That was the widespread news headline, in one form or another (minus the ‘political suicide’ bit, of course) on Thursday, September 16th, 2021. The main news item was that Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, and sophomore-term House member Ro Khanna, D-Ca, sent letters hours earlier to four major fossil fuel companies and two lobbying groups, demanding that they appear in front of the Oversight Committee on October 28, and that they bring documents with them showing how they were engaged in — no joke! — “in a long-running, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming.” Those were the actual words in the nearly identical letters, which can be viewed in their entirety at the links within the Oversight Committees website page’s press release.
How could this House Oversight Committee stunt be revealed to be act of political suicide? If the ‘defense witnesses’ at the October 28 hearing decide to seize the leadership opportunity on this, they could show how the ‘industry executives colluded with skeptic climate scientists in disinformation campaigns‘ accusation only points a huge arrow at where the real disinformation efforts are apparently seen in this issue, a core clique of enviro-activists who’ve pushed a pair of never-implemented, ‘leaked industry memo sets’ that are worthless to prove any “industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation” exists anywhere. Plus, the sheer lack of viable evidence behind the accusation points an even bigger arrow at the basic journalistic malfeasance on the part of mainstream media news reporters, when it comes to their decades-long failure to ask probing questions about the basic accusation, which dates back to the 1990s.
The six Maloney and Khanna letters are embarrassingly based on two elemental false premises. First, the notion that the science of catastrophic man-caused global warming is settled. PhD-level climatologists / atmospheric physicists, along with experts in statistical data gathering and analysis heavily dispute that, which the letters don’t even mention. Second, the letters are based on the notion that the accusations about ‘Big Coal & Oil’ executives paying/orchestrating skeptic scientists to spread lies is also a ‘settled discussion.’ It most certainly is not, and a person does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out where the fatal problems are with the accusation and the core group of people who’ve long promulgated it.
I have no expertise in climate science; I leave that area to the qualified experts in it. But I have over decade’s worth of experience when it comes to examining the massively troubling aspects of the ‘crooked skeptics’ accusation. So, let’s start with the basic – predictable! – accusation in the Maloney and Khanna letters (Exxon version composite screencapture here) …
Public reporting indicates that ExxonMobil and its allies in the fossil fuel industry have worked to prevent serious action on global warming by generating doubt about the documented dangers of fossil fuels … some of the same tactics the tobacco industry used to resist regulation while selling products that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans.4 …
In response to these developments, fossil fuel industry actors reportedly sought to counteract prevailing scientific knowledge. A 1998 memorandum .. detailed plans for a coordinated disinformation campaign targeting the media, the public, and policymakers. In discussing actions around climate policy, the memorandum declared, “victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science”and when “recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.'”8
Reports indicate that fossil fuel companies continued their climate “counter movement” by contributing millions of dollars to academic and policy groups to influence third-party promotion of climate misinformation.9
No matter where you go in the political side of the global warming issue, the two literal best bits of so-called ‘evidence’ to prove industry-led disinformation campaigns exist is the “victory will be achieved” memo set and the “reposition global warming as theory” memo set. No need to trust me on this, do internet searches of both phrases and see just how often one or the other or both come up in enviro-activist screeds against the fossil fuel industry. I’m surprised the Maloney and Khanna letters didn’t refer to the “reposition global warming” set.
Oh, wait, they did, three times … but in an indirect manner. For their footnote #4, they cite a 2015 UK Guardian article by Desmogblog’s Graham Readfearn (that Desmog Readfearn) who not only prominently mentioned the “victory” memos, but also the “reposition” memos just three paragraphs later. The Maloney and Khanna letters also cite the Union of Concerned Scientists “Deception Dossiers” in footnote #4; the two ‘best’ bits of evidence in those “Dossiers” are the same two memo sets of leaked memos. In my 7/9/15 blog post, I detailed how there’s considerably more problems with the way UCS’ scans collection of those within a larger documents collection is one page short of Greenpeace’s 50-page collection — UCS deleted Greenpeace’s “Ozone Action” cover page. (Ozone Action – remember that name, it will come up again shortly)
Where’s the third Maloney and Khanna letters indirect mention of the “reposition global warming” set? It’s within their footnote #9 for the September 2020 BBC web page report. The BBC report itself first quotes the “reposition global warming” memos, then offers a quip from Naomi Oreskes on how the energy industry manufactures doubt (where have we seen that before?) and the BBC report quotes sentences out of the “victory” memo set. But there’s far more problems with that BBC News piece, it actually stems from an August 2020 BBC Radio 4 broadcast report, which I not only dissected for its faults and for its reliance on Kert Davies for the “reposition” memo set in particular (Kert Davies – remember that name, it will come up again shortly), I have an ongoing complaint filed at the BBC over the inaccuracies presented in that Radio 4 report.
See the pattern here? Again, no need to trust me on this, do an independent search among news reports about ‘Big Oil’ disinformation campaigns to see how those two memo sets are the best enviros have to indict the fossil fuel industry. Al Gore spelled out the “reposition global warming” phrase full screen in his 2006 movie, and those two sets are seen as ‘cornerstone evidence’ in the majority of the current 20+ global warming lawsuits, including Honolulu v Sunoco. Give the Maloney and Khanna letters credit at least for quoting the “victory will be achieved” memos directly at a minimum.
What’s the fatal problem with both memo sets? Neither sets’ directives / goals / suggestions were ever implemented by any industry executive anywhere at any time. The “reposition global warming” set was not even solicited to the group it was sent to. In my April 2021 interview of former API Executive VP / COO William O’Keefe, he told how totally overblown the API “victory will be achieved” memo set has been from 1998 to the present time, and how it was never implemented. The memo sets are therefore worthless as evidence to support the accusation that industry executives colluded with skeptic climate scientists to spread lies in disinformation campaigns designed to undercut the IPCC’s and Al Gore’s “settled global warming science.”
