After the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) director admitted yesterday that the organization funded two “news” organizations expressly for the purpose of publishing hit pieces on ExxonMobil, he is now trying to walk back those statements and is giving conflicting accounts of RFF’s financial role in the #ExxonKnew media campaign.
RFF’s Director, Lee Wasserman, confessed to Reuters yesterday that his organization’s funding for InsideClimate News (ICN) and the Columbia School of Journalism was specifically earmarked for “public interest journalism to better understand how the fossil fuel industry was dealing with the reality of climate science internally and publicly.” But the Huffington Post reported that Wasserman claimed the ICN donation was only for general purposes. Wasserman added, however, that the funds RFF gave to the Columbia School of Journalism were indeed intended to target energy companies on climate change. As Wasserman said,
“Wasserman said the grant to Inside Climate News was made without any knowledge that it would be used for the reporting project. The grant to Columbia Journalism School was directed at ‘public interest research into what the fossil fuel industry understood about the science of climate change and how they acted given that understanding both internally and regarding the public.’” (emphasis added)
But Wasserman told InsideClimate New that RFF had no idea what it was funding.
Rockefeller Family Fund Director Lee Wasserman said the charity supports public interest journalism, including InsideClimate News, but keeps at arm’s length from the work being done.
“We first learned about it when everybody else read about it,” Wasserman said. “The information that was unearthed was stunning and struck us as beyond the pale of what a corporation interested in protecting the public interest would do. … As a matter of good governance, we felt it imperative to sever our tie with the corporation.”
Adding to the growing list of inconsistencies, Wasserman’s explanations don’t appear to align with the way Steve Coll, the Dean of the Graduate School at Columbia School of Journalism, characterized the project, including the financial arrangement. Coll openly admitted that the type of research about which Wasserman claimed to have no knowledge was the “plan from the beginning.” Here’s what Coll said in December:
“The plan from the beginning was to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into how major fossil fuel companies carried out and managed internal research about climate change, how this research squared with their public statements and disclosures, and how internal scientific insights into climate change might have figured in the companies’ corporate planning and business operations. From the start, the project reporters have investigated these questions at many companies, including but hardly limited to ExxonMobil.” (emphasis added)
Wasserman also told Reuters that the #ExxonKnew campaign that RFF bankrolled was part of “our push to drive better public understanding and better climate policy.” If the goal was to push what RFF believes is “better climate policy,” then how could RFF possibly be unaware of what its money was going towards?
From all these statements, the Rockefellers knew what they were paying for, while the Columbia team and ICN both were at least aware of what they were being paid to deliver.