Climate scientist defense group and Peter Gleick illustrate Heartland's irony and hypocrisy

As of three days ago, The Heartland Institute began delivering letters/emails to bloggers and journalists who reported on the confidential Heartland documents that were published on Valentine’s Day. The letters demanded that any copies of Heartland’s internal documents be deleted, all comments on the contents of those emails be purged, and full retractions be issued, under threat of legal action.

Last night, Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, admitted on the Huffington Post that he was the anonymous source for those documents and that he’d claimed to be someone else to get them, in an attempt to verify information that was leaked to him from someone unknown via postal service mail. Gleick wrote that his behavior constituted a “serious lapse of [his] own professional judgment and ethics.”

The admission of responsibility by Gleick – taking responsibility for his actions and owning up to an ethical failure – draws a sharp contrast to Heartland’s own lack of ethics and history of misrepresentation, deception, and dishonesty.

Yesterday, the Heartland Institute released a statement in which it accuses DeSmogBlog, ThinkProgress, and the Huffington Post of “disregarding the law as well as basic ethics” and reporting on the contents of the documents. Heartland claims that “all three organizations had to know the documents were stolen from The Heartland Institute, and should have but may not have realized that one document was a forgery.” But as recently as December 28, 2012, Heartland expert D Brady Nelson reported on the publication of a second set of stolen emails by “an anonymous source” from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU). The managing editor of Heartland’s Environment and Climate News publication, senior fellow James M. Taylor, linked to a blog post about the illegally published emails on January 13. These recent examples of Heartland’s apparent approval of the illegal publication of documents suggest that Heartland is applying a clear and obvious double standard – hacked documents are fine when they benefit Heartland’s ideological goals, but allegedly stolen documents are, as Heartland’s president Joseph Bast said yesterday, “an outrageous violation of ethics and the law.”

While Heartland is apparently immune to the irony of their legal protestations about public exposure of confidential documents, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) are not. Today PEER and the CSLDF sent a letter via email and postal service mail to Maureen Martin, General Counsel of The Heartland Institute. The body of the letter is reproduced below:

As a community that has been through similar invasions of our privacy, we understand what you are going through. We were struck by the eloquence of your words in describing your situation. We could not think of a better way to describe our feelings than with the words you’ve crafted.

Forgive us for taking the following paragraphs from your website and recent letters to members of the blogger and journalistic community, but as it is often said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

In November 2009 groups posted online several documents they claimed were the emails of climate scientists. These documents were stolen from Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

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. 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.

Furthermore, the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund views the malicious and fraudulent manner in which the Climatic Research Unit documents were obtained and/or thereafter disseminated, as well as the repeated blogs about them, as providing the basis for civil actions against those who obtained and/or disseminated them and blogged about them. The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund fully intends to pursue all possible actionable civil remedies to the fullest extent of the law.

We respectfully ask the Heartland Institute, all activists, bloggers, and other journalists to immediately remove all of these documents and any quotations taken from them, from their blogs, Web sites, and publications, and to publish retractions.


Scott A. Mandia & Joshua Wolfe
Climate Science Legal Defense Fund: “Protecting the Scientific Endeavor”

Jeff Ruch
PEER Executive Director

Bast’s statement on Gleick’s admissions last night provides yet another example of Heartland’s institutional hypocrisy. Bast wrote that the published Heartland documents “contained personal information about Heartland staff members, donors, and allies, the release of which has violated their privacy and endangered their personal safety.” Bast’s concern for his own people is admirable, but given that Heartland published the home address of an Internet journalist not three days ago, Bast’s concern rings a bit hollow.

S&R has documented some of the Heartland Institute’s history of distorting, deceiving, and misleading on the topic of human-caused climate disruption. Yesterday’s statement continues this habit, starting with Bast’s accusation that posting and reporting on the documents was unethical for a journalist. S&R looked at a number of different ethical guides for journalists including that of the Society of Professional Journalists, the New York Times Company, the LA Times, among others, and only the NYTimes specifically addressed how its journalists should obtain data. Specifically, the NYTimes ethics policy says that journalists should not “purloin” data, but the policy neither permits nor prohibits reporting on any data that was acquired via the actions of someone else.

Yesterday’s comment also claims that the one document that was allegedly fabricated (amounting to two pages out of approximately 100 published) was supposedly an “obvious fake.” Heartland goes on to claim that three climate disruption denial-friendly “experts” had identified it as such, namely Megan McArdle of The Atlantic, James Delingpole of the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, and Anthony Watts of Wattsupwiththat.com. Heartland doesn’t explain what makes these three individuals so-called “experts,” given none of them has any specific knowledge of textual analysis – Watts is a weathercaster and blogger, Delingpole is a libertarian author and commentator, and McArdle is a business journalist and former businesswoman. Given their lack of obvious expertise in textual analysis, claiming these individuals qualify as experts is suspect.

This is not the first time that The Heartland Institute claimed expertise and authority were little or none was warranted. In June, 2011, Heartland misidentified most of the speakers at the Heartland-organized 6th International Conference on Climate Change as scientists.

However, it’s Heartland’s attempt to turn the discussion away from the published internal documents and their own behavior that is the most revealing. Heartland doesn’t want to be the focus of public scrutiny in a scandal that has become known as “Denial-gate,” so instead the communications director is attempting to redirect attention away from Heartland and toward the three websites that broke the story. But it has been a full week since the documents were published and Heartland still has not verified their authenticity, something that could be done by two people and a bunch of highlighters in 48 hours, or by one person with a scanner and Photoshop in less than four hours. Instead of validating the documents, Heartland’s Bast has been busily threatening small town newspaper editors and begging for donations to a Heartland legal fund to be used against the very bloggers and journalists who reported on the Heartland documents. S&R asked The Heartland Institute’s Communication Director Jim Lakely for an update on this, but had not received a response as of publication.

Now Gleick himself has provided a sort of validation of the accuracy of the documents. In his admission last night, he wrote that he forwarded the documents on without alteration, a point that will apply pressure to Heartland to validate the documents. At this point it’s no longer credible that Heartland employees or contractors haven’t had enough time to validate the documents, and that means one of two things – Heartland is either falsely claiming that they haven’t validated the documents, or they’ve chosen not to validate them based on some PR and/or legal advice.

Everyone makes mistakes, and Gleick’s admission of his demonstrates that he has an ethical core that knows right from wrong, even though he failed to adhere to it this time. On the other hand, The Heartland Institute’s history of dishonesty, deception, and hypocrisy, combined with their refusal to admit error, suggests that they lack any ethics at all, even heavily tarnished ethics like Gleick’s.

5 replies »

  1. I’m waiting for the headline “Heartland sues the Internet”…

    …perhaps with the byline “…for using Heartland’s own tactics”.