Newsweek Teams With Big Oil For Energy Policy Forum

The New York Times has a good article spelling out the obvious problems with Newsweek's decision to team up with the American Petroleum Institute for a forum titled “Climate and Energy Policy: Moving?”

Here's the situation in a nutshell: API is paying Newsweek, in exchange for which API president Jack Gerard gets to be the featured participant in a Newsweek forum moderated by Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman. Newsweek says there's nothing wrong with the arrangement, because it is “transparent”:

“There's absolutely no conflict of interest, because they're not driving our editorial” content, [Newsweek director of external relations Mark] Block said. “These events are transparent. They're on the record. They're inclusive of media. They're inclusive of people that might disagree. There's no concern of appearance of impropriety because it's an open and transparent process.”

That does not, strictly speaking, appear to be true. Take a look at a “V.I.P. Invitation” email Newsweek External Relations Manager Jennifer Slattery sent out about the forum:

The panel discussion will be moderated Howard Fineman, Newsweek National-Affairs Columnist and Senior Washington Correspondent with special guest panelist Jack Gerard, President & Chief Executive Officer of American Petroleum Institute (API). Newsweek is also honored to have forum invitations currently pending confirmation with notable members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

No mention of the fact that API paid for Gerard's participation in the event. So much for “an open and transparent process.”

And so much for “no concern of appearance of impropriety”:

[J]ournalism and ethics experts decried the arrangement.

“You're selling access,” said Edward Wasserman, Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. “Newsweek is using its reputation as a great news organization to convene these officeholders to talk about public policy. Then it's renting out a space at the table for one of its customers who would not be at the table if not for giving money to Newsweek.”

John Watson, associate professor of communication law and journalism ethics at American University in Washington, agreed.

“You're enticing them to buy these ads to get this thing of value,” Watson said.

Newsweek's claims that API's funding doesn't influence its editorial decisions are undermined by the fact that the forum features Gerard -- but doesn't include any representatives of environmental organizations. And, it seems, Newsweek doesn't have any pans to address that exclusion:

Asked whether Newsweek planned to invite a representative from an environmental group to the upcoming event, to balance Gerard's appearance, Block said the magazine “would definitely consider that opportunity,” if there were a high-profile environmentalist who might be appropriate. But he said that because members of Congress would likely also participate, time constraints might dictate against it.

Yeah, I bet they might.

And I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Newsweek happily publishes global warming deniers like George Will. And its probably just another coincidence that Will's column relies on the work of the American Enterprise Institute, which gets funding from the likes of Exxon Mobil and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Trust.

That's Charles Koch as in Koch Industries, which was once required to pay “the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company under any federal environmental law to resolve claims related to more than 300 oil spills from its pipelines and oil facilities in six states.” Or perhaps you know Koch Industries better as the company that got rich in part by stealing oil from Indian reservations and federal lands -- that is, from U.S. Taxpayers. Then they used the money they stole from taxpayers -- that is, from you -- to fund right-wing think-tanks that advocate policies that would help people like Charles Koch at the expense of, well, you. (Koch Industries agreed to pay $25 million in penalties for stealing all that oil.)

Anyway, I'm sure that's all just coincidence.

Oh, and it's probably also a coincidence that Newsweek is owned by the Washington Post Company, and that the Post got caught earlier this year trying to sell off access to its reporters to corporate sponsors.