most recently called climate change a 'hoax' invented by the Chinese to hobble American business. Tillerson did not say what his views or recommendations would be.

    Tillerson then continued: "I also know that the president as part of his priority in campaigning was to put America first. So there's important considerations as we commit to such accords and as those accords are executed over time, are there any elements of that put America at a disadvantage?"

    [...]

    Markey then asked if it should be a priority of the U.S. to work with other countries to find solutions to that problem.

    Tillerson answered: "It's important for America to remain engaged in those discussions so we are at the table expressing a view and understanding what the impacts may be on the American people and American competitiveness."

    Trump has said that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the Paris agreement. He’s also claimed since the election that he has an “open mind” about the agreement, but internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan,” which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris agreement.

    Some reporters are interpreting Tillerson’s reference to a “seat at the table” as support for the Paris agreement, but his broad phrasing could also apply to seeking to rewrite the terms of the deal -- or withdrawing from it altogether. Later in the hearing, Tillerson added that he believes it’s important to have a “seat at the table” in order to “judge the level of commitment of the other 189 or so countries around the table and again adjust our own course accordingly.”

    5. Tillerson did not address climate change, oil, or even Exxon itself in his opening remarks.

    In their initial coverage of the Tillerson nomination, several major media outlets uncritically portrayed Tillerson as an advocate for action to combat climate change, despite his -- and Exxon’s -- troubling track record on the issue. But when Tillerson was given the opportunity to outline his vision and priorities for the State Department during his opening statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he did not once mention climate change, lending credence to the contention of Tillerson’s critics that his and Exxon’s professed support for climate action “was all P.R.

    Tillerson’s opening statement also neglected to mention oil or even Exxon itself, where Tillerson has worked for the last 41 years. That glaring omission hints at a lack of concern for crucial questions about whether Tillerson’s oil industry experience prepares him to serve as America’s top diplomat, or whether, as The New Yorker’s Steve Coll put it, he will be willing and able to “embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.”

  • News Reports Uncritically Portray Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson As Climate Change Advocate

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & ANDREW SEIFTER

    Several media outlets reporting on President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state have uncritically described Tillerson as accepting of climate change and supportive of a carbon tax. But these reports ignored scientifically inaccurate claims Tillerson has made about climate change, Exxon’s continued financial support of groups that deny climate science, inconsistencies by both Tillerson and Exxon on whether they truly support a carbon tax, and fierce opposition to Tillerson’s nomination from leading environmental groups -- not to mention the fact that Exxon is under investigation in several states for possibly violating state laws by deceiving shareholders and the public about climate change.

  • NY Attorney General: “Dark Money Machine” Is Using Media To Defend Exxon’s Climate Deceit

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called out the “dark money machine” that is attacking him through the media over his investigation into whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change.

    Schneiderman launched his probe into ExxonMobil in November 2015 after investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times found that Exxon officials knew about the science of climate change decades ago but continued to fund climate denial groups for many years. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey have since followed suit and also launched investigations of Exxon.

    During an October 19 forum on public integrity, Schneiderman explained that fossil fuel front groups are “directing a disinformation campaign aimed at bolstering Exxon’s case,” Politico reported. Schneiderman specifically called out Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Heritage Foundation, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), all of which are conservative organizations that have been heavily funded by fossil fuel industry interests, including Exxon. He also identified how these and other front groups pursue a media strategy, stating that they seemed to have “pulled a lever on the dark money machine,” and “60 or 70 op-ed columns or editorials” appeared attacking Schneiderman’s investigation. He added: “The challenge is, in most media markets in the country, all people have heard is the other side of the argument because [the conservative groups’] infrastructure is so remarkable.”

