Rockefellers Promised Access to Publisher of InsideClimate News, Emails Show

InsideClimate News (ICN) has insisted over and over that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) and the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF), which have been bankrolling the entire #ExxonKnew campaign, have absolutely no editorial authority over the stories they publish, including the series they released last year proclaiming that Exxon “knew” about climate change in the 1970s before climate scientists even understood the data. This is something the media has largely swallowed without scrutiny.

But newly released emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign raise serious questions about the veracity of these claims. In one telling email, Michael Northrop of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund sends Clinton campaign chair John Podesta an article by #ExxonKnew activist Naomi Oreskes with the subject line “For the Debate next week.” Here’s what Northrop said:

InsideClimate News is the source of these stories. Hope you’ve been seeing them. Happy to make an intro to the publisher, David Sassoon.

ICN publisher David Sassoon, who just happens to be a former Rockefeller Brothers Fund consultant, has repeatedly brushed off the accusation that the anti-fossil fuel billionaires funding #ExxonKnew have had any hand in what ICN is doing. As Politico reported,

“InsideClimate News, which was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist last month for its Exxon stories, says it has received $25,000 from the Rockefeller Family Fund, or about 2 percent of the company’s budget. The idea that the funding is influencing its news coverage is ‘an easy accusation, but it’s completely baseless,’ founder and publisher David Sassoon told POLITICO. ‘Our funders have no access to our editorial and they never have.’” (emphasis added)

The Washington Times further reported,

“InsideClimate founder and publisher David Sassoon, a former Rockefeller consultant who has described himself as an advocate for the ‘clean energy economy,’ dismissed the newly launched site, calling the bias allegation ‘laughable nonsense.’” (emphasis added)

According to a report by Bloomberg BNA,

“Since 2013, the separate Rockefeller Brothers Fund has provided InsideClimate with $200,000 a year; that fund had no say over what the website published, according to David Sassoon, InsideClimate’s founder and publisher.” (emphasis added)

And, as ICN says on its “About” page:

“Donors who support our award-winning environmental journalism do not have access to our editorial process or decision-making. Please be mindful of false reports that suggest otherwise, or that seek to discredit our news organization with misinformation and mischaracterization. Our hard-hitting watchdog reporting provokes retaliation and unfounded smears of many varieties. We do not respond to most of them. Our work speaks for itself.” (emphasis added)

The Rockefellers have made similar pronouncements, of course. Lee Wasserman, the long-time director of the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF), who actually spearheaded a January 2016 strategy meeting at the RFF headquarters to strategize ways to “delegitimize” Exxon, told the Huffington Post that RFF had no idea that ICN was going to produce its #ExxonKnew series:

“Wasserman said the grant to Inside Climate News was made without any knowledge that it would be used for the reporting project. The grant to Columbia Journalism School was directed at ‘public interest research into what the fossil fuel industry understood about the science of climate change and how they acted given that understanding both internally and regarding the public,’ but it did not target Exxon Mobil specifically, Wasserman said.”

InsideClimate News produced a similar report quoting Wasserman as saying,

“We first learned about it when everybody else read about it,” Wasserman said. “The information that was unearthed was stunning and struck us as beyond the pale of what a corporation interested in protecting the public interest would do. … As a matter of good governance, we felt it imperative to sever our tie with the corporation.”

So Sassoon and the Rockefellers have gone overboard to swear they are not working together, but now we have an email from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of ICN’s biggest funders, promising Hillary’s campaign direct access to Sassoon.

Not all outlets have taken ICN and the Rockefellers at their word, however. Remember, the National Review pointed out that this relationship is a glaring conflict of interest:

“But its critics claim that InsideClimate News is essentially a mouthpiece run by a public-relations consultancy that gets its funding almost exclusively from groups with an environmental agenda…The little that is known about InsideClimate News raises questions about conflicts of interest as well as about the publication’s ability, and proclivity, to report fairly and without bias.”

Turns out the National Review’s take was just the tip of the iceberg. This latest email shows, once again, that ICN is at the beck and call of the wealthy organizations that fund it, proving its claims of editorial independence are nothing but a bad joke.




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