Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Media Fails to Report Big Oil Funding Ties to Climate Change Contrarians

Label this one under the category of the news that’s not too surprising, but somewhat depressing nonetheless. In an effort to provide “fair and balanced” coverage on climate change, the mainstream press and media “routinely cites climate contrarian think tanks without reporting their ties to the fossil fuel industry,” according to a Union of Concerned Scientists investigation.

This is a basic journalistic no-no.

The UCS probe surveyed climate and energy stories published or aired in 2011 and 2012 by eight top news organizations to see if they reported funding sources for eight prominent policy groups that dispute climate science. Those climate contrarian groups included the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation, Institute for Energy Research (and its political arm, American Energy Alliance), and Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

Over the past decade each of those policy think tanks were funded by at least one of these companies or organizations: ExxonMobil; General Motors; the American Petroleum Institute (the U.S. oil and gas industry’s trade association); and three family foundations controlled by Charles G. and David H. Koch, owners of Koch Industries, a conglomerate with oil, gas and coal holdings.

UCS reviewed more than 1,000 news stories, editorials, opinion columns and interviews published by the Associated Press, NPR, the political trade journal Politico, and six leading newspapers: the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.

The sample was then narrowed to 376 relevant stories that cited the think tanks, and the UCS found the news organizationsfailed to provide information about the fossil fuel industry funding for these think tanks in two-thirds of the stories over a two-year period.

Elliott Negin, UCS director of news and commentary, is detailing the findings in a six-part, two-week series on Huffington Post this month:

Part 1: A Glaring Lapse in Climate and Energy Coverage

Part 2: Disinformation Laundering at the Competitive Enterprise Institute

C’mon! Sure times are tough for newspapers; advertising and circulation is down and newsroom populations are dwindling, but in the spirit of good journalism, fair play and full disclosure shouldn’t there be some mention about the funding support these supposedly expert policy groups get as they expound on climate change and energy topics?

Does the media really want to help the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil spread climate disinformation?

Getting this right only one-third of time is nowhere near good enough for esteemed papers of record such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. It’s simply bad journalism and shame on them. A basic tenet for any journalist reporting on controversial subjects is to “follow the money.”

The Wall Street Journal? Meh, that paper is hopeless – it scored by far the lowest in the UCS survey to no one’s surprise.

[Image: Newspapers (B&W) 1 by NS Newflash via Flickr CC]

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

Read more stories by Bill DiBenedetto

More stories from Leadership & Transparency