InsideClimate News Confirms Anti-Fracking Bias

Last week, Energy In Depth shined a spotlight on the troubling connections between the foundations that fund the anti-fracking movement and the “news” coverage from InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity. We weren’t the first to report on that connection, but our in depth coverage was nonetheless shared widely across the web.

In fact, our months-long investigation of coverage by ICN and CPI was so impactful that InsideClimate News saw fit to issue a statement in response this week. Just like its initial reaction to our report, covered in POLITICO’s Morning Energy, ICN merely dismisses our criticisms as not addressing the substance of its reporting. The organization boldly claims: “Had we gotten anything wrong? No.” They apparently missed the lengthy, fact-based rebuttal we issued when ICN and CPI ran their initial report on the Eagle Ford back in February, as well as the numerous factual errors we pointed out in their coverage to date.

But perhaps most telling in ICN’s reaction to criticism is that the organization has effectively confirmed its disposition against oil and gas development.

In its initial response to EID’s investigation, ICN publisher David Sassoon said: “It is so much easier to attack inconvenient journalism than to take responsibility for the impacts of toxic air emissions.” As we pointed out repeatedly in our response to the ICN/CPI team’s Eagle Ford report, the “impacts of toxic air emissions” that they supposedly identified were often based upon a misreading of regulatory documents, and even a lack of understanding of certain types of air pollution, such as ozone. In one notable case, the ICN/CPI team referenced an Earthworks report on air emissions, which used a scientifically dubious comparison of short-term emissions to long-term health thresholds.

The fact that ICN saw fit to bash the industry for supposedly not taking “responsibility” for its “toxic air emissions” – even with clear evidence contradicting their research – shows that it’s unwilling to entertain facts that run contrary of its prescribed narrative of harm, which was actually one of the many conclusions of EID’s investigation.

ICN’s response this week doubled down on that position. In its description of this author’s work, ICN was not only dismissive (calling the evidence nothing more than “tricks”), but also leveraged a common anti-industry talking point: “he is protecting the bottom line of the oil and gas industry, which pays his salary,” wrote ICN’s David Sassoon, who also called EID a “public relations front group.” Later, Sassoon suggested EID is “paid to protect [its] clients,” and waved off serious problems with ICN’s reporting as just a “sleight of hand.” EID recommends readers examine the full report, including the mountain of evidence to support the findings, to determine whether anti-business talking points suffice as a response.

Sassoon also writes that ICN reporters “do not conceal their identities,” even though the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), in a response to their Eagle Ford investigation, made that very allegation. The Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News were also not mentioned prior to the interview that the team conducted with EID earlier this year. Sassoon provided no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Stunningly, Sassoon also made this claim: “InsideClimate News does not ‘share’ any funding with special interests, and there is no evidence that we do.”

InsideClimate News lists the Park Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund on its “Our Funders” page. EID mentioned this in its report, and actually gave credit to ICN for its disclosure, although that information should also be disclosed in the body of the stories, which get reprinted by other news outlets.

The Park Foundation is a known commodity in the anti-fracking world. “Park Foundation funds anti-fracking groups” reads a headline from 2012. “Quiet foundation funds the anti-fracking fight” reads another story about Park from 2012. In 2013, another report led with: “Park Foundation funds continue flow to fracking critics.” A lengthy report in the Summer 2014 issue of Philanthropy magazine details the Park Foundation’s role in propping up the national anti-fracking movement, including “news” outlets that report on activists’ claims.

And, as we pointed out in our report:

David Sassoon with ICN previously worked for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, another funding source for InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity. RBF also supports Bill McKibben’s group 350.org, which has increasingly focused on “fracking” as part of its opposition to oil and gas development. McKibben called the Rockefeller Brothers Fund a “great ally” in a 2011 interview.

Sassoon’s claim that InsideClimate News does not share funding sources with special interests, such as the “ban fracking” movement, is demonstrably false.

ICN’s response also never addresses the fact that the ICN/CPI team has misled interviewees by presenting false information, nor did it explain why it had categorically ignored so many scientific reports that pointed to safety or even the environmental benefits of shale development. One must assume that ICN either overlooked these issues, or simply cannot defend itself.

One would think that when an organization says certain allegations “deserve response,” as InsideClimate News did of EID’s conclusions, that the responses would be more than single sentences that simply deny allegations.

In the end, InsideClimate’s response to EID’s investigation hinges upon weak dismissals of criticisms, doubling down on false statements, and the heavy use of rhetoric and talking points about EID being “industry funded.” Energy In Depth is a program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and it has never denied such a link, nor has it shied away from disclosing that link when corresponding with the public, including the press.

Unable to address the substance, InsideClimate News issued a shallow response that does more to confirm the conclusions of EID’s investigation than it does to rebut any of the evidence provided.

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