The BBC is the latest legacy media institution that’s done a deep dive into the “Exxon Knew” campaign and churned out a 10-part podcast series that features very little in the way of new reporting but includes plenty of biased voices looking to smear the energy industry.
Instead, the series merely rehashes prior reporting that’s existed for years to allege that ExxonMobil hid its knowledge about climate change, despite recent court rulings that cleared the company of any wrongdoing.
Like past reporting, the series ignores key documents from the company that shows ExxonMobil was engaged in robust climate research in the 1970s and 1980s but was unable to reach definitive conclusions at the time, completely undercutting the “Exxon Knew” premise.
The Same Old News
Considering the BBC appeared to spend considerable time and effort to produce a 10-part podcast series, listeners would have a reasonable expectation of hearing new reporting. Yet for the BBC’s audience, it was more of the same.
The podcast series relies heavily on the same storylines and even includes documents and sources, published by the pay-for-play “journalists” at InsideClimate News (ICN).
In 2015, ICN published a series alleging that ExxonMobil knew about climate change for decades but did nothing to warn the public, accusations that featured in a nearly identicalinvestigation shortly thereafter in the Los Angeles Times.
The reporting done by ICN and the investigation published in the Los Angeles Times turned out to be tainted, subjective journalism.
ICN has received more than $1 million from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund – groups that have provided massive financial support for a network of activist groups behind the “Exxon Knew” campaign.
The investigation in the Los Angeles Timeswasn’t actually written by reporters from that newspaper, but rather the Columbia School of Journalism, through a program the Rockefellers later admitted to funding. (Apparently having fulfilled its mission, the program was shuttered after just three years).
This news is so old, ExxonMobil posted a rebuttal to the Los Angeles Times in 2015 about how the newspaper purposely left out a key document on the company’s climate research that undercuts the entire premise of the series:
“In its reportage on climate change research at ExxonMobil, the Los Angeles Times made a very telling editorial decision. The paper chose not to publish the document it cites as Exhibit A in its case against us: a 1989 presentation to Exxon’s board of directors by senior company scientist Duane Levine. I have no doubt why the newspaper doesn’t want the public to see this document.
“When you read it – which you can do here – it soon becomes clear that the document undercuts the paper’s claims that ExxonMobil knew with certainty everything there is to know about global warming back in the 1980s yet failed to sound alarms.”
ICN even admitted after publication that ExxonMobil did not stop or suppress research. The BBC series never acknowledges that the original “Exxon Knew” reporting was part of a campaign that sought to lay the groundwork for climate litigation against energy producers.
“Exxon Knew” proponents have cherry-picked company documents and ignored crucial context. For example, an ExxonMobil memo from 1979 that activists point to as a smoking gun includes a key passage that reads:
“It must be realized that there is great uncertainty in the existing climatic models because of a poor understanding of the atmospheric/ terrestrial/ oceanic CO2. balance. Much more study and research in this area is required before major changes in energy type usage could be recommended.” (emphasis added)
In addition to rehashing old, subjective reporting, the BBC also interviewed guests without giving any credence to their credibility.
The series features multiple accusations from Kert Davies that ExxonMobil lied to the public about climate change. But Davies is clearly a biased voice as he’s been an active participant in the campaign against the company.
He’s the founder and director of the Climate Investigations Center (CIC), which calls him a “climate activist who has been conducting corporate accountability research and campaigns for more than 20 years” and notes that Davies is a former Greenpeace official.
The CIC has been criticized for flouting state laws and describing itself as a non-profit even though it’s not registered as such with the IRS and it has secretive arrangements with other organizations that help it hide its list of donors.
While pushing the “Exxon Knew” narrative, Davies has cherry-picked documents, aidedthe activist-run Drilled podcast, and serves on the board of the Climate Docket (formerly called Climate Liability News), a dark-moneyactivist website promoting climate lawsuits.
The BBC also spoke with Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Institute, which is representing Boulder and San Miguel Counties in their lawsuit against ExxonMobil in Colorado.
The organization has also received financial support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fundand Rockefeller Family Fund – the groups behind the entire climate litigation campaign.
Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes is also interviewed for the series. Oreskes is a key player in the campaign against ExxonMobil and had reviewed the company’s advertorials for a study published in 2017.
Their study was reviewed by an expert in the field of data analysis and was found to be “unreliable, invalid, biased, not generalizable, and not replicable.”
No Other Whistleblowers
The BBC series features two former ExxonMobil employees who came out as whistleblowers, Martin Hoffert and Ed Garvey, both of whom worked at the company in the 1970s and 1980s.
Both employees say ExxonMobil made “misleading statements” to the public about climate change, and Garvey says the company missed an opportunity to develop alternative energy sources. They originally came forward in 2015 as part of the ICN “Exxon Knew” series.
Like the entirety of the BBC series, these stories from Hoffert and Garvey are nothing new, and the broadcaster couldn’t apparently find anyone else from ExxonMobil’s lengthy roster to substantiate the claims of these two former employees.
That’s most likely because ExxonMobil hasn’t engaged in the deception its opponents regularly accuse it of.
During the trial of the New York attorney general’s case against the company last year, multiple current and former employees and outside investors testified that they never engaged in or witnessed inappropriate behavior.
As New York Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager wrote in his decision:
“What the evidence at trial revealed is that ExxonMobil executives and employees were uniformly committed to rigorously discharging their duties in the most comprehensive and meticulous manner possible. More than half of the current and former ExxonMobil executives and employees who testified at trial have worked for ExxonMobil for the entirety of their careers.
“The testimony of these witnesses demonstrated that ExxonMobil has a culture of disciplined analysis, planning, accounting, and reporting. The Court heard testimony from ten present and former ExxonMobil employees, most of whom were called by the Office of the Attorney General as adverse witnesses.
“There was not a single ExxonMobil employee whose testimony the Court found to be anything other than truthful.” (emphasis added)
ExxonMobil Has Repeatedly Been Cleared
Despite activists spending millions of dollars, and municipalities and state attorneys general filing numerous lawsuits, the campaign to tear down ExxonMobil has been a gigantic failure.
San Francisco, Oakland, and New York Cityintroduced public nuisance lawsuits that sought to make energy companies pay for damages related to climate change, which were later dismissed by federal judges.
Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman put together a group of state attorneys general that aimed to sue ExxonMobil, but most of them later backed out.
Schneiderman’s own investigation was focused on “Exxon Knew” and his office reviewed millions of documents but came up empty.
Over the course of four years, his office was forced to repeatedly revise the lawsuit downward before it eventually wound up as charges over accounting measures, which was eventually rejected by Justice Ostrager who clearedExxonMobil of all charges:
“The Office of the Attorney General failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that ExxonMobil made any material misstatements or omissions about its practices and procedures that misled any reasonable investor.”
The BBC series is just the latest reminder that the campaign against the company isn’t based on science or the law, but politics.
The Rockefellers even outlined this strategy in a secret meeting where a plan was designed to “[establish] in the public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution,” and to “delegitimize them as a political actor” by using tactics for “creating a scandal.”
Richard Ayres, an environmental attorney, even admitted that the public relations strategy was just as important as the legal outcomes, saying: “getting attention of course from the press, and in some ways, we suspect that that outcome, that aspect of it might be more important even than winning the case.”
Today, ExxonMobil clearly asserts that the science from several decades was far from settled and has strongly criticized these political investigations as having a “chilling effect” on research – which hurts the fight against climate change.
“Contrary to activists’ claims, our company’s deliberations decades ago yielded no definitive conclusions. As our scientists determined at the time, many important questions about climate science remained unanswered, and more research was required.
“… It should come as no surprise that Exxon’s scientists discussed the available scientific research at the time and sought to build upon it through their own studies. This free exchange of ideas is essential to productive scientific inquiry.
“If such deliberations are subject to legal scrutiny through the lens of later baseless allegations, what incentive do companies have to pursue further research? The investigations targeting our company threaten to have a chilling effect on private sector research.”
ExxonMobil has repeatedly been cleared in the courtroom during this politically inspired campaign, and the BBC’s rehashing of old reporting doesn’t do a thing to change that.
Read more at EID Climate