    Indeed, several of the nation's most widely read newspapers have provided a platform for fossil fuel front groups to deceptively defend Exxon. As of September 1, The Wall Street Journal had published 21 opinion pieces in less than a year criticizing government entities for investigating Exxon, including an op-ed written by CEI lawyers and a column that falsely claimed AFP has “never received a dime from Exxon.” The Washington Post also published an op-ed by officials from CEI, syndicated columns by George Will and Robert Samuelson, and a letter by the Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky, all of which falsely claimed that the attorneys generals’ investigations violate Exxon’s First Amendment rights. And contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View also peddled the false claim that the attorneys general are threatening Exxon’s right to free speech. (As Schneiderman noted, “The First Amendment is not designed to protect three-card monte dealers. … You can’t commit fraud and argue, ‘Oh, I’m exercising my First Amendment rights.'”)

    Other conservative media outlets have also provided space for CEI and the Heritage Foundation to defend Exxon and other oil companies that may have purposely misled the public on climate change to protect their profits, including the National Review, Townhall, and The Washington Times (on many occasions).

    Image at the top from Flickr user Azi Paybarah with a Creative Commons license.

  • San Antonio Express-News Won't Endorse Lamar Smith, Citing “Bullying Tactics” On Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    In past elections, the San Antonio Express-News has endorsed House Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) because of his “undeniably conservative credentials.” But this year, the newspaper is refusing to endorse Smith, citing his “bullying on the issue of climate change” as behavior that “should concern all Americans.”

    Smith has wrongly alleged that attorneys general investigations into ExxonMobil’s climate change deception threaten Exxon’s First Amendment rights, when in fact, as the Express-News noted, “The issue is fraud -- alleged at a state level -- and whether the corporate giant withheld information from shareholders and others.” Smith and other Republican members of the House Science Committee responded to the Exxon investigations by demanding documents from attorneys general and environmentally focused organizations, which drew criticism from legal scholars, and Smith recently expanded his subpoena campaign to include a separate investigation of Exxon by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    The Express-News also noted that Smith has sought to “chill” scientific inquiry by “threaten[ing] the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], Kathryn Sullivan, with criminal charges if she didn’t release emails from scientists about a certain climate change study.” Smith baselessly accused NOAA of manipulating temperature records to show a warming trend, when in reality, NOAA routinely makes adjustments to historical temperature records that are peer-reviewed and necessary to account for changes to measuring instruments and other factors.

    Smith has accepted over $770,000 in career campaign contributions from the oil and gas and electric utility industries, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. He is being challenged for his congressional seat by Democrat Tom Wakely.

    From the San Antonio Express-News editorial, which appeared in the newspaper’s print edition on October 18:

    In elections past, we have supported U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith’s bids for re-election.

    We no longer can. We offer no recommendation in this race. Smith is being challenged by Democrat Thomas Wakely and by Libertarian and Green candidates as well.

    We’ve argued that Smith’s undeniably conservative credentials have been a good fit for the 21st Congressional District. However, Smith’s actions have developed more transparently this last term into an issue that goes beyond the boundaries of his district.

    A particular issue is his abuse of his position as chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Specifically, it is his bullying on the issue of climate change that should concern all Americans.

    [...]

    Smith issued subpoenas on the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general, environmental groups, philanthropies and an attorney after the states began investigating Exxon Mobil over allegations the company buried its own global warming research in the 1970s.

    The issue is fraud — alleged at a state level — and whether the corporate giant withheld information from shareholders and others. Think Big Tobacco, which had early knowledge of the cancer dangers of its products. Smith has contended it is a First Amendment issue, the right of a company to speak its mind.

    [...]

    Thoughtful action is what the public has been due from Smith. But last year Smith threatened the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Kathryn Sullivan, with criminal charges if she didn’t release emails from scientists about a certain climate change study. That study refuted gospel by deniers that global warming slowed between 1998 and 2012.

    Smith said he was shielding scientific inquiry. But the real effect would be to chill such efforts.

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

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER, ANDREW SEIFTER & DENISE ROBBINS

    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.

  • Senators Explain How Fossil Fuel Groups Use Media To Spread Denial And Thwart Climate Action

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    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:

  • Climate Advocates Expose Oil Industry Ties Of Exxon Defender At U.S. News & World Report

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    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.

