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Fox guarding the henhouse at Columbia

Anyone following the recent reporting about ExxonMobil’s climate research will know we have taken great issue with inaccurate stories published recently in the Los Angeles Times and by InsideClimate News.

We have worked to correct the record wherever and whenever possible.

Politico has taken notice of those efforts, publishing a story yesterday afternoon that raises serious questions about practices by Columbia University’s Journalism School.

Columbia_ClimateFacts_Feature_ 11-2015The story reports on a recent letter I sent to Columbia University president Lee Bollinger – which you can read here – concerning discredited stories by Columbia Journalism School researchers that were published in the Los Angeles Times.

We wanted to bring the numerous inaccuracies in those stories and apparent violation of research protocol to the attention of the university’s leadership. Our letter outlined problems with the conduct of the Columbia researchers as well as the end products as they appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The letter is well worth your time, so please read it.

This isn’t a disagreement about energy policy or education philosophy – this is a case of intentional misrepresentation of key facts by a Columbia journalism team apparently working under the direction of Steve Coll, dean of the Journalism School. It should be pointed out that Mr. Coll is also the author of a 2012 book about ExxonMobil that was critical of our corporation.

We also thought it important that Columbia explain something its journalism school researchers failed to disclose when the stories were published – namely, the connection between the J-school researchers involved in the L.A. Times articles and the undisclosed network of activist funders who bankrolled their efforts and those of InsideClimate News.

The list of the Columbia project’s funders includes the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – an organization with a stated position and bias against the oil and natural gas industry in general and our company in particular. Other funders include activist groups such as the Energy Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Rockefeller Family Fund, and the Tellus Mater Foundation.

Such an important fact was never disclosed to the readers of the Los Angeles Times, which would appear to violate the university’s research policies forbidding misrepresentation. (Apparently, however, hiding relevant information from readers does accord with Los Angeles Times policies. Editors at the paper tell us they stand by the stories.)

I wrote the letter to President Bollinger in the hope that an institution with the august reputation that Columbia enjoys might take this matter seriously. I hoped the university would take steps to ensure the mistakes that were made do not get repeated in the future.

Perhaps I set my hopes too high.

I was shocked to read in the Politico story that Mr. Bollinger has tasked Journalism School dean Steve Coll – the person in charge of the very entity whose seeming malfeasance deserves special scrutiny – with handling the response to our charges.

If there is a clearer example of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, I can’t think of one. The move signals that Columbia does not intend to take this matter seriously at all.

Our contention is that the public deserves all the facts on these matters. That’s why we have been upfront and transparent about our activities.

Sadly, one can’t say the same for Columbia and its Journalism School. Perhaps President Bollinger might consider changing its name to something more accurate – how about the Columbia University School of Journalism Activism?



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