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.