The story on CNN Money yesterday was ominous. “Warning: ExxonMobil may be in irreversible decline,” the headline read. Reporter Matt Egan wrote that the company is “in the midst of a serious slump,” and that the company’s stock is down from its 2014 peak, a feature of the market downturn and low commodity prices that have impacted virtually every oil and natural gas producer. Egan’s thesis, though, was based on the claims of Tom Sanzillo, a former deputy comptroller of New York, but who now is the director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
Although Egan did note that IEEFA is bankrolled in part by several foundations associated with the Rockefellers, he did not disclose the significance of that funding: the Rockefellers have been the common financial link among the myriad activist groups behind the #ExxonKnew climate campaign. One of the goals of that campaign, according to its own adherents, is to “drive divestment from Exxon.”
The IEEFA report and subsequent news coverage provide a window into the well-orchestrated strategy against Exxon, particularly the digital echo chamber that the activists have carefully created to make the #ExxonKnew campaign appear much larger and significant than it actually is.
‘That Has to Hurt’
Within minutes of the CNN Money story’s release, the environmental activists pushing the #ExxonKnew climate conspiracy had jumped into action. Chief #ExxonKnew instigator Bill McKibben tweeted out the story, as did the co-founder of 350.org, Jamie Henn. “Oof, that has to hurt,” Henn wrote in reference to the CNN Money headline. Other members of 350.org promoted the story, as did the official #ExxonKnew campaign Twitter account. The Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk shared the story a few hours later, along with the Occupy Wall Street account.
CNN: Exxon may be in 'irreversible decline.' (True of all of us, come to think of it–maybe corps really are people) https://t.co/swSlfjyngH
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) October 26, 2016
Other activists, including individuals associated with the Climate Investigations Center, shared the link to the IEEFA report itself.
The Huffington Post – a left-wing website that has provided a forum to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and others to compare the fossil fuel industry to tobacco – published its own story later that day, which members of Food & Water Watch and other activists shared. The next morning, the activists at InsideClimate News – which helped launch the #ExxonKnew campaign last year – decided to “re-up” the CNN Money story by sharing it on Twitter, too.
— InsideClimate News (@insideclimate) October 27, 2016
With few if any exceptions, all of these actors have received funding from the Rockefellers, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund.
The Rockefeller family has been pressuring Exxon for years to change its investment strategies, but those efforts have largely failed. Earlier this year, the family accused the company of “morally reprehensible conduct,” and said “there is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons.”
With the exception of CNN Money’s passing mention of the Rockefeller funding, none of this was disclosed by the reporters covering IEEFA’s accusations.
Strategy vs. Facts
The opportunity for the #ExxonKnew campaign to promote a news headline with the words “irreversible decline” clearly proved impossible to resist. That the media would cover such a report with little scrutiny, however, is puzzling – especially given the abundant financial information showing the exact opposite of what the IEEFA report was alleging.
When the CNN Money report was published, Exxon’s stock price had steadily risen since trading opened that morning. As of this writing, Exxon’s stock sits at $87.48, which is nearly a dollar higher than what it was Wednesday morning before CNN Money’s story ran. Over the past year, the stock has increased by about five percent.
Although IEEFA was clearly doing its part to try to “drive divestment from Exxon,” traders and other financial experts clearly disagreed with its premise – and for good reason.
Last month, a story in U.S. News & World Report called ExxonMobil “quite possibly, the best pound-for-pound energy stock on the planet.” Numerous other reports from the investor community have come to a similar conclusion, with recent headlines like “Exxon Mobil – Best Choice for Income in Energy,” “Exxon Mobil: Safe Haven For Oil Dividend Investors During The Oil Crash,” and “ExxonMobil: Major Projects Will Fuel Future Growth And Help Protect The Dividend.”
It was impressive how the #ExxonKnew campaign was able to quickly mobilize and promote what a casual observer might think is an objective financial analysis, creating scores of tweets and Facebook posts that supported the campaign’s narrative. But like so much from the #ExxonKnew campaign – including its premise – the activity was a lot of sound and fury that ultimately signified nothing.
Meanwhile, Hannah Hess from E&E News made an important observation in her story. Tom Sanzillo, the author of the report, is president of a firm called T.R. Rose Associates. According to E&E News, T.R. Rose is “a company with clients working in alternative energy.”