The Power of the Li’l Green Group in PBS Frontline’s “The Power of Big Oil”

On Easter Sunday, CBS News spectacularly reinforced how the collective enviro-activist community has only one primary go-to source of viable-looking evidence to indict the fossil fuel industry of running disinformation campaigns designed to undercut the ‘certainty’ of catastrophic man-caused global warming. With Frontline’s “The Power of Big Oil” broadcast on Tuesday April 19, the Public Broadcasting Service began its spectacular reinforcement of exactly where the tiny source is for that unsupportable accusation, and how it dates all the way back to the mid-, late-1990s with two key promulgators. But before anyone examines the faults in this latest mainstream media journalism malfeasance, they should never lose sight of what the two central hallmarks are for extreme political leftists:

Frontline’s “The Power of Big Oil” is a case study on how this all comes together in one presentation, aimed at audiences who are expected not to question a single bit of it (in fact, nobody is permitted to question any part of it at its online webpage). The last time I dissected a Frontline climate program, they mentioned cursory bits about crooked skeptic climate scientists, but didn’t show the core accusers. This time they did, and in this blog post, I’ll be primarily showing how they portrayed the accusers in essentially a heroic way without questioning anything the accusers say or their undisclosed personal association. Last time, there was a working PBS Ombudsman who managed to extract a response for me from Frontline editors to my complaints. Currently, the PBS network has no ombudsman for receiving complaints; the guy supposedly in charge of that doesn’t show up for work for months on end.

Technically, Frontline hit its viewing audience with a form of disinformation right in its Part 1 title “Denial” before even beginning its main feature presentation. PhD-level climatologists / atmospheric physicists, along with experts in statistical data gathering and analysis do not deny the existence of climate change. They never have, it’s the antithesis of scientific reasoning to do so. The only people who actually deny climate change are those demanding a static climate that never changes from a level arbitrarily chosen from 150 years or so ago.

Before the main presentation begins, viewers see two minutes of preview quotes from the three parts, including a bit from “Merchants of Doubt” documentary movie star/book author Naomi Oreskes, who will be appearing in Parts 2 and/or 3, scheduled to be broadcast April 26th and May 3rd. As I’ve shown at GelbspanFiles, she’s a historian of science who cannot apparently keep her own history straight or keep her narratives straight about her role in this issue.

Not seen in the transcript for this episode are parts in the introduction where it explains what the show will be about, namely “what Big Oil knew about climate change” and how the industry “knowingly spread disinformation” to hide what fossil fuel executives supposedly knew – that specific accusation actually being shown on the screen as a false premise question.

“Climate Change” is an arguably vague and basically disingenuous label. The prominent worry back in the 1970s and on into the ’80s was human-induced global cooling. The one inconvenient truth that kills the collective “Exxon Knew” accusation (which essentially did not exist as a particular talking point prior to either 2015 or 2012, depending on viewpoints from different sources) is how much Exxon and other energy companies knew about particulate pollution from burning fossil fuels and/or other man-made or natural conditions causing this cooling … and/or to what degree, beginning in the 1980s, that news reports started featuring contradictory science reports.

Meanwhile on to Frontline’s feature presentation, Part 1, and its assortment of crippling problems. The go-to sources of who formerly worked inside of Exxon are at least minimally problematic.

EDWARD GARVEY: Within the Exxon Research & Engineering Company, at least, we knew that changes were going to be necessary. But I think Exxon was afraid we would change too fast. You just can’t shut off the fossil fuels, because all of society depends on it. I was convinced that Exxon was doing this research to understand it, … not so that we can deny the problem.

That’s at the end of the first nearly twelve minutes featuring the insights a NASA scientist and Exxon research engineers, Martin Hoffert and Edward Garvey. Where were those two seen before together? Right next to Naomi Oreskes in a U.S. House hearing in which Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posed very likely staged, rehearsed questions to them and Oreskes, where Garvey in particular responded with self-described label as Naomi Oreskes’ “co-hort.” An odd labeling choice, when “my fellow witness” would have raised less eyebrows.

After Frontline’s transition clip of 2018 California wildfire footage and some college hallway, who abruptly appears next? Predictably, it’s …

KERT DAVIES, Director, Climate Investigations Center: Sometime in the 2000s Exxon give their archives to the library at the University of Texas. Many truckloads of documents …

Not Kert Davies, formerly of Greenpeace and Ozone Action, not Kert Davies formerly of Greenpeace’s ExxonSecrets website, not Kert Davies who was exposed by a Washington Free Beacon 2016 report as being among several people having unmistakable bias against Exxon, just Kert Davies of some benign yet important-sounding and possibly non-partisan outfit called the Climate Investigations Center.