The problems don’t stop there. For the remark about “think tanks and advocacy organizations .. heavily funded by ExxonMobil,” the Maloney and Khanna letters cite Robert Brulle. Who is Brulle? He is among a group of sociologists who, when they aren’t citing each other regarding evidence of a ‘fossil fuel industry climate misinformation machine,’ are citing Ross Gelbspan for the ‘corrupt skeptics’ accusation. In one paper he co-authored, it couldn’t get past its first page without feeling compelled to offer a lengthy accusation quote from Ross Gelbspan. (Gelbspan – remember that name, it will come up again shortly)
For the remark about the notion that journalists were ‘pressured to give fair media balance to skeptic climate scientists,’ the letters’ source for that is Naomi Oreskes. (Oreskes – remember that name, it will come up again shortly). Her source was the Boykoff brothers; their source was Ross Gelbspan, and they thanked him for it.
Myriad other problems are in the Maloney and Khanna letters, but I’ll just include one more, their funding corruption accusation (with its laughable “deliverables” bit which even some on the other side of the issue think is pointless) hurled at Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Dr Willie Soon which sources from a New York Times 2015 article. Who was the NYT‘s source for documents ‘supporting’ that accusation? Greenpeace/Kert Davies, and I covered that massive problem not only back in 2015, but again in my May 12, 2020 blog post, and one more time when I noted in my dissection of Delaware v BP how often the Sher Edling law firm repeats that accusation in their handling of multiple global warming lawsuits. (Sher / Edling – remember those names, they will come up again shortly). What other documents are famously seen in connection with Greenpeace/Kert Davies? Oh, yeah, the “victory will be achieved” memo set. (Davies – remember that name, it’ll … oh, wait …)
I could go on at considerable length about myriad fatal faults in the way the entire ‘crooked skeptic climate scientists’ accusation gets repeated, and about the core group of enviro-activists who’ve seem to be perpetually making sure that accusation gets repeated by any gullible person in power. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if some of its longtime core members are operatives behind this letter from Reps Maloney & Khanna.
As a countermeasure for the recipients of the Maloney & Khanna letters, and for any future targets of this kind of intimidation inquiry, it would be wise of them to fire back by demanding information, documents, and all correspondences (print and electronic) that the following people may have regarding the accusation about ‘Big Coal & Oil’ paying skeptic climate scientists to spread disinformation:
- Ross Gelbspan;
- All of the people who worked at the Ozone Action activist group at the time when the group and Gelbspan somehow magically ‘obtained’ the “reposition global warming” memos, including …;
- … John Passacantando and Kert Davies, along with the other new names associated in a much more recent effort to portray Exxon as corrupt;
- Ozone Action / Greenpeace / Al Gore staff / Fenton Communications alumnus Kalee Kreider, who once famously promoted Gelbspan and his “reposition global warming accusation;
- Myanna Lahsen;
- Erik Conway, whose personal narrative seriously undermines Naomi Oreskes about the time she ‘discovered’ who the ‘merchants of doubt’ were;
- Matt Pawa, the “legal brains” behind global warming lawsuits who prominently featured both the “victory” memo set and the “reposition” memo set in his Kivalina v Exxon lawsuit, who also quite circuitously cites Gelbspan … or not;
- Victor Sher and Matt Edling, the law firm attorneys whose majority of global warming lawsuits feature both of the leaked memo sets and who feature ‘evidence’ of a suspiciously cropped ‘disinformation’ newspaper ad supplied to them by Kert Davies’ ClimateFiles site that was never used anywhere;
- Phil Shabecoff, one of the earliest ‘news reporters’ to report any direct words out of the “reposition” memo set, namely the never-used audience targeting goals that his fax news service magically ‘obtained’ from some undisclosed source;
- Anthony Socci, the former Senator Gore-era staffer who Naomi Oreskes credits with alerting her where the “reposition” memo subset and supposedly related documents were archived … or not;
- Al Gore, who said Gelbspan ‘discovered’ the “reposition” strategy memo, despite quoting from that memo set in his 1992 “Earth in the Balance” book – just like Socci did – years before Gelbspan first mentioned them;
- and especially people who might be the weak links in this chain of individuals, such as Gore’s associate / ‘hatchet man’, Justin Lancaster; and Oreskes associates Ben Franta and Geoffrey Supran;
- … along with more to be named later.
You don’t have to be a climatologist to find all those troublesome problems in the political side of the globe warming issue, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to spot those problems. What this boils down to is that we don’t have a climate crisis; we have a mainstream media journalistic malfeasance crisis. If mainstream media reporters had done their job to ask questions about the ‘crooked skeptic climate scientists’ accusation back in 1996-’97 when it first started getting major media traction, we might not even be discussing the global warming issue today.
If the recipients of the Maloney & Khanna letters show up at the October 28 hearing without documents helping Maloney and Khanna to prove disinformation campaigns exist and display total ignorance about whatever accusations they are hit with sourced from Oreskes/Davies because they’ve never researched the accusation themselves, they’ll hand a gift on a silver platter to their enviro-activist opponents for stories of how ‘Big Energy’ is hiding corrupt activity. I’ve suggested it before, I’ll do it again: these kinds of congressional hearings are golden opportunities to strike back at the accusers who’ve never received any push-back before. If, however, they arrive fully prepared to detail how the ‘crooked skeptics on the payroll of Big Oil‘ crashes and burns, then everyone will see how this Maloney and Khanna circus was an epic act of political suicide, inadvertently pointing a giant arrow at where the real disinformation appears to be in the global warming issue.