Five Things to Know about #ExxonKnew #FakeNews Ahead of Tillerson’s Confirmation Hearing

Activists have built their entire #ExxonKnew campaign on manufactured claims that have been repeatedly debunked. Now with the confirmation of former Exxon President and CEO Rex Tillerson set for tomorrow, even Bloomberg Government said in a post today that “#ExxonKnew has quietly faded.”

“Look for climate change to come up in Tillerson’s hearing, but not #ExxonKnew. Instead, Democrats will be asking how he squares his moderate views with Trump and the rest of Trump’s advisers. The question is likely to be: What does Exxon know that Donald Trump doesn’t?”

So without the facts on their side, and grappling with being essentially ignored, ExxonKnew activists have resorted to what they know best: generating fake news.

Here are the top five things to know regarding the latest bogus claims they’ve been pushing ahead of the hearing.

#1. Activists rehash #FakeNews story claiming Exxon funds “denier” groups; meanwhile Senate Democrats got $9 million from the #ExxonKnew campaign

NextGen Climate, the group spearheaded by billionaire #ExxonKnew activist Tom Steyer, had a story placed in the Huffington Post this week that rehashes the tired claim that ExxonMobil has given $6.5 million to “climate denier groups.”

First, these groups included in NextGen’s list of “deniers” are the same groups targeted by the U.S. Virgin Island Attorney General’s subpoena, which was retracted last year. They are also the same groups featured in a report released last year by the Rockefeller-funded Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, which bizarrely accused a number of organizations that support policies to reduce emissions (including a carbon tax) of being science deniers. For more on that, click here.

Meanwhile, Daily Caller reported today that NextGen and other groups in the #ExxonKnew campaign have funded Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee (which will be holding the Tillerson hearing) to the tune of over $9 million:

 “The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), NextGen Climate Action (NextGen) and Environment America (EA) gave more than $9.3 million — in the form of individual campaign donations and independent expenditures — to eight of the nine Democratic lawmakers on the committee.

In total, LCV, NextGen and EA gave eight of the nine foreign relations committee Democrats $9,341,329 through individual donations and super PACs, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation examination of campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.”


Here is a breakdown of how much support each Democratic foreign relations committee member got from EA, LCV and NextGen:

  • NH Sen. Jeanne Shaheen — $4.3 million

  • VA Sen. Tim Kaine — $2.2 million

  • MA Sen. Ed Markey — $2.2 million

  • CT Sen. Chris Murphy — $511,369

  • NM Tom Udall — $77,470

  • DE Sen. Chris Coons — $8,950

  • NJ Sen. Bob Menendez — $2,000

  • MD Sen. Ben Cardin — $1,000

#2. #ExxonKnew spends big money on ad that doesn’t mention climate – even though activists claim climate is the reason they are fighting Tillerson

Curiously, the ad against Rex Tillerson that was launched this week by NextGen Climate is missing a pretty big component: climate. Not once is climate mentioned, even though the entire campaign hinges on their claim that Exxon somehow knew about climate change before the world’s top scientists had come to any conclusions. If their claims were real news, wouldn’t you think they’d want to tout them instead of pushing other totally unrelated issues?

Or maybe they’re doing it because no one believes their climate claims, anyway. New Mexico Senator Tom Udall (D) said Tillerson’s climate stance is a “bright spot”:

“I certainly have some significant disagreements with Mr. Tillerson’s recent corporate record, from the appropriate response to Russian aggression on the world stage to the importance of investment in cleaner forms of energy,” Udall said. “However, I appreciated the time and attention he devoted to answering my questions. In particular, I was pleased to learn more about his position on climate change policy. I’m encouraged that, contrary to the extreme statements by President-elect Trump, Mr. Tillerson believes in science and sees value in the United States remaining as a party to the Paris Agreement. I also appreciate that, in the past, he has advocated for solutions to reduce carbon emissions rather than denying the existence of climate change.” (emphasis added)

Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) echoed this statement. As CBS News reported,

Still, he [Booker] added that he was encouraged by the nominee’s comments on climate change and said he hoped to hear more from him on that publicly. “Climate change is real, and the science of climate change is real,” he said. “It—it was nice to hear him address that, and I think he should address that in a public forum.” (emphasis added)

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), rightly said,

“I think Democrats are sitting down with him and realizing that this guy is a scientist, an engineer that believes in science, and so on some of the issues that you know they care about, I think the answers they’re getting are much different than they thought,” Corker said. (emphasis added)

Even Steve Coll of the Columbia School of Journalism, which manufactured the original #ExxonKnew narrative, has noted that Tillerson was responsible for moving Exxon forward on climate issues. As Coll said in an NPR interview,

“[Tilllerson] started talking about climate in a different way. Yes, the risks are there. They’re serious. We should take them seriously.”

