Exxon Mobil’s decision not to disclose internal information about climate change isn’t comparable to the effect the tobacco industry had on public health, according to the co-author of reports published last year trashing the oil company.
Exxon’s move to ignore research on global warming should not be compared to litigation into the tobacco industry several decades ago, Lisa Song, a reporter with InsideClimate News, told a panel at Boston University in October.
Inside Climate published a series of reports called “Exxon: The Road Not Taken” in 2015 blasting the oil company.
Her comments run contrary to publicity drummed up by politicians and activists hell-bent on using the reports to blast the massive oil company. It’s also strange considering the fact that InsideClimate used the comparisons to the tobacco industry as a way to justify why the outlet deserves a Pulitzer Prize.
“There’s been a lot of people comparing Exxon’s actions to what the tobacco industry did and I think there may be some similarities,” Song said, “but the biggest difference is that the Tobacco industry had done research on the health effects of tobacco but suppressed the research.”
Exxon, on the other hand, wasn’t “suppressing their research, they just sort of left it abandoned, and no one thought about it or talked about it until we wrote our series,” according to Song. Her admission seemingly dispels the notion InsideClimate ever sought to compare the two industries.
The media cheered InsideClimateNews’ reports despite the fact that the outlet’s chief benefactor, the billionaire Rockefeller Family Fund, colluded with several environmentalist groups to take the oil company.
The reports also prompted New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to open an investigation in 2015 “demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents” from the oil company dating back more than 40 years.
Several other attorneys general leaped on board the inquisition as well, including fellow Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
InsideClimate’s reports and Schneiderman’s probe resulted in activists comparing Exxon’s actions to the tobacco industry.
“If you look at the history of tobacco litigation through the first several decades, the result was always the same. The plaintiff always lost,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, told reporters Monday. “With each new case, more information came to public light. And that’s what we’re seeing here.”
Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse wrote a letter in May suggesting efforts to stymie the Exxon investigation “reprises the tobacco lawsuit’s own early history of efforts from Congress to discourage or interfere with that lawsuit in order to protect the tobacco industry.”
Not only was InsideClimate using the letters for their own benefit, but they also neglected to highlight the dubious nature of the comparisons in their reporting.
Schneiderman’s spokesman, Eric Soufer, made similar comments in August as those uttered by Warren and Sanders, according to the group, yet refused to address the credibility of his statements.
“This is just the latest example of the industry turning to the Big Tobacco playbook: deny, delay, and distract from the real issues under investigation to avoid an honest conversation about the facts,” InsideClimate reported.
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