Who’s featured with him?

NEELA BANERJEE, Inside Climate News, 2015-20: We came across letter after letter after letter to leaders of the company about carbon dioxide. …

KERT DAVIES: I’ve become a curator of documents.

Since ICN was at least minimally the origin of the virally repeated “Exxon Knew” label, her appearance as the main author of the original 2015 article is not surprising. Is ICN a purely non-partisan journalism outlet? That’s open to question. Their prior name was the far more advocacy-sounding “Solve Climate News,” and they didn’t exactly hide who they were rooting for back then. Is there also more to the connection of Davies and ICN than right here at Frontline? Quite possibly – I detailed the inexplicable sharing of identical documents in needlessly duplicated Davies / ICN pages in my dissections of the Charleston v Brabham lawsuit and of the Hoboken v Exxon lawsuit.

One more thing there – when Davies said, “I’ve become a curator of documents,” it sounds like he means recently. But as Greenpeace’s ExxonSecrets Administrator, surely he’d been curating Exxon-related documents for more than a decade, and was doing the same at Ozone Action for several years prior to that.

But back to the Frontline video, which continued on for the next five minutes offering basically a one-sided view of Exxon’s activities in the 1980s. Then at the 16:55 point, viewers are treated to a scene of Benjamin Franta, t-shirt and big red backpack, dramatically walking into the entrance of the San Francisco Public Library, as though that has some great relevance. Then he declares

BENJAMIN FRANTA, Climate historian and activist: I didn’t learn about climate change until I was in graduate school. These are documents from the ’80s, the ’70s, talking about climate change, and to only learn about it in 2010 … There are many people working on this now … Shell, for example, had a sophisticated understanding of the climate issue also by the end of the 1980s. The coal industry, too. So there is a level of foreknowledge by the fossil fuel industry that business as usual would lead to disaster around the world.

I posit that Franta is one of the weaker links in the chain of accusers who claim fossil fuel industry disinformation campaigns exist. Are we supposed to believe that a person with his level of education hadn’t heard a word about the global warming issue until 2010, the year that Naomi Oreskes’ “Merchants of Doubt” was published? But, speaking of Oreskes in combination with Franta’s education, notice who Franta says he’s working with at Stanford “on the history of .. climate denial” – Robert Proctor. Who may have educated Robert Proctor on the history of ‘climate denial’ before that? Naomi Oreskes. Who was seen as a participant in the 2012 La Jolla workshop Oreskes conceived to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for ‘tobacco industry-like disinformation efforts’? Robert Proctor, among with minimally five others who are enslaved to worthless evidence for the idea of ‘industry-corrupted skeptic climate scientists.’ Who’s seen connected directly with Oreskes’ efforts to push this same accusation? Benjamin Franta, who also indicated elsewhere just how finite the ‘source’ of evidence is for the ‘fossil fuel industry disinformation’ accusation (Oreskes’ apprentice Geoffrey Supran is also a weak link that way).

Back to the Frontline video again, it continues, featuring David Harwood, “Aide to Sen. Wirth, 1986-93” and goes on at considerable length to first paint a picture of how the global warming issue burst into public prominence in 1988, including industry reaction to it. Just before the 27 minute point, climate scientist Dr Patrick Michaels’ name is mentioned in archive reading fashion where he simply expresses his expert opinion on a core fault of the ‘science’ at that time, immediately followed by an outright untrue statement from an ex-American Petroleum Institute representative, which predictably leads to the reappearance of Kert Davies seemingly insinuating that Dr Michaels did what the fossil fuel industry told him to do.

… ‘Our policies,’ noted Michaels, ‘should be no more drastic than the scientific conclusions they are based upon.’”

PROF. PATRICK MICHAELS, Univ. of Virginia, 1980-2007:[Archive] There is a real problem with this so-called global warming apocalypse projection. The Earth may in fact be going in the other direction, and until we solve that, it seems to me that we ought not take any very expensive remuneration.

TERRY YOSIE:he was primarily useful to the industry as an external voice of doubt creating more skepticism about policymakers taking action. [Reading]: API must … make policymakers fully aware of the uncertainty surrounding the global warming issue.”