#3. #ExxonKnew claims on Russia and sanctions debunked

What the NextGen ad does focus all its time on is the claim that Tillerson has a close relationship with Russia and opposed sanctions on the country. From NextGen’s press release accompanying the ad,

“Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, maintained a self-described “very close relationship” with Vladimir Putin, receiving Russia’s Order of Friendship award in 2013. He later opposed American sanctions on Russia that have jeopardized Exxon’s deal with Russian-state oil company Rosneft, estimated to be worth as much as $500 billion. Tillerson also oversaw a lobbying effort to make the sanctions easier to be removed.”

What Tillerson and Exxon oppose are sanctions that aren’t applied in a uniform manner – especially ones that would put the United States at a disadvantage relative to policies put in place by the European Union. The 2014 EU sanctions against Russia contained a provision that allowed previous agreements between European companies and Russia to remain in place, while U.S. sanctions required canceling previous agreements.

So even though the assumption was that the sanctions would be applied across the board, what ended up happening was American companies lost economic opportunities, while EU, South American, and Asian companies just continued business as usual. This, in turn, meant that Russia was spared any real pain from the American-imposed sanctions. That’s why leaders from Vice President Joe Biden to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to President Obama himself have said that multilateral sanctions – not unilateral ones – are typically the better way to go.

As for the Order of Friendship award, let’s take a quick look at some of the other folks who have received this honorific over the years, including a few who will be quite familiar to environmental activists.

Let’s start with Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations (the body that runs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) who is perhaps the most notable recipient of the award. As the UN leader, Ban Ki-Moon has been spearheading international climate efforts since the 2010 climate conference in Cancun. He most recently headed up the UN Climate Summit in New York, ahead of 2015 Paris climate change conference.

Then there’s Jean Chretien, the former Prime Minister of Canada, who ratified the Kyoto Protocol. There’s also the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who has forcefully lobbied in favor of international climate treaties and wrote a 2014 op-ed titled “The rich West is ruining our planet.”

#4. Activists push #FakeNews claiming Exxon does all kinds of business in Iran even though it has no operations there

This week USA Today produced a story claiming ExxonMobil previously did all sorts of business in Iran. The piece was pitched to USA Today (only after literally every other reporter in New York and Washington passed on it) by a group called American Bridge, which is aligned with anti-energy activists.

But if USA Today was your only source of information on the issue you wouldn’t know that the company has no operations in Iran, or that once Exxon actually explained in detail all of this to the SEC when the agency asked about it back in the mid-2000s, the matter was essentially closed, with the SEC taking no further action (you can read the correspondence between Exxon and the SEC yourself online, hereherehere and here).

The bottom line is that if Exxon was actually doing something wrong, or the SEC had additional concerns or questions, the inquiry would have been extended, but it was not.

#5. Activists’ claim that Exxon “won” the 2016 election is a concession that they’ve lost

The Center for American Progress released a report this morning called “How Exxon Won the 2016 Election,” which makes a number of #FakeNews claims, including this one: “As the head of DOJ, Sen. Jeff Sessions would have the power to sweep [federal Department of Justice Exxon] investigations under the rug.”

The only problem? There never was an investigation from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, and for good reason. After California Reps. Ted Lieu (D) and Mark DeSaulnier (D) asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open an investigation of ExxonMobil, the Department of Justice punted the request to the FBI in March 2016 to determine if there was enough evidence to even warrant an investigation. There has been no movement on that ever since.

But the bigger point here is that by claiming Exxon “won” the election, they’re conceding that – after years of working to “to establish in public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution,” “delegitimize them as a political actor,” and “force officials to disassociate themselves from Exxon” – they’ve lost.

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