Greenpeace Demands Answers, Balance in Newsweek’s Pay-to-Play Forum with Big Oil

Media release - November 6, 2009
Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford today pressed Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham for answers on the magazine’s financial ties to Big Oil companies and for balance in an upcoming “pay-to-play” forum about climate legislation that currently includes only one panelist, Big Oil’s top lobbyist.

Recent reports from Greenwire and Talking Points Memo detail Newsweek's history of selling advertising packages to the American Petroleum Institute (API) in exchange for the right for co-host "public policy forums" with API President Jack Gerard. This controversy follows in the wake of revelations that Newsweek's sister publication, The Washington Post, organized top-dollar "salons" between corporate lobbyists, top government officials, and Post staff.

In Radford's letter, he demands that Newsweek disclose the total amount of advertising revenue they have received from API this year and how much money the company has made in return for organizing the forums. He also urges Newsweek help provide some balance on their panel by including a leading clean energy advocate such as Carl Pope of the Sierra Club, an independent climate expert such as NASA scientist Jim Hansen, and a prominent spokesperson for the countries most vulnerable to unchecked climate change like President Mohamed Nasheed of the Republic of Maldives.

Newsweek asserts there is a separation between the advertising revenue it has been paid by API and its news operation. However, the forum will be held on December 1st, "moderated" by Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman, part of the magazine's news division.

The full text of Radford's letter is below.

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Mr. Jon Meacham

Editor, Newsweek

395 Hudson St.

New York, NY 10014

Dear Mr. Meacham:

Yesterday, Talking Points Memo, The New York Times and Environment and Energy Publishing reported on Newsweek's disturbing practice of selling its name and the participation of a top commentator to industry lobbyists. These include five "energy policy" forums, and another upcoming forum on December 1st. I was recently forwarded the attached invitation from Newsweek External Relations Manager Jennifer Slattery to attend that forum entitled, "Climate and Energy Policy: Moving?" This panel is strategically planned exactly one week before the crucial global climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

At present, the panel's only member is American Petroleum Institute (API) President Jack Gerard.

As you know, Mr. Gerard is the nation's top registered lobbyist for Big Oil. API and its biggest member, ExxonMobil, have aggressively lobbied against global warming policy solutions that will inevitably limit global consumption of oil. API and its members have spent tens of millions of dollars over the past decade alone on propaganda efforts and front groups to undercut public confidence in the wide and deep global scientific consensus that global warming is real, that human consumption of fossil fuels is driving it, and that the problem is a serious threat to America and the rest of the world.

Mr. Gerard's outlier activities put him on the opposite side of the world scientific consensus formed of thousands of scientists on the Nobel Prize- winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That consensus has been recognized by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator John McCain, retired military leaders such as General Anthony Zinni, and the heads of major corporations.

It's clearly not my place to tell you how to run your news organization. However, as one of your readers, I want to save you the extended embarrassment experienced by Newsweek's sister publication, The Washington Post, when it considered "salons" that would have given polluting industry lobbyists access to top Post news staff. That story was an example of the conflicts that can arise when a news publication sells its name to those lobbying for influence through public relations opportunities.

I hope you'll consider that it is not a good idea for news organizations, however financially troubled in this recession, to sponsor public relations functions with the lobbyist for the world's most powerful polluting industry.

To restore some credibility to this upcoming forum, I request that Newsweek and The Washington Post Company take the following steps:

   1. First, disclose the total amount of advertising revenue the company has received from the American Petroleum Institute and its member companies in 2009.

   2. Second, disclose the specific amount of money Newsweek has made by selling its name for use in these "public policy forums."

   3. Third, balance the panel to avoid the appearance of pay-to-play propaganda by expanding it to include:

    * Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, or the head of another environmental group working to address global warming

    * An independent scientist such as top NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen

    * Republic of Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, who is preparing to move his entire nation due to rising sea waters and acidified seas.

At the risk of being presumptuous, we have already begun contacting each of these three men to see if they would consider participating in your forum at Newsweek's expense.

These people would balance the panel by:

    * Pairing Mr. Gerard, a top lobbyist and propaganda funder working against solving the global warming, with an advocate who is promoting solutions to the problem.

    * Providing a top international scientific expert on the impacts and urgency of global warming, who has nothing financially to gain from his viewpoint.

    * Adding the benefit of a leader who is engaged in the global treaty negotiations and president of a nation that will likely cease to exist because of the burning of the product produced by Mr. Gerard's industry.

Especially given the stakes for humanity, I hope you will use this forum as an opportunity to discuss the best way to move our nation to a clean energy economy. A broad array of national security experts have identified global warming as one of the national greatest security threats of the 21st century. For the rest of the world, the urgency is just as great:  The new report by Save the Children predicts that 250,000 children will die next year from the severe impacts of global climate change.

Considering that last fact alone during the panel should make for a much more interesting conversation with Mr. Gerard before members of Congress.

We look forward to your prompt response to this letter. I want to assist Newsweek in balancing this event to avoid further damage to Newsweek's reputation, and to ensure public is better informed about the urgency of addressing this problem in accordance with the wide and deep scientific consensus that already exists.

Regards,

Phil Radford

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Contacts: Joe Smyth, 831-566-5647, , Adam Feiler, 703-302-8395,