Center for Independent Thought: Stossel in the Classroom

Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group

$325,000 from Koch foundations, 2007-2018

The Center for Independent Thought is the re-branded version of the Libertarian Review Foundation, after being taken over by New York real estate tycoon Howie Rich, and his wife Andrea. As PBS reported in 2006, the Rich family had worked with Charles Koch in the 1970’s and 1980’s in his push to promote, and influence, a more powerful Libertarian party through mainstream politics (a strategy Koch abandoned in favor of long-term, outside spending, until after the 2010 U.S. midterm elections).

The Center for Independent Thought (CIT) owns and operates Stossel in the Classroom, the teaching series for middle and high school teachers based on the punditry of John Stossel, a former FOX Business host who consistently denies the scientific evidence of global warming. CIT also serves as a pass-through organization for grants to Koch-affiliated organizations, according to CIT’s tax filings. Stossel’s lessons include “Both Sides” debates, featuring videos of Stossel downplaying or denying various aspects of anthropogenic climate change. (See screenshots, below). At the end of 2016, John Stossel left FOX Business to become an “educator” at the Charles Koch Institute and to work with ReasonTV, affiliated with the Reason Foundation, on a new platform for young libertarians. Organizations founded and controlled by Charles Koch worked closely with John Stossel before he joined the Charles Koch Institute.

As reported by Counterpunch in 2011, the material for Stossel’s videos were produced by economics professors at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, which was founded by Charles Koch. The GMU economics department, law school and two think tanks that Charles Koch continues to finance and manage have received over $100 million dollars (2005-2015), more than any other Koch-funded university.

Through its funding and management, CIT and John Stossel were woven into Charles Koch’s political influence network. CIT past and present board members include longtime friends and fellow donors within the Koch network, such as Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O’Keefe, and Cato Institute executive David Boaz, and New Year real estate mogul Howie Rich, married to former CIT president Andrea Rich, who died in 2018.

CIT acts as a pass-through for grants to the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. CIT itself increasingly hides its own funding through dark money funnels like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, according to Media Matters.

John Stossel and Climate Change:

The 2009 edition of ABC News’ Stossel in the Classroom featured a segment explicitly telling students there is still debate “about whether or not human activity is the cause” of climate change (14 years prior to the Stossel lesson, even ‘conservative’ scientific authorities like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considered climate change proven beyond reasonable doubt by 1995).

The Stossel in the Classroom segment included numerous debunked arguments, such as atmospheric CO2 changes lag behind temperature changes or that global warming is caused by the Sun. Stossel featured several scientists with direct or indirect ties to fossil fuel companies and front groups, including John Christy, Tim Ball and Roy Spencer, who famously labeled those who recognize climate science to be “Global Warming Nazi’s.” Stossel mocks the notion of a “denial machine,” or a network of groups and people paid by fossil fuel interests to create doubt over climate science.

Teachers using the Stossel lesson plan were encouraged to ask questions such as, “If there is overwhelming evidence that global warming is a trend that will worsen and that we are causing it, why are people such as John Stossel questioning it?” The Stossel lesson plan encourages students to discuss quotes from people like Fred L Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and instructs students to use the Internet to find the “Oregon Petition,” a misleading petition co-published by the Exxon-funded George C. Marshall Institute.

Complimenting its misleading portrayal of climate science, Stossel in the Classroom has promoted fossil fuel use. The program hosted  energy industry consultant Alex Epstein, who is paid by energy companies to claim that “fossil fuels improve the planet,” gave a platform for author Jason Mattera that hollywood celebrities promote the “scam” of climate science, and hosted a discussion on “energy independence” with pundits from fossil-fuel funded think tanks (Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute, and Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute, before Taylor became an advocate for climate mitigation policies at the Niskanen Center).

John Stossel has participated in conferences put on by top climate denial organizations, such as The Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity.

Screenshots from Stossel in the Classroom website:


More Information:

PolluterWatch: Center for Independent Thought

PolluterWatch: John Stossel

DeSmog: John Stossel

SourceWatch: John Stossel

Media Matters: The Right-Wing Money Putting John Stossel In School Classrooms

LittleSis Network map: Center for Independent Thought

LittleSis Network map: John Stossel

Conservative Transparency: Center for Independent Thought funding, and donations to other groups

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