If you’re a long-time reader of this newsletter, you may remember that last year, Earther’s Molly Taft and I co-published a joint investigation of Big Oil climate advertising in three popular D.C. political newsletters: Punchbowl, Axios Generate, and POLITICO Morning Energy.
We found that, in the weeks leading up to a major hearing on climate disinformation, Big Oil climate ads were exploding in number. We also found that most of the ads in these newsletters contained misinformation—specifically, a tactic called “paltering” to mislead readers about oil companies’ climate efforts.
Our story didn’t inspire any of these publications to stop profiting from misinformation. The business divisions of Punchbowl, Axios and POLITICO still routinely run paltering oil company climate ads alongside their reporters’ high-quality climate journalism. (Don’t come for the journalists, folks. It’s not about them).
Our story did, however, catch the attention of Rep. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, who submitted it into the Congressional record today during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing titled “Fueling the Climate Crisis: Examining Big Oil’s Prices, Profits and Pledges.”
After discussing our findings, Ocasio-Cortez asked Dr. Mijin Cha, associate professor of urban and environmental policy at Occidental College, how oil company advertising in political newsletters influences the negotiating environment in Congress ahead of major hearings and policy battles.
“I think they have a direct influence, of course,” Cha replied:
One thing [oil company ads] do is mainstream their talking points so they become very normal, even though what they’re saying is quite extreme. They regularly do full-page ads in the New York Times to make it seem like they’re doing what they need to be doing to meet their climate targets, when we know that that’s the exact opposite.
They’ve also done things like pretend they’re in favor of carbon taxes, even though they lobby against them behind the scenes. So what they’re trying to do [with advertising] is mainstream and normalize their behavior, so people don’t think what they’re doing is so destructive, even thought we know it is so destructive.
I don’t know about you, but I thought this was pretty cool. It’s exciting to know our work is being seen; that some people with power are, in fact, paying attention.
This particular investigation was also one I worked on in the thick of my professional burnout, which has been an absolute nightmare to recover from. I’ll talk about that more when I’m ready, but for now, it’s nice to know that it wasn’t all for nothing.
HEATED is in the Congressional record, baby. And it wouldn’t be there without all of your support.
Thanks for your readership, and for letting me share this little “hell yeah” moment with you. And if you’d like to learn more about today’s Oversight hearing, I’ll be interviewing Environment Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ro Khanna about it on Monday. If you have suggestions for questions, drop them in the comments. Bye!
Thanks for reading HEATED! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Do not doubt you are making a difference, Emily.
You make a difference with HEATED, and just by being yourself.
Congrats on having your work entered into the Congressional record today.
Keep up the good work.
Heated is keeping Big Oil’s feet to the fire. Nice! Keep up the good work.