In its reportage on climate change research at ExxonMobil, the Los Angeles Times made a very telling editorial decision.
The paper chose not to publish the document it cites as Exhibit A in its case against us: a 1989 presentation to Exxon’s board of directors by senior company scientist Duane Levine.
I have no doubt why the newspaper doesn’t want the public to see this document.
When you read it – which you can do here – it soon becomes clear that the document undercuts the paper’s claims that ExxonMobil knew with certainty everything there is to know about global warming back in the 1980s yet failed to sound alarms.
By deliberately hiding this report from readers (while simultaneously citing it to make damaging claims about our corporation’s history of scientific research), the Los Angeles Times undermines the already low levels of trust in the media and in the media’s ability to cover issues of science and policy with accuracy and fairness.
Here’s what the L.A. Times wrote in its most recent piece:
Duane Levine, Exxon’s manager of science and strategy development, gave a primer to the company’s board of directors in 1989, noting that scientists generally agreed gases released by burning fossil fuels could raise global temperatures significantly by the middle of the 21st century — between 2.7 and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit — causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, “with generally negative consequences.”
Case closed, or so the Times would have you think.
But here’s the crucial part the L.A. Times left out from the very first page of Levine’s presentation (PEG stands for “Potential Enhanced Greenhouse,” by the way):
What else did the paper neglect to quote from Levine’s presentation? Consider this passage from page 31:
Furthermore, the supposed coup de grace in the L.A. Times story was an attempt to uncover “ExxonMobil’s position” as one of doubt and obfuscation. The evidence, the Times made clear, came directly from the Levine presentation. Here’s what the paper wrote:
So Levine laid out a plan for the “Exxon Position”: In order to stop the momentum behind the issue, Levine said Exxon should emphasize that doubt. Tell the public that more science is needed before regulatory action is taken, he argued, and emphasize the “costs and economics”
As it turns out, the report actually has a section entitled “Exxon’s Position.” And here is, word-for-word, how it is laid out in the presentation:
- Improve Understanding
- Extend the Science
- Include the Costs/Economics
- Face Social-Political Realities
- Stress Environmentally Sound and Adaptive Efforts
- Support Conservation
- Restrict CFCs
- Improve Global Re/De Forestation
In fact, here’s the screenshot from the actual report, which also includes Levine’s conclusion that to be a “responsible participant and part of the solution” to the climate change challenge, the company should continue research, support energy efficiency, reduce emissions, and pursue new technologies.
(Click image to enlarge.)
Is it any wonder the L.A. Times chose not to disclose this document to its readers? Or that the paper continues to fail to make the presentation available on its website?
Doing so would reveal its investigative work is not only unsupported by the supposed evidence, but is actually completely undermined by their “prize document” in a way that casts serious doubt on the ethics and agendas of its reporters.
Levine’s presentation from 25 years ago makes clear we wanted to pursue – and support – greater scientific understanding, which we have done and continue to do.
Does the Levine document prove, as some claim, that our corporation was convinced beyond all doubt a quarter century ago that global climate change would happen and what the effects would be?
Hardly. Even in 2015, the leading international scientific authority on climate change – the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – acknowledges wide gaps in climate science exist that further research must address.
Without producing the Levine document for readers to judge for themselves, the Times felt it could make whatever claims it wants, while expecting readers to rely on the reporters’ interpretations for accuracy.
Of course, this is not 1989, when media consumers only had a few options, a few city papers dominated, and there was no Internet.
In 2015, we know from cases like this that blind trust in those claiming to have the truth is unwarranted.
For those interested in finding real solutions to the risks of climate change – whether you are an elected leader, a policymaker, or concerned member of the public – it starts with doing your own due diligence.