Heartland Institute Warming Skeptics Victimized by Fraud But Still Blamed by NYT Environmental Reporter Revkin

February 16th, 2012 1:12 PM

Andrew Revkin, former environmental reporter for the New York Times, and now “Dot Earth” blogger for the paper, showed a stark double standard in his reporting Wednesday on a batch of documents obtained by fraud from the Heartland Institute, a group skeptical of human-based global warming hysteria. Revkin even blamed the victim of the fraud for failing to condemn the previous leak of the "Climategate" emails.

At first glance the incident is similar to Climategate -- the leaked emails from the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit that rocked the scientific world in November 2009 and helped erode support for apocalyptic predictions of global warming. The Climategate emails included some shockingly shoddy science and venomous attacks on climate-change dissenters by ostensibly objective climate scientists, and documented attempts to avoid legal Freedom of Information Act requests.

Yet while Revkin's reporting has constantly spotlighted the Heartland Institute and other groups for taking corporate funding, he seems to assume climate-change scientists, who receive government funding while actively avoiding legal FOIA requests, are somehow immune to vested interests, such as keeping up the (now fading) drumbeat of a climate crisis.

Revkin's Climategate post on Dot Earth (written back when he was a fulltime reporter) took a dim view of the release of the emails, assuming illegality although the leaker has never been identified, leaving open the possibility an internal whistleblower was responsible.

The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won't be posted here. But a quick sift of skeptics' Web sites will point anyone to plenty of sources.

In a July 2010 post he even asked,“Was the East Anglia Incident a Crime?

But Revkin showed none of that moral disapproval in his Wednesday reporting, when it came to the undeniable theft from the Heartland Institute, a group skeptical of global warming:

A blog storm began building Tuesday and broke on Wednesday as environmental groups posted a batch of documents -- ranging from tax forms to lists of donors to a 2012 Heartland “climate strategy” -- that appeared to expose the group’s game plan, budgets and backers in remarkable detail.

Late on Wednesday, Heartland posted a statement asserting that the strategy document was a “total fake” and the others, while appearing to be authentic, might have been altered and were, in any case, obtained through criminal means.

Revkin quoted Heartland: “Identity theft and computer fraud are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment. We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes....honest disagreement should never be used to justify the criminal acts and fraud that occurred in the past 24 hours.” He then accused Heartland of hypocrisy, while signaling to readers that he agrees with the global warming alarmists:

Wouldn’t it have been great if a similar message had some from the group and its allies after the mass release of e-mails and files from the University of East Anglia climatic research center in 2009 and last year -- documents that skeptics quickly and repeatedly over-interpreted as a damning “Climategate”? That hasn’t been Heartland’s approach.

And it certainly isn’t Revkin’s approach now.

Update 15:02 | Matthew Sheffield. The full text of the statement from Heartland is below:

Yesterday afternoon, two advocacy groups posted online several documents they claimed were The Heartland Institute’s 2012 budget, fundraising, and strategy plans. Some of these documents were stolen from Heartland, at least one is a fake, and some may have been altered.

The stolen documents appear to have been written by Heartland’s president for a board meeting that took place on January 17. He was traveling at the time this story broke yesterday afternoon and still has not had the opportunity to read them all to see if they were altered.Therefore, the authenticity of those documents has not been confirmed.

Since then, the documents have been widely reposted on the Internet, again with no effort to confirm their authenticity.

One document, titled “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy,” is a total fake apparently intended to defame and discredit The Heartland Institute. It was not written by anyone associated with The Heartland Institute. It does not express Heartland’s goals, plans, or tactics. It contains several obvious and gross misstatements of fact.

We respectfully ask all activists, bloggers, and other journalists to immediately remove all of these documents and any quotations taken from them, especially the fake “climate strategy” memo and any quotations from the same, from their blogs, Web sites, and publications, and to publish retractions.

The individuals who have commented so far on these documents did not wait for Heartland to confirm or deny the authenticity of the documents. We believe their actions constitute civil and possibly criminal offenses for which we plan to pursue charges and collect payment for damages, including damages to our reputation. We ask them in particular to immediately remove these documents and all statements about them from the blogs, Web sites, and publications, and to publish retractions.

How did this happen?The stolen documents were obtained by an unknown person who fraudulently assumed the identity of a Heartland board member and persuaded a staff member here to “re-send” board materials to a new email address. Identity theft and computer fraud are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment. We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes.

Apologies:The Heartland Institute apologizes to the donors whose identities were revealed by this theft. We promise anonymity to many of our donors, and we realize that the major reason these documents were stolen and faked was to make it more difficult for donors to support our work. We also apologize to Heartland staff, directors, and our allies in the fight to bring sound science to the global warming debate, who have had their privacy violated and their integrity impugned.

Lessons:Disagreement over the causes, consequences, and best policy responses to climate change runs deep. We understand that.

But honest disagreement should never be used to justify the criminal acts and fraud that occurred in the past 24 hours. As a matter of common decency and journalistic ethics, we ask everyone in the climate change debate to sit back and think about what just happened.

Those persons who posted these documents and wrote about them before we had a chance to comment on their authenticity should be ashamed of their deeds, and their bad behavior should be taken into account when judging their credibility now and in the future.

The Heartland Institute is a 28-year-old national nonprofit organization with offices in Chicago, Illinois and Washington, DC. Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. For more information, visit our Web site at http://www.heartland.org or call 312/377-4000.