For the world’s largest oil-drilling giant, ExxonMobil has a unique problem. It seems incapable of finding the absolute rock bottom — at least when it comes to its own moral compass. Just recently, I was writing here about the damning new evidence that top company executives knew as early as the late 1970s that fossil fuels would have a destructive impact on the world’s climate, and that after a brief period of uncertainty over what to to with this information, the oil giant launched into to a massive disinformation campaign to deceive the public and protect its profits. The bombshell revelations — which some have compared to the findings of prior scientific knowledge about cancer by Big Tobacco — have already prompted an investigation by the New York State attorney general and calls for other inquiries as well.
And so now ExxonMobil is fighting back the only way it knows how — dirty. Rather than address the controversy honestly and forthrightly, the firm is going out of its way to discredit the people who uncovered the truth. An added twist, in this case, is that some of those reporters were college students, working on a foundation-supported journalism project through Columbia University, which is home to arguably the top graduate journalism school in the nation. So naturally, ExxonMobil’s solution is to take it’s football and go home. In this case, its “football” is the funding for Columbia that the Big Oil icon now is threatening to yank:
ExxonMobil is hurling ethics accusations against a team of Columbia University journalists whose reporting helped stoke calls for probes into whether the company deliberately misled the public about climate change.
The oil giant went on the offensive in a Nov. 20 letter, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO. It comes as investigations by the Columbia journalists in the Los Angeles Times and a separate report by the nonprofit website InsideClimate News continue to stoke Democratic calls for a federal probe into whether the company concealed its internal understanding of the global warming threat posed by burning fossil fuels. Exxon, which through its foundation gave more than $200,000 to the university last year, addressed the letter to Columbia president Lee Bollinger and sent a copy to university trustees.
In the letter Exxon Vice President for Public and Government Affairs Kenneth P. Cohen accuses a Columbia journalism professor and her team of potentially violating the university’s policy on research misconduct by downplaying or ignoring information provided by the company. Cohen asks Columbia president Lee Bollinger for an opportunity to discuss “the possible remedies available to us” and seems to suggest the episode may damage Exxon’s relationship with the university in the future.
“ExxonMobil has had numerous and productive relationships with Columbia University for many years, whether through research programs, interactions with the business school or recruiting of graduates for employment with our company,” Cohen writes. “The interactions [between Exxon and the Columbia journalists] detailed above are not typical of the high standards and ethical behavior we have come to expect from your institution.”
I’m sure the Ivy League university will survive without ExxonMobil’s money, if it in indeed comes to that. But it’s typical heavy-handed tactics are simply indicative of the way that ExxonMobil gets things done — by throwing around money to buy friends in influential places, and threatening to withhold the almighty dollar from anyone who doesn’t toe the company line. In this case, the fine work of these student journalists was replicated by the Pulitzer Prize-winning InsideClimate News, which actually got its version out first , and by other top mainstream outlets.
But don’t forget, it was ExxonMobil’s millions of dollars in research grants, including awards to a number of leading universities, which caused bogus research about climate science to be promulgated in the first place. In the end, only one source has really tried to twist the information about global warming, and that is the interested party that has lied for decades to protect its multi-multi-billion-dollar investment in dirty fossil fuels. But attacking the young journalists who tried to set the record straight is a new low for ExxonMobil.
Read more about ExxonMobil’s assault on the Columbia journalists from Politico: http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-media/2015/11/exxonmobil-climate-change-ethics-allegations-columbia-university-216287
Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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