Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Scientists today believe the egg did, but that hasn’t made the debate any less contentious. Here’s another debate that continues to see its fair share of controversy: Which came first, the release of InsideClimate’s meticulously cherry-picked account of what ExxonMobil knew about climate science and when? Or the launch of a campaign by the New York Attorney General’s office to prosecute dissenting voices on climate using RICO laws developed for taking down the mob?
To hear PR man and InsideClimate publisher David Sassoon tell it, InsideClimate came first – and those stories were what actually spurred the state attorney general’s office into action. Here’s what he had to say about the issue in his cover letter to the Pulitzer Prize board, dated this past January:
“Within weeks of publication, the attorney general of New York issued Exxon a subpoena seeking extensive disclosure of its records to see if its actions constituted fraud under the state’s consumer and securities laws. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and many others have called for a federal investigation under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute, the law underpinning tobacco litigation of the 1990s.”
Ok, so: InsideClimate came first, and then the New York attorney general. Case closed, right? Well, not exactly. Yesterday, in a webinar hosted by the National Press Foundation featuring an interview with InsideClimate reporter Neela Banerjee, we were presented with a different set of facts entirely.
#1. New York AG Investigation Launched Well Before InsideClimate/Columbia School of Journalism Stories. For months, activists have been claiming the “investigative reporting” by the Rockefeller-funded InsideClimate News (ICN) and the Columbia School of Journalism was the catalyst that spurred AG climate investigations into ExxonMobil. But Banerjee openly admitted yesterday that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had been looking into investigating ExxonMobil well before these stories hit, confirming what Energy In Depth has uncovered over the past couple of weeks. As Banerjee said,
“Exxon’s arguments have now changed somewhat because of our work and the work that was done by Columbia University and published in the Los Angeles Times has dovetailed with efforts I think that started earlier at the New York AG’s office to look into Exxon’s funding of climate denial.” (emphasis added)
Banerjee’s admission also confirms what has already been uncovered by major media outlets that have reported on new emails written by key players in the #ExxonKnew campaign. For instance, in a July 21, 2015 email from Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS) to Ed Maibach (who spearheaded a letter asking the Department of Justice to launch a racketeering investigation into ExxonMobil) Frumhoff states, “we think there’ll likely be a strong basis for encouraging state (e.g. AG) action forward, and in that context, opportunities for climate scientists to weigh in.” After emails revealed that Frumhoff was one of the activists who briefed the AGs ahead of their March 29 press conference with Al Gore, he was forced to admit his attendance: “I was invited to brief the attorneys general that gathered on March 29 on my work, and that is what I did.”
#2. The Rockefellers Funded Mike MacCracken’s Role in the InsideClimate Story. Banerjee also made an interesting comment regarding how the ICN team was tipped off on ExxonMobil’s documents by Michael MacCracken, who had collaborated with ExxonMobil scientists on some climate studies in the 1970s and 1980s. Not only is MacCracken on the board of the Climate Accountability Institute, which manufactured research that attempted to blame individual companies for climate change, but in a press release detailing activist events around the Exxon shareholders meeting a few weeks ago, MacCracken was listed as a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the very group that has been working with New York Attorney’s General office to launch the #ExxonKnew investigation. This is an affiliation that has never before been revealed in the press, his bios, or even on the UCS website.
Of course, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Climate Accountability Institute – both funded by the Rockefeller foundations – also held a 2012 workshop in La Jolla, Calif., at which activists brainstormed ways to launch racketeering investigations into ExxonMobil. MacCracken attended and spoke at that conference.
#3. InsideClimate Publisher David Sassoon Part of the Rockefeller “Family”. Banerjee also pointed out that ICN publisher David Sassoon told his investigative team to get cracking on an #ExxonKnew series after attending a closed door journalism conference in 2014 where he met Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who uncovered the Pentagon Papers. According Banerjee and ICN, Ellsberg told Sassoon to “find people inside energy companies to expose the origins of climate denialism.”
To hear Banerjee or Sassoon tell it, this meeting was the motivation to begin the series, but as always, there’s a little more to the story than that. David Sassoon previously served as a consultant to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), the organization that has funding the #ExxonKnew effort at least since the 2012 La Jolla conference, if not longer. As the New York Times reported in an article about Sassoon, InsideClimate is “an outgrowth of Mr. Sassoon’s consulting work for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a philanthropic group that emphasizes climate policy.” The Rockefeller Brothers Fund alone has strong financial ties to ICN, having given the group $800,000 in the past three years.
But Sassoon’s close relationship with the Rockefellers doesn’t end there. In a set of emails that recently came to light, Sassoon wrote to folks at a PR firm called Climate Nexus – which is a special project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and received $1.185 million from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund alone since 2012 – with an embargoed copy of its #ExxonKnew series, which he hoped they would push out to their network of climate bloggers.
The comments made by Banerjee further confirm that Rockefeller-funded organizations have been actively working not only to direct InsideClimate News to publish its anti-Exxon series, but also to lobby state AGs into launching investigations.
What’s abundantly clear is that #ExxonKnew was a plot that was hatched long ago, and has been many years in the making.