Letter: Columbia University Deliberately ‘Distorted’ Docs, Interviews To Smear Exxon On Global Warming

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Exxon Mobil is fighting back against reports the company knowingly deceived the public about global warming, claiming reporters “distorted” documents and interviews to vilify the oil giant.

Exxon wrote to Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, claiming a journalism adviser and her team of graduate students cherry-picked “various company employees to wrongly suggest definitive conclusions about the risk climate change were reached decades ago by company researchers.”

“Columbia’s team ignored statements, included in the same documents they cited, demonstrating that our researchers recognized the developing nature of climate science at the time, which mirrored global scientific understanding,” Exxon lead spokesman Kenneth Cohen wrote to Bollinger in a letter obtained by Politico.

“And they ignored information provided by the company that contradicted the erroneous story line,” Cohen added.

Cohen’s letter comes after Columbia’s journalism school and the environmentalist site InsideClimate News published a series on how Exxon “knew” about global warming decades ago, but funded campaigns to block climate regulations. Exxon has criticized the reports as misleading, but reporters have not backed down from their attacks on the oil giant.

It’s not exactly clear what Exxon “knew” about global warming that others didn’t, or what the company did wrong, but the reports have become a rallying call among Democrats to lobby for prosecuting fossil fuel companies, in particular Exxon. New York’s attorney general used Columbia and InsideClimate’s reporting as a basis for an investigation into Exxon’s disclosure to investors of how global warming will impact company operations.

Now Exxon is pushing back against Columbia journalists who published a series of articles about Exxon’s climate research in The Los Angeles Times. Cohen claims not only did Columbia journalists cherry-pick quotes from company documents, but they actually misrepresented who they were to former Exxon employees.

“In numerous conversations with our staff, not only did [Susanne Rust, a Columbia journalism graduate school adviser] insist she was not pushing that narrative [the narrative that Exxon “knew” about warming, but tried to derail climate regulations], but she openly expressed contempt … for InsideClimate News,” Cohen wrote, adding that he was surprised when Columbia’s reporting included the same kinds “factual errors, omissions and out-of-context citations” she had herself used to criticize InsideClimate in its reporting.

“We also have concerns about the ethical behavior of at least one other member of Ms. Rust’s team,” Cohen wrote. “We have been told by individuals quoted in the Oct. 9 story that [Sara Jerving], a reporter and social media writer for the advocacy group Center for Media and Democracy, misrepresented herself as a Columbia Arctic researcher and made no mention of the fact that she was affiliated with the School of Journalism or that the research might eventually be published in a newspaper.”

“Several of the individuals have said they would not have spoken with Ms. Jerving if she had been transparent about the nature of her research,” Cohen added.

Cohen also pointed out Columbia’s journalism school and InsideClimate News get funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund — which has funded anti-fossil fuel campaigns. The connection between the Rockefellers and green journalists was pointed out by Steve Everley with Energy In Depth, an oil and gas industry-backed research and education project.

“The financial ties to anti-fossil fuel advocacy raise significant questions about the objectivity of the reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times,” Everley wrote. “Yet the funding of these advocacy pieces may only be the beginning.”

Cohen claims Columbia reporters “violated principles” laid out in their school’s own research policies by not disclosing their funding from green activists in their LA Times article, “distorting” documents and misrepresenting themselves to former Exxon employees.

Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, has been tasked with responding to Exxon’s letter.

“I’ve reviewed the allegations in the letter, and I am preparing a response which we are preparing to publish on our website in the next couple of days. It would be premature for me to comment on details in their letter,” Coll told Politico.

Rust declined The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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