  • Another Day, Another Dodgy Defense Of Exxon In The Wall Street Journal

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    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 [2015] 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.

  • Did The Washington Post Just Violate Its Own Policy On Climate Science-Denying Letters?

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    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.”

  • The Dean Of Yale’s Law School Just Schooled The Washington Post On Exxon And The First Amendment

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    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.

  • What Media Should Know About The House Science Committee Members Defending Exxon

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    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.

  • WSJ's Kimberley Strassel Pushes Illogical Conspiracy Theory About Exxon Climate Investigations

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    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 Journals 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.

  • Think Tank Engulfed In "Exxon Knew" Scandal Peddles Discredited Study That Benefits Oil Industry

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Fox News and Fox Business have been promoting a debunked annual report from the fossil fuel front group Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which claims that federal regulations cost the economy nearly $1.9 trillion each year. But the study has been roundly discredited and debunked, and it is being touted while CEI is under fire for its role in helping fossil fuel companies -- which would benefit from reduced federal regulations -- deceive the public on climate change.

  • USA Today, Bloomberg Contributors Obscure Role Of Industry-Funded Think Tank In “Exxon Knew” Scandal

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are echoing false attacks on attorneys general who are investigating whether oil companies deceived the public on climate change, and grossly misrepresenting why the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands has subpoenaed records from an oil industry-funded think tank as part of his investigation.

    A coalition of attorneys general has committed to holding fossil fuel companies including Exxon accountable if they obfuscated climate change research in order to protect their financial interests. This follows reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showing that Exxon’s own scientists 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 afterwards. One of the climate denial organizations that Exxon funded was the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker is now subpoenaing CEI for “records of the group's donors and activities involving climate policy,” as InsideClimate News reported. CEI said it “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena,” and called it "an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”

    Now, contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View are defending CEI and Exxon by misrepresenting Exxon’s alleged wrongdoing. Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle authored a column on April 8 headlined, “Subpoenaed Into Silence on Global Warming,” in which she claimed the attorneys general are trying to “shut down dissenters” and criminalize “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.” Similarly, USA Today contributor Glenn Reynolds proclaimed in an April 11 column that the attorneys general investigations look like “a concerted scheme to restrict the First Amendment free speech rights of people they don’t agree with,” and that their goal is to “treat disagreement as something more or less criminal.”

    In casting the issue as a matter of “free speech,” both McArdle and Reynolds ignored the real reason the attorneys general have launched investigations into Exxon and subpoenaed records from CEI. As InsideClimate News explained, despite Exxon’s “emerging understanding of climate change science in the 1970s,” the oil giant subsequently worked to “undermine the scientific consensus, in part by financing research organizations including CEI.” InsideClimate News added:

    CEI is one of several organizations that have been repeatedly named over the years by those who have criticized Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for financing the climate denial work of third parties. After the Royal Society of the United Kingdom castigated Exxon in 2006 for giving money to groups misrepresenting climate science, Exxon said it had stopped financing the CEI.

    Additionally, the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) uncovered that the year after CEI received $270,000 from Exxon for “Global Climate Change,” “Global Climate Change Outreach,” and “General Operating Support,” CEI released a climate science-denying TV commercial with the tag line: “Carbon Dioxide: They Call it Pollution, We Call it Life.” CIC stated that the commercial “caused such an outcry, we believe it triggered ExxonMobil to cut funding to CEI altogether.” 

    Bloomberg View’s McArdle warned that the attorneys general investigations could set a bad “precedent” that would “eventually be used against” the “enemies of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ExxonMobil.” But that has already happened: climate science denier and then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was found by the Virginia Supreme Court to have overstepped his authority by demanding that the University of Virginia provide emails and other documents from climate scientist Michael Mann. Identical documents were sought by the American Tradition Institute, whose senior director of litigation, Chris Horner, was also a senior fellow at CEI.

    McArdle did mention in her column that her husband Peter Suderman had “briefly worked for CEI as a junior employee.” While she was at it, she could have disclosed that Suderman currently works for Reason magazine, and that the Reason Foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Exxon.