Major news outlets often mislead readers by failing to report the fossil fuel funding of the conservative think tanks they cite and quote, according to a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Journalists commonly cited eight groups with known oil, gas, and coal funding: The American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and Institute for Energy Research (and its arm American Energy Alliance).
In total, they were cited 357 times, but outlets identified their funding from the Koch brothers, American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, or General Motors a mere one-third of the time:
Based on a Nexus search, UCS’s Elliott Negin found the rate of reporting varies widely across outlets: Politico and the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press disclosed funding over 40 percent of the time. The two largest papers in the country, USA Today and Wall Street Journal (owned by Rupert Murdoch), disclosed this information the least. And if Koch Industries succeeds in its bid for the Los Angeles Times, along with seven other major papers, it is possible the average will drop even more.
By not disclosing what exactly fuels myths about climate change science and clean energy, readers are free to take claims from groups at face value. Take an example from Politico on Wednesday, which ran an article on wind turbines and the California condor. Politico quotes the American Energy Alliance at length, but only identifies it as “the political arm of the energy industry-funded Institute for Energy Research,” although the Koch affiliate has pledged to fight wind energy.
One reason for journalists return to fossil fuel talking heads is false balance. Journalists include quotes from climate deniers to present “the other side,” even though on issues like climate, one is overwhelmingly substantiated in the scientific field. Bloomberg News recently did this by giving equal weight to climate science denier Marc Morano’s long-debunked arguments.