KERT DAVIES: … it’s a call to action. They’re realizing it’s going down, we need to be in the room talking about uncertainty and downplaying the urgency, effectively. That that is the call.

Why is Kert Davies’ reappearance predictable at this point? Because we are talking about that Dr Michaels, who is named in the same page of Ozone Action’s 1996 report containing the notorious “reposition global warming” leaked memo directive that Dr Michaels is falsely insinuated to have worked under – he told me he never heard of it. (the late Dr S Fred Singer responded far more forcefully about being accused of operating under that ‘directive’ – hold that thought about his name for a few moments).

Dr Michaels did not create skepticism about catastrophic man-caused global warming at the behest of fossil fuel industry leaders, it was already pre-existing.

Now, continuing with the Frontline video, it explained the Clinton-Gore era of the global warming issue for the next 10 minutes, ending with scenes of flooding in China. Starting at the 40:12 point, viewers see an unidentified clip that is termed an “Energy Industry Promotional Video” in the transcript:

As more and more scientists are confirming, our world is deficient in carbon dioxide and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is very beneficial.

Not seen in the transcript, but immediately following the above “promotional video” is a drifting image section of a letter-to-the-editor with extra underlining marks to an unnamed newspaper titled “On Not Flying Into a Greenhouse Frenzy. There’s much more to those two bits than meets the uninitiated eye. The old video, while funded by the Western Fuels Association (funding from Greenpeace, as suggested elsewhere, would likely have also been gladly accepted!), is hardly an industry promotion piece, and the letter-to-the-editor is not just any letter to an untraceable paper, it is Dr S Fred Singer’s 1989 letter which he sent to the New York Times.

They’re part of a setup in the Frontline program at that point, offered by aide to Senator Wirth David Harwood:

… I was aware that this emerging industry of naysayers was growing, this effort to cast doubt. … It quickly became apparent that these were private interests who had a stake in the status quo.

Again, skeptic climate scientists were not creating doubt out of thin air, nor did they have any stake in the matter. The doubt was pre-existing before any of them had any association with fossil fuel industry executives. But to immediately continue in this accusation angle, Frontline made the ill-advised decision to introduce a new face, an accuser making his own very ill-advised accusations:

JOHN PASSACANTANDO, Founder, Ozone Action, 1993-2000:

I remember seeing in the press this skeptic, Fred Singer, saying that global warming was not a problem for the planet. You saw that he had worked on tobacco and a number of other issues. He was sort of a specialist in denial. I thought, that’s odd. When I brought that up to some of my peers in the environmental movement, they really didn’t think it was that important.

But then every time a new piece of science comes out, the same story will have somebody you’d never heard of saying, “No, that’s completely wrong.” So you start to think, well, who are these people, and where are they coming from? Oh, interesting. They’re funded by Exxon’s foundation. And then you see this pattern repeated over and over and over. It was coming from the coal-fired power utilities, Western Fuels Association, the Koch brothers, Global Climate Coalition. And they’re funding climate deniers.

To use his own words — that’s odd. Not John Passacantando, formerly head of Greenpeace USA, not John Passacantando formerly the top overseer of Greenpeace’s ExxonSecrets website, not John Passacantando who was exposed by a Washington Free Beacon 2016 report as being among several people having unmistakable bias against Exxon, not John Passacantando of some benign / vague-sounding and possibly non-partisan outfit called Our Next Economy LLC, which was also revealed by a Washington Free Beacon 2019 report as apparently funneling ‘dark money’ to Kert Davies’ Climate Investigations Center. Just John Passacantando formerly of Ozone-who??, which Frontline can’t figure out which year he “founded” it. That’s not merely a typo, but is instead a massive question that could cripple his credibility on whether he actually founded Ozone Action at all. After I asked Frontline producers about that ‘92 vs ‘93 date problem, they altered the online transcript to 1992 so that it matches the unalterable video label. Problem now is, they dug a deeper hole for themselves; it contradicts the specific date at his old Ozone Action site’s “About” page, and the site’s statement of having a co-founder, and it contradicts the 2000 New York Times report of his merger of Ozone Action into Greenpeace USA which named the same July 1993 date along with who his co-founder was.

