Boom! New York AG Subpoenas Exxon #ExxonKnew

November 5, 2015

boomNYTimes finally realized nobody gives a damn about Hilary Clinton’s emails, and maybe the murder of Planet Earth is a bigger story.


The New York attorney general has begun a sweeping investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.

According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.

The focus includes the company’s activities dating to the late 1970s, including a period of at least a decade when Exxon Mobil funded groups that sought to undermine climate science. A major focus of the investigation is whether the company adequately warned investors about potential financial risks stemming from society’s need to limit fossil-fuel use.

Kenneth P. Cohen, vice president for public affairs at Exxon Mobil, said on Thursday that the company had received the subpoena and was still deciding how to respond.

“We unequivocally reject the allegations that Exxon Mobil has suppressed climate-change research,” Mr. Cohen said, adding that the company had funded mainstream climate science since the 1970s, had published dozens of scientific papers on the topic, and had disclosed climate risks to investors.

Below, NPR’s “On the Media” – somewhat testy interview with Exxon spokesman.

Meanwhile, a lot of people have been asking why this story has not, til now, gotten much mainstream media traction. NPR ombudsman asks around, and you probably won’t be surprised by what she found.


In early July, The Guardian reported that Exxon Mobil Corp., “the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.”

Two months later, the online publication InsideClimate News (along with a short film from PBS’s Frontline) followed up its own report on that email with a multi-part series, The Road Not Taken, which was described as an eight-month investigation into the history of:

“Exxon’s engagement with the emerging science of climate change. The story spans four decades, and is based on primary sources including internal company files dating back to the late 1970s, interviews with former company employees, and other evidence, much of which is being published here for the first time.

It describes how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed.”

In October, the Los Angeles Times, teaming with the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, started publishing its own reporting on the topic, the result of a yearlong research project.

NPR did not report on any of these findings, which has made some listeners unhappy.

Andrew Ratzkin, a listener to the New York City member station WNYC, wrote that the only reporting he heard on the issue was in September, by On the Media, which is produced by WNYC (at the time, the show was distributed by NPR, but that business deal ended Oct. 1 and it is no longer NPR-affiliated). That reporting, examining the InsideClimate News reports, included a contentious interview by On the Media co-host Bob Garfield with Richard Keil, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, who disputed the InsideClimate News claims.

“This is not enough,” Ratzkin wrote. “Considering the importance of the issue and the prominence of Exxon’s role, this story deserved, and still deserves, to be headline news on the national broadcast.”

I asked newsroom executives for their thinking. Anne Gudenkauf, supervising senior editor for science coverage, told me by email that the story was discussed on the science desk when the InsideClimate News series hit in September, and the decision was that it was interesting but not “terribly surprising. While it might raise some legal issues further down the road, which could also be interesting, we didn’t see an immediate need to hop on the story ourselves. And at the desk we were already ramping up for work on a climate special we are doing for the week before the Paris summit.” She was referring to the UN’s Climate Change summit, which opens in Paris at the end of this month.

(Earlier this year, NPR followed up in twopieces a New York Timesreport on how a prominent climate change skeptic had accepted fossil fuel company funding, including from Exxon Mobil, to support his scientific research.)

At NPR, stories can be suggested by the topic-specific reporting desks. The producers of the newsmagazines can also ask for those desks to file reports on stories they deem interesting. The stories of the day are discussed at an early-morning meeting, where the various shows and digital operations, including the Two-Way blog, express interest in stories. Gudenkauf said no one asked in this case.

Edith Chapin, NPR’s executive editor, told me by email that she believes NPR dropped the ball.

While it was not a major headline story, I think it meets the interesting test and thus NPR should have reported on it in some fashion on at least one of our outlets/platforms. Exxon Mobil is the world’s largest publicly traded multinational oil and gas company and the debate and research decades ago is interesting in light of contemporary knowledge and action on climate change. Daily conversations at our editorial hub typically cross a range of subjects and stories from across the globe. It is unfortunate that this topic didn’t come up there or in any conversation or email that I was a part of. It should have been flagged by someone so we could have discussed it and made an intentional decision to cover or not and if so, how.

My take: The story was on the radar of at least some in the newsroom, but it seems to have fallen through the cracks. Given the latest repercussions—Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is among those calling for a federal investigation—the lapse was unfortunate. But the issue is still a live one, and it’s not too late for NPR to find some way of following up.

UPDATE: The dam bursts – most people reading these will be getting the news for the first time.

This excrutiating lemming-like behavior is one thing about the media that I hate, hate, hate like freaking fire.  But occasionally the craven bastards get turned toward something that is actually consequential.  Let’s see how this plays out.
Will they be as fascinated with the crime of the geological epoch as they have been in the past with shark attacks, stained blue dresses, and phony non-scandals.

Washington Post:

“We have watched Exxon sow doubt on climate science and delay action on climate change for nearly a generation,” said Kert Davies, formerly with Greenpeace and now the Climate Investigations Center.

Similarly, in a 2006 letter to the company, the British Royal Society charged that a variety of statements in ExxonMobil’s public documents at the time “are not consistent with the scientific literature that has been published on this issue.”

“The context here is that climate activists have long accused Exxon – along with various other large energy companies – of seeking to influence the climate policy debate to their benefit. The claim that Exxon ‘suppressed’ research is part and parcel of this broader issue. Naturally, the company takes a different view of this issue,” said Pavel Molchanov, an oil industry analyst with Raymond James, in a statement.

“We are not physiologically addicted to oil, but we live inside a highly developed infrastructure that fosters fossil fuel dependency and discourages alternatives.  We could have begun to shift the incentives, and encourage alternatives, if we had implemented a carbon tax…at any point over the past 20 years,”(Harvard Professor Naomi) Oreskes said. “There are many reasons we did not do that, but a significant one, in my view, is the role of Exxon Mobil and others in fomenting disinformation, undermining public support for such initiatives, and lobbying against  policies that would have begun to decrease our fossil fuel dependency.”

Wall Street Journal

“Exxon has said that it’s inaccurate and yet they have not asked for any corrections,” said Neela Banerjee, one of the authors of the InsideClimate series.

In recent years, Exxon has said the risks of climate change are real and should be addressed.

“We have been engaged in a two-pronged approach: One is working to improve scientific understanding and the other is we’ve been involved in policy discussions,” said Kenneth Cohen, vice president of public and government affairs for Exxon. The subpoena was reported earlier Thursday by the New York Times.


The probe could expand to involve more companies, according to a person familiar with the matter.


In 2006, several major tobacco companies were found guilty of misrepresenting their research and promoting smoking as safe. Could you imagine oil companies going on trial like the tobacco companies did?


30 Responses to “Boom! New York AG Subpoenas Exxon #ExxonKnew”

  1. […] world,  and increasing attention to possible criminal activity of the fossil fuel industry with recent subpoenas aimed at “what Exxon knew and when they knew it” – We appear to be in a moment of […]

  2. […] Evening News Programs On ABC, CBS, And NBC Have Yet To Address Exxon’s Climate Deception. Nexis and Snapstream searches for “Exxon” and “ExxonMobil” revealed that the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC all failed to air a single segment about the growing Exxon story, covering neither the media investigations, the Democratic candidates’ comments, nor the New York Attorney General’s actions. […]

  3. […] have begun in the offices of the California and New York Attorneys General, with support from a dozen other AGs. Now we have a very loud shot across the bow of the bad ship […]

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