Rockefeller-Backed Group Fails in Pulitzer Bid

The winners of the 100th edition of the Pulitzer Prize awards were announced this week. And although the folks at InsideClimate News (ICN) didn’t actually win one for their tendentious and factually deficient reporting on ExxonMobil and climate change, we were disappointed to see them named as finalists – especially given everything that’s come to light over the past several weeks about how ICN even came around to being looped into this project in the first place.

Specifically, we’re talking about the serious questions that have been raised about what sure looks to be a pretty coordinated campaign among activists, ICN, contingent-fee lawyers, a handful of Democratic attorneys general, and the Rockefeller foundations to manufacture a pretext for bringing some form – any form! – of legal action against the company. The activists, based on what we know so far, provided the ideas and research; ICN provided the platform; the lawyers provided the means for getting to the attorneys general; and Rockefellers, as they’re wont to do, provided the money.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Free Beacon exposed how anti-fossil fuel activists met “behind closed doors” at the Rockefeller Family Fund offices in January to strategize on how to establish “in the public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution.” Further reporting by Reuters reveals that the New York Office of the Attorney General met with activists ahead of a press conference with former Vice President Al Gore intended to broaden the campaign against ExxonMobil, and instructed them not to reveal to the press that they had coordinated.

Rockefeller funding every step of the way

These reports have further revealed what EID has uncovered over the past few months: that the Rockefellers have been funding the #ExxonKnew campaign every step of the way – even before it had a name and hashtag. And it starts with ICN founder and publisher David Sassoon, who previously served as a consultant to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.  As the New York Times reported, ICN is

“an outgrowth of Mr. Sassoon’s consulting work for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a philanthropic group that emphasizes climate policy.”

The Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) Director, Lee Wasserman, told Reuters recently that his organization’s funding for ICN and the Columbia School of Journalism was specifically earmarked as part of “our push to drive better public understanding and better climate policy.”

The plot further thickens considering that the jury that made the decision on the Public Service award for the Pulitzer Prize includes Mike Hudson of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), an organization which cites the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund as major donors.  The jury also includes Robin Fields, managing director of ProPublica, which has received tens of thousands of dollars from the Rockefeller Family Foundation over the years. With a selection committee like that, it’s surprising they didn’t win the Noble Prize, too – in addition to the Pulitzer!

Of course, the Rockefellers provide lots of funding to all these groups – but, in the spirit of full disclosure, they’re not the only ones. The Ford Foundation and the Knight Foundation provide financial support to ICN, CPI, and ProPublica. The Grantham Foundation funds both ICN and CPI. The Park Foundation funds both ICN and CPI.

Sassoon equates ICN series with ending wars, preventing disease

Sassoon submitted a cover letter to the Pulitzer Board in January laying out why ICN should be recognized by the Pulitzer committee for “public service,” well before the extent of the collusion between the AGs, Rockefellers and anti-fossil fuel activists was known.  Now that these revelations have been brought to light, his claims don’t exactly ring true, to say the least. Sassoon claims,

“A completely independent team from The Los Angeles Times and the Columbia Journalism School later published work that corroborated our accounts, enriching the story with new revelations.”

It’s hard to convince folks that you’re “completely independent” when both teams were funded by the Rockefellers! Sassoon further describes how the ICN series spurred investigations by state attorneys general, as if this were a completely organic and independent reaction to ICN’s report:

“Within weeks of publication, the attorney general of New York issued Exxon a subpoena seeking extensive disclosure of its records to see if its actions constituted fraud under the state’s consumer and securities laws. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and many others have called for a federal investigation under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute, the law underpinning tobacco litigation of the 1990s. Most recently, news reports confirm the California attorney general is also investigating Exxon.”

But we now know that these investigations didn’t come together overnight: they are the product of four long years of careful planning and constant coordination among activists groups and the Rockefellers. In 2012, the Rockefellers funded a workshop in La Jolla, Calif., at which one of the topics discussed was the various ways they could help hasten an investigation into ExxonMobil via RICO laws.

ICN itself admitted last year that anti-fossil fuel activists had their sights on  New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as the man to launch this plan for quite some time: “Some climate advocacy groups have long urged that Schneiderman, a second-term Democrat, investigate Exxon and other companies under the 1921 statute.” (emphasis added)

But the icing on the cake is this statement from Sassoon:

“We do hope that the obscure Exxon papers we unearthed and the story we told to explain them will in time render as great a public service as shortening a war or preventing addiction, disease and death.”

Sassoon is actually putting this ICN series – which relies almost exclusively on cherry-picked statements and taken-out-of-context excerpts (see EID’s video here) – on par with ending war and preventing disease and death.  Is this guy living on the same planet as the rest of us?

Lack of transparency

As EID has pointed out, the Rockefeller funding was originally not disclosed anywhere on the Columbia School of Journalism pieces, which were published in the LA Times.  The outlet quietly updated the disclosure after it was called out for a lack of transparency.  In the wake of those developments, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) weighed in noting,

“But the practice also raises questions of balance in what subjects get reported, as well as appropriate disclosure of the outside funders and their political leanings. In the case of Columbia, The Energy and Environmental Reporting Project is funded in part by a group of philanthropic organizations, at least one with a clear advocacy bent on the issue. The names of the funders were not listed on the two articles when they were published by the Los Angeles Times, though they were later added online.” (emphasis added)

Bill Keller, editor in chief of the Marshall Project, told CJR that when it comes to nonprofit news, “most organized funders are geared for advocacy.” CJR adds that these organizations “often have a topical focus, and grants for subject-specific coverage inherently influence what journalism reaches the public.”

Not to put too fine a point on all this, but: is there anything connected to the #ExxonKnew campaign that the Rockefellers didn’t fund?


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