Meanwhile, regarding his accusations which Frontline allowed without unquestioning: Dr Singer did not work on tobacco, he despised cigarette smoking and said secondhand smoke could not possibly be healthy, but he also despised the misuse of scientific labels, such as labeling secondhand smoke a Class A carcinogen when scientific findings did not support that label, a label that was ultimately thrown out in Federal court. Regarding the “other things” Dr Singer supposedly denied, one of them was depletion of the ozone layer, the original core focus of Ozone Action. Passacantando, with no science experience of any kind, said it was imperative to stop the depletion. Dr Singer, a PhD-level atmospheric physicist, never denied that, but instead questioned at considerable depth the wisdom to ban chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to accomplish this. The person who had a stake in the status quo of personal income not drying up on the matter …. was Passacantando.

As for Passacantando’s accusation that Dr Singer and others were or are “funded by Exxon’s foundation” …. funded to do what, exactly? Lie? But how much Exxon money did Dr Singer actually receive? According to Exxon documents, $10,000. Dr Singer confirmed that amount in a 2005 letter to Mother Jones magazine. Worse, neither Passacantando nor Kert Davies have ever provided genuine evidence proving anyone on the skeptic side were paid to fabricate demonstratively false science papers, reports, assessments or viewpoints. The absolute best, most viable-looking evidence that these two have ever shown is the rejected, never used proposal to “reposition global warming” and the second-best they have is the worthless “victory will be achieved” memo set, a collection of truisms that no less than Greenpeace itself could have turned around 180° to use for themselves.

Turn his Frontline accusation around 180°, and it becomes an example of what I noted at the beginning of this post – projecting the actual faults of his side as an accusation against the skeptic side:

I remember seeing this enviro-activist, John Passacantando, saying that ozone depletion was a critical problem for the planet. Then you saw that he switched to work on global warming. He’s sort of a specialist environmental alarmism. Some enviros thought, “that’s odd.” When they brought up how it was strange that a place named Ozone Action claimed to be focused exclusively on global warming, their peers in the environmental movement, they really didn’t think it was that important.

But then every time a new piece of global warming alarmism comes out, the same story will have somebody you’d never heard of saying, “No, the fossil fuel industry engaged in disinformation to downplay that, paying ‘shill’ experts to lie.” So you start to think, well, who are these people, and where are they coming from? Oh, interesting. They’re funded by activist foundations and dark money. And then you see this pattern repeated over and over and over. It was coming from the corporate green lobbies, Greenpeace, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Sustainable Markets Foundation. And they’re funding climate alarmists.

The Frontline program continues on for another 40+ minutes after this with back-to-back appearances of Passacantando and Davies, all worthy of a separate blog post about the ongoing faulty narratives. However, the above psychological projection from Passacantando, along with the other examples above of intellectual dishonesty / unsupported accusations / ignoring important contradictory details / disingenuous paraphrasing / mischaracterization illustrates the way this program is not actually believable journalism, but instead has every appearance of being outright propaganda. But let me detail just one more problem, a visual one, that drives home the point

While viewers listen to John Passacantando’s voice-over of his remembrance about “seeing in the press this skeptic, Fred Singer” they see him watching a black & white video of Dr Singer on a large screen TV.

This — all by itself — is a disingenuous portrayal. What he was watching is otherwise available (via, of all people, Kert Davies) in color, abeit somewhat faded. It is Dr Singer’s February 1994 appearance on ABC News Nightline, where Al Gore himself attempted to have the host, Ted Koppel accuse dismiss Dr Singer as a contrarian unworthy of interviews because – as Al Gore’s documents supposedly revealed – he was tainted by funding from the fossil fuel industry. Koppel was not convinced, as I detailed back in 2017, he instead heavily admonished Gore for that effort, saying, “There is some irony in the fact that Vice President Goreis resorting to political means to achieve what should ultimately be resolved on a purely scientific basis. … The measure of good science is neither the politics of the scientist nor the people with whom the scientist associates. It is the immersion of hypotheses into the acid of truth. That’s the hard way to do it, but it’s the only way that works.”

This was the last time any major journalist held Al Gore or any other major accuser of skeptic climate accountable for their baseless accusation. Frontline apparently accepts, without any question whatsoever, every bit of Al Gore et al.’s guilt-by-association accusation from the core people who promulgate it. They inadvertently reinforce how global warming is not actually an existential threat to the well being of the country, the threat is instead the egregiously biased mainstream media, which fails to tell the science-based good news coming from skeptic climate scientists and instead spreads disinformation which incites divisiveness, hatred, and despair.

The argument could be made that this kind of journalism malfeasance may possibly lead to otherwise preventable death.
Next in my Part 2 about Frontline’s Part 2: Kert Davies reads ye olde worthless 1998 “victory will be achieved” memos.