Report: Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page

Update: The report was covered in E&E News (subscription), Mother Jones, Think Progress and DeSmogBlog. Click-through for more on our groundbreaking research on fossil fuel-funded groups in the media.

Fossil fuel-funded front groups, commonly referred to as “think tanks” or “institutes”, have been secretly influencing the media and the public on energy issues by moving pro-fossil fuel messaging.

These groups, and their proponents, have been quoted on average every other day for the past five years in 60 of the largest mainstream newspapers and publications. Despite having received millions of dollars from fossil fuel interests, such as ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, these groups’ financial ties to the fossil fuel industry are rarely mentioned.

The Checks and Balances Project’s report, “Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page,” uncovered the extent of this deception by focusing on the 10 most prominent fossil fuel front groups’ traction in 58 of the largest daily newspapers, the Associated Press and Politico. This analysis does not include mentions in broadcast, radio or online publications for these 10 advocacy groups.  As a result, this report only scratches the surface on these fossil fuel-funded groups’ influence on the energy debate.

Fossil fuel-funded advocacy groups’ failure to divulge their ties to the fossil fuel industry in one story is regrettable, but doing it in over 1,000 stories appears to be planned deception.

Here is a summary of the report findings (download a PDF of the report here):

1. Fossil fuel interests have provided at least $16.5 million to 10 organizations from 2006-2010.
Organizational Recipients of Funding

2. Fossil fuel-funded organizations used targeted, focused messaging to support fossil energy sources and attack clean energy.

Media Mentions by Topic

3. Within a five-year period, these groups and their personnel have been mentioned on energy issues at least 1,010 times in major daily newspapers, averaging four mentions a week – or more than once every other day.

Number of Energy Issue Placements for Each Organization 2007-2011
4. Media descriptions of these organizations (beyond their name) were not included in a majority of mentions. If described, descriptions typically focused on the organizations’ function (e.g., “think tank”) or location (e.g., “DC-based”), not their motivation. Almost all of the rare descriptions of motivation used self-identified ideology (i.e., “conservative,” “free market” or “libertarian”), not their financial ties to fossil fuel interests.

How Organizations Are Described

5. Media outlets routinely omitted any mention of the financial ties between the 10 organizations and the fossil fuel interests providing funding. The link between fossil fuel funders and organizations was described only 6% of the time.

Major Metropolitan Dailies with No Mention
6. These organizations received heavier coverage in influential newspapers that help shape the national agenda, including Politico, The Washington Post, USA Today and The New York Times.Appearances in National Newspapers

7. Despite being labeled as “free market” or “libertarian,” these organizations focus their criticism almost exclusively on clean energy policy investments. They make few – if any – references to government support for fossil fuels.

These findings will hopefully encourage more disclosure in our nation’s top media outlets. The Checks & Balances Project suggests a simple question to ask pundits and experts being quoted, cited or published in the media: “Do you get money, directly or indirectly, from interests that stand to benefit from what you are saying?”

With more transparency, members of the American public will know when an opinion may be biased and will be better informed on these critical questions about our energy future.

Fossil Fuel-Funded Think Tank Promulgates “Study” Attacking Wind and Solar

The Heartland Institute, which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry, including Koch Industries, rightly came under criticism this week for its secretive role in promulgating anti-climate change science.

Sadly, fossil fuel-funded efforts to spread misinformation using benign-sounding front groups don’t stop with climate change. The fossil fuel industry has also used this strategy of third-party front groups to attack clean energy technologies.

Just last month the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) released a new series attacking the renewable energy industry. AEI has received at least $11.8 million from the fossil fuel industry, including Koch Industries, according to public IRS 990 forms recently obtained via Media Matters’ Conservative Transparency.

When you look at AEI’s funding and relationships, you see a clear connection to fossil fuels that never gets mentioned in their reports. Read more of this post

Anti-Clean Energy ‘Pundit’ Unhinged By Basic Question: Are You Bankrolled By Fossil Fuels?

By Gabe Elsner

The fossil fuel lobby aggressively uses lobbying and propaganda to block public health protections, manipulate the energy debate, defend their massive government handouts and attack clean energy sources that threaten to displace them.

No tool goes unused: Traditional lobbying, “Super PAC” donations, software that floods opinion websites with favorable comments, and a network of well-funded front groups and commentators who launder fossil fuel industry talking points.

Robert Bryce and his employer, The Manhattan Institute, are among the most aggressive of a growing class of talkers underwritten by fossil fuels to write commentary talking down clean energy and playing down the cost and public health problems of fossil fuel dependence.

Bryce has written four books and appeared in hundreds of articles and opinion pieces, from the conservative National Review, to mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, National Public Radio and PBS. Mr. Bryce is quickly securing the top position as the leading marketer for fossil fuels.

Bryce, a former journalist, has consistently been able to position himself as an intellectually independent energy expert. He has never acknowledged fossil fuel underwriting – though Manhattan Institute records show that since 1985, it has received $6.7 million from fossil fuel interests, including the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil.

I asked Bryce if he had financial ties to the fossil fuel industry after his debate appearance before the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners conference on Monday. Not only did Bryce refuse to answer the question, he also launched into an angry, finger-pointing tirade saying that I’d “made up” the amount of fossil fuel support documented by Manhattan Institute records.

I break it down here:


And the raw video is here.

As 50 current and former journalists told The New York Times in a petition we launched last year, it’s fine for Bryce to echo fossil fuel talking points. But it’s not acceptable for him to hide that he’s doing that for the fossil fuel industry and leave himself positioned in bylines as somehow intellectually honest. Based on records and Bryce’s response, it seems pretty clear that Bryce is functioning as a paid spokesman of the natural gas industry (and other fossil fuels). But wearing that on his sleeve would lose his “echo chamber” effect because he wouldn’t be the seemingly independent voice that fossil fuel industries need to say things they don’t have the credibility to say themselves.

Note: Based on our experience from last year’s True Ties petition, this will draw a pretty aggressive response from Bryce’s fellow travelers, such as Washington Examiner Editorial Page Editor, Mark Tapscott (CPAC “conservative journalist of the year”), and National Review Online Editor, Ed Craig, a former Manhattan Institute PR guy. To put their mind at ease, we do answer the funding question here. We’re unabashedly clean energy, and we’d love to get support from clean energy industries (potential funders – please consider!).

Disclosing the ‘true ties’ of op-ed writers

Today, 50 current and former journalists, media professors and media professionals joined The Checks and Balances Project to ask the New York Times to end the pervasive practice of industry-funded pundits placing opinion pieces that favors their funders, without these financial ties being disclosed to readers.

Through http://www.trueties.org, petitioners can ask the New York Times to end the masquerade of bought and biased pundits by ensuring that op-ed submission finalists disclose their financial ties – and reveal those conflicts to readers.

Here’s how this masquerade works. Earlier this summer, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Robert Bryce – an increasingly prominent proponent of fossil fuels and an aggressive critic of clean energy technologies – under the byline of “senior fellow” at the Manhattan Institute. Here’s the problem – Mr. Bryce’s employer, the Manhattan Institute, has received nearly three million dollars in funding from fossil fuel interests like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. Nowhere was Bryce’s ties to fossil fuels told to readers.

The Trueties.org campaign asks the New York Times to set the industry standard and ensure their readers get the full story. By implementing better disclosure standards, the New York Times can stop the “Bryce Masquerade” and ensure better transparency.

Bought and biased pundits have the right to be heard; but we should know their true ties.

Go to www.trueties.org to see the full list of journalists who’ve signed the petition, to sign the petition and to learn more.

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