Oil Lobbyist's "News" Denies Inconvenient Truths

WTOK-11's Hot Air Misleads Viewers

Submitted by Daniel Price on
Clients: TCS Daily
Release Date: May 2006
Aired By: 1 station
Disclosed By: No stations

There is no doubt that global warming is a real phenomenon, largely caused by human activities—although the oil industry would have you believe otherwise. Much like the tobacco industry—whose campaign to deny the health dangers of smoking can be summed up by an infamous internal memo stating "doubt is our product"—the oil industry funds scientists, think tanks and organizations who dutifully challenge the large, varied and growing base of evidence of climate change. These unassailable truths might have led Big Oil to fake news.

In June 2006, the broadcast PR firm Medialink Worldwide put out a video news release (VNR) titled, "Global Warming and Hurricanes: All Hot Air?" In accompanying materials, the firm identified "TCS Daily Science Roundtable" as the client behind the segment. But Medialink didn't disclose that TCS Daily is a website published by Tech Central Station and was, at the time, a project of the Republican lobbying and PR firm DCI Group. (In October 2006, DCI sold the TCS Daily website.) Or that DCI Group counts among its clients ExxonMobil. Or that ExxonMobil gave the Tech Central Science Foundation $95,000 in 2003, for "climate change support."

The VNR features Dr. William Gray and Dr. James J. O'Brien, who are identified as "two of the nation's top weather and ocean scientists." Gray denies that there's any link between global warming and the severity of recent hurricane seasons. "We don't think that's the case," he says. "This is the way nature sometimes works." The VNR attributes increased hurricane activity to "the cycle of nature."

In reality, the link between climate change and hurricane severity not been disproved. "No one doubts that since the early 1990s storms have increased in their intensity and no one doubts that average sea temperatures have increased slightly over the past 30 years," explained Andrew Buncombe in an August 2006 article for The Independent. "Whether there is a link between these two phenomena remains unanswered."

Peer-reviewed scientific studies on the issue have reached conflicting conclusions, though an in-depth analysis reported in September 2006 found "a large human influence" on rising sea-surface temperatures, which lead to stronger hurricanes. The same month, Nature magazine reported on a position paper from federal scientists that linked intensified hurricanes to global warming; the document was reportedly quashed by the Bush administration.

The TCS Daily VNR is correct in identifying Drs. Gray and O'Brien as meteorologists with extensive experience predicting hurricanes. However, Gray appears to have an ideological axe to grind with regard to climate change. In June 2006, he told the Denver Post that global warming is a "hoax," something that "they've been brainwashing us [about] for 20 years."

O'Brien has a history of associating himself with corporate-funded climate change skeptics. He's on Tech Central Station's "Science Roundtable" and is also listed as an expert at the George C. Marshall Institute. In 2004, the Institute received $170,000 from ExxonMobil, for "climate change activities."

Sadly, none of these affiliations, caveats or complexities were communicated when WTOK-11 (Meridian, MS) aired as "news" an edited and re-voiced version of the TCS Daily VNR, on May 31, 2006.

WTOK-11 anchor Tom Daniels introduced the segment by saying, "Hurricane seasons for the next 20 years could be severe. But don't blame global warming." Viewers were not told that what followed was nothing but hot air, paid by and scripted for oil company lobbyists.

In August 2006, DCI Group was linked to a short "amateur" parody posted on a popular video-sharing website. The clip belittled the threat from global warming and ridiculed Al Gore's climate change documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Wall Street Journal reporters Antonio Regalado and Dionne Searcey noted that "through Tech Central Station ... DCI has sought to raise doubts about the science of global warming and about Mr. Gore's film, placing skeptical scientists on talk-radio shows and paying them to write editorials."

Thanks to WTOK-11, the disinformation campaign also reached TV news audiences.

Original TCS Daily VNR WTOK-11 10PM newscast
Created by Medialink May 31, 2006
Voiced by publicist Re-voiced by station anchor