Support for Climate RICO Campaign puts LA Times on an Editorial Island

 

The following post originally appeared on the EnergyinDepth.org website, which you can access here.

As numerous editorial boards across the country continue to criticize the #ExxonKnew campaign, calling the legal basis “flimsy” and the effort itself a “dangerous arrogation of power,” the LA Times is pretty much the only outlet to come to the campaign’s defense.  Case in point: an editorial offered up just this morning complaining about House Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith’s decision to seek additional information from the attorneys general and environmental groups at the center of the campaign.

What the LA Times doesn’t mention in the editorial, however, is that the series it published last year, written by the Columbia School of Journalism, was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) – the same group bankrolling every organization involved in the broader climate RICO campaign. The editorial specifically cites these Columbia stories, yet leaves out these important facts.

Of course, when the Columbia stories were originally published, the LA Times also didn’t feel the need to disclosethat they were funded by the Rockefellers. Only after EID and various news outlets called the them out did the outlet quietly add a correction noting the funding source – but that occurred several months after the stories were published. Clearly the LA Times hasn’t learned any lessons.

The decision to run the editorial today also represents a particularly acute case of poor timing, landing on the very same day in which news broke on how the state AGs signed a special pact among each other to nullify transparency laws and keep the details of their probe secret, far away from reporters and the public. Maybe we’ll see the LA Times mention this in an update to its piece? (We’re not holding our breath.)

But that’s just the beginning of the problems with the editorial: it’s also exceedingly short on facts.  Let’s have a look at the numerous things the LA Times got wrong: 

LA Times Claim"About two dozen environmental lawyers and activists met in La Jolla in 2012 to discuss possible strategies for raising public awareness of global warming and to devise ways to mitigate the worst effects of climate change."

FACT: The 2012 La Jolla conference had nothing to do with discussing solutions to climate change. As the activists clearly stated in their report on the conference, its entire purpose was to brainstorm ways they could link "carbon producers" to Big Tobacco and prosecute those companies using the same racketeering laws that took down tobacco companies. From the summary of the conference:

"Specifically, the workshop sought to compare the evolution of public attitudes and legal strategies related to tobacco control with those related to anthropogenic climate change…Participants debated the viability of diverse strategies, including the legal merits of targeting carbon producers (as opposed to carbon emitters) for U.S.-focused climate mitigation."

By the way, the La Jolla conference was organized by the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which are both funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. 

LA Times Claim"Four years later, thanks to the efforts that began in La Jolla, at least 17 state attorneys general are investigating whether Exxon Mobil lied to investors by publicly denying a link between fossil fuels and global warming even though their own research dating back to the 1970s established the connection."

FACT: Not exactly. So far, only four AGs have either announced investigations or suggested that they will launch investigations: New York's Eric Schneiderman, California’s Kamala Harris, Massachusetts' Maura Healey, and the U.S. Virgin Islands' Claude Walker.

Walker withdrew his subpoena after realizing that he doesn’t have a case. Healey's investigation is on holdindefinitely, and Harris has yet to announce officially that she is investigating the company. That leaves Schneiderman as the last man standing.

If anything most attorneys general have distanced themselves from any hint of an investigation. For instance, in one batch of FOIA’d emails, Scot Kline from the Vermont AG’s office writes to Peter Washburn of the New York AG’s office on March 30, 2016 asking for the following corrections to a thank you email regarding their March 29thpress conference with Al Gore:

“On the ‘Exxon/Fossil Fuel Company Investigations’ can we drop the word ‘investigations’ from that so it would just be ‘Exxon/Fossil Fuel Companies’ working group. Not all of the states have yet opened a formal investigation and there is some sensitivity here (and I suspect in some other states) to saying or indicating that we have.” (emphasis added)

LA Times Claim“Yes, a congressional committee is meddling in state investigations on behalf of an industry favored by its chairman -- in order to protect that industry's ‘1st Amendment right’ to hide information from the public.”

FACT: Aside from the fact that reporters were able to find all these documents precisely because they were widely available in libraries and online, even the activists involved in the #ExxonKnew campaign have admitted that the documents were not exactly hidden. For instance, Michael MacCracken, who InsideClimate News credits with tipping them off to the documents, stated in a recent blog post that one of the documents in question, written by former Exxon scientist Dr. Brian Flannery, was available in a major Department of Energy report:

In DOE’s major, widely peer-reviewed 1985 climate change assessment, Exxon’s leading climate change scientist for the past several decades, Dr. Brian Flannery, co-authored the chapter on projecting climate change. His chapter concluded that “climate models currently available, when run with standard scenarios of fossil fuel CO2 emissions, indicate a global warming of the order of 1ºC by the year 2000, relative to the year 1850, and an additional 2º-5ºC warming over the next century.” That projection was made three decades ago and is still the case today.”

If there was ever an effort to “hide information from the public” it could be found in the Columbia stories published in the LA Times, as the reporters simply cherry-picked the documents and left out the facts to paint a predetermined picture of Exxon’s work on climate change. For instance, Columbia claims,

“Duane Levine, Exxon’s manager of science and strategy development, gave a primer to the company’s board of directors in 1989, noting that scientists generally agreed gases released by burning fossil fuels could raise global temperatures significantly by the middle of the 21st century — between 2.7 and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit — causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, “with generally negative consequences.”

But if you actually read the documents, it’s pretty clear that LeVine had not come to unequivocal conclusions – far from it. Here’s what the primer actually said

“The greenhouse gas effect if real…has existed throughout man’s history…and in fact…without it current life could not exist.  Today’s concerns are about the enhancement of this effect due to human activities. So I’ll refer to these concerns collectively as “Potential Enhanced Greenhouse” or PEG. It has been under intensive scientific study for over a decade before it recently leaped to the front page.

In spite of the rush by some participants in the Greenhouse debate to declare that the science has demonstrated the existence of PEG today…I do not believe this is the case.  Enhanced Greenhouse is still deeply embedded in scientific uncertainty, and we will require substantial additional investigation to determine the degree to which its effects might be experienced in the future.”

LeVine continues,

“The second misconception is that enough research on the basic problem has been done. Failure to understand the need for substantial advances in science to reduce the uncertainty and extreme variability in the projections can lead to premature limitations on fossil fuels.”

LA Times Claim: “That is a ludicrous abuse of Congress’ oversight powers.”

FACT: The LA Times must feel pretty lonely making that statement considering that editorial boards and legal experts across the country have called the actions of the AGs in the #ExxonKnew campaign an unprecedented abuse of power.  

Bloomberg News said it was a “dangerous arrogation of power.” The Washington Post has expressed concern about the legal precedent of pursuing “criminal penalties over those involved in a scientific debate.” Financial Times said, “The legal basis for these actions seems flimsy…Beyond that, the implications of the investigations for free speech on public policy issues are alarming.”

Harvey Silverglate of the ACLU – not exactly a shill for the oil industry – said recently that the Exxon investigation is “pure harassment.” He continued, “It is outrageous for any law enforcement official to be seeking to win this battle for minds by flexing law enforcement muscle and trying to shut up the other side.”

Philip Hamburger – a law professor at Columbia University – recently wrote that New York’s investigation of Exxon is “a prosecutorial threat to liberty and due process.” Brooklyn Law School professor James Fanto told Bloomberg News that the investigation seems “completely politically motivated.”

Tristan Brown, a lawyer and assistant professor of Energy Resource Economics at State University of New York who even admitted that he “empathizes” with the #ExxonKnew campaign, noted that the AGs launching climate investigations are essentially changing the definition of what it means to commit fraud, which sets a “dangerous” precedent.