Heartland Institute billboard continues a long pattern of hypocrisy (updated)

Update 5/15/2012: On either May 13th or 14th, The Heartland Institute moved the “Our Billboards” essay and an associated press release from the website associated with Heartland’s seventh International Climate Change Conference to the Press Releases portion of the main Heartland website. The essay was also renamed from “Our Billboards” to “‘Do You Still Believe in Global Warming?’ Billboards hit Chicago.” In addition, both documents have been backdated to May 3rd and 4th, the dates when they were published at their original home. The original link remains in the original post below, but the new links have been added here: “Our Billboards” essay and the billboard take-down press release.. In addition, Heartland president Joseph Bast has been identified as the author of the essay.

Part two of a series.

Since The Heartland Institute came to the attention of Scholars & Rogues in early 2010, S&R has documented a pattern of double standards and institutional hypocrisy in Heartland’s activities. While the Heartland’s billboard advertisement comparing climate realists to terrorist Ted Kaczynski is perverse on its own, an essay explaining Heartland’s rationale is worse, albeit less obvious. That essay, titled “Our Billboards”, continues Heartland’s long history of hypocrisy.

Heartland’s hypocrisy regarding ethics

“Our Billboards” claims, erroneously, that “[T]he leaders of the global warming movement are willing to break the law and the rules of ethics. [emphasis added]” Heartland further states that the illegally hacked and published Climatic Research Unit (CRU) email archives (aka Climategate) support that claim. While Heartland’s claims are almost entirely wrong, of course, but that’s not the point this time. The point is that Heartland has written on the topic of Climategate at least 156 times and that Heartland’s allies have written hundreds of thousands or even millions of articles and blogs on the topic (Google turns up about 3.2 million hits).

When Heartland’s own confidential documents were published online without authorization by bloggers and journalists, Heartland demanded that all the documents be removed, that all mention of the documents also be removed, and that everyone who had written about the documents or hosted them officially retract any articles and apologize. At the time, Heartland president Joseph Bast called the publication of the documents “an outrageous violation of ethics and the law” and called on everyone to “denounce this unethical behavior.”

There are two clear examples of hypocrisy here. First, Heartland called the unauthorized publication of the confidential Heartland documents “an outrageous violation of ethics,” but they failed to do the same with respect to the earlier “outrageous violation of ethics” that was the hacking of an email server and the publication of thousands of private emails between climate scientists. This demonstrates a clear hypocritical double-standard by Bast and The Heartland Institute

Second, Heartland demanded that the bloggers and journalists who wrote about Heartland’s confidential documents retract their articles and purge their websites and servers of the documents. Heartland has not, however, demanded the same with respect to the Climategate emails. Denouncing the behavior of your opponents while doing the same thing yourself and tolerating identical behavior among your allies is also hypocrisy, Heartland’s protests notwithstanding.

The irony of Heartland’s position on this did not go unnoticed. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the associated Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) sent a letter asking

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

According to Scott Mandia, one of the authors of the letter, The Heartland Institute has not even acknowledged receipt of this request.

A Greenpeace activist provided another example of Heartland’s hypocrisy after the Heartland documents were published. According to Cindy Baxter, someone associated with The Heartland Institute misrepresented himself to her during the 2007 Bali UN climate conference and recorded the conversation without her permission. This is similar to how Peter Gleick misrepresented himself to Heartland in order to acquire the confidential Heartland documents he then leaked. The difference is that Heartland accused Gleick and others of behaving unethically, but has never disowned the behavior of the staff member who misrepresented himself in 2007. That’s also hypocrisy.

Heartland’s hypocrisy regarding crimes

In addition to falsely accusing authentic climate realists of behaving unethically, “Our Billboards” also falsely accuses them of being criminals. “Our Billboards” says “[T]he leaders of the global warming movement are willing to break the law and the rules of ethics. [emphasis added]” But these accusations are just as hypocritical as the allegations of unethical behavior were, and for many of the same reasons.

In the UK, publishing personal correspondence like emails without permission is illegal. As such, whomever published the Climategate emails is a criminal, and an investigation into who hacked CRU’s email server is ongoing. Heartland rejects the criminality of the published emails, clinging to the idea that the emails were “leaked” by some unidentified insider. Even if that were the case, the supposed “leaker” would still be charged with the crime of breaking UK privacy laws, and possibly additional crimes related to the hacking itself.

There is a chance that Gleick did break the law when he misrepresented himself to The Heartland Institute. Heartland certainly thinks so. But the FBI doesn’t seem to agree, at least not yet. According to an excerpt from a letter to blogger Big City Lib, Special Agent Ross Rice of the Chicago FBI writes

no arrests have been made nor have any criminal charges been filed in the Northern District of Illinois against Peter Gleick.

This doesn’t mean that charges won’t be, of course, but thus far it appears that there is as yet insufficient evidence to charge Gleick of a crime. This is contrary to Heartland’s insistence of his guilt.

In addition, in the United States it’s illegal to record a telephone conversation without permission. Yet that’s exactly what a Heartland employee did to Baxter during the Bali conference.
Correction: It would not have been illegal in the state of Illinois for a Heartland employee to record his conversation with Baxter. However, it remains unethical to do so.

In this case, “Our Billboards” insists that Gleick and other “leaders of the global warming movement” are criminals. Yet in an example of their ongoing hypocrisy, Heartland hasn’t denounced the hacker who illegally published the Climategate emails or the likely criminal who conducted illegal wiretapping against Baxter.

Heartland’s hypocrisy regarding censorship

Another example of Heartland’s hypocrisy is revealed by the following statement from “Our Billboards”

The mainstream media are “in the tank” with environmental activists and big-government advocates, to the point that they deliberately and expressly censor dissenting views on climate. [emphasis added]

Given the libertarian ideology touted by The Heartland Institute, their rejection of censorship is expected. In fact, it’s to be commended. However, it’s also hypocritical, as Heartland president Joe Bast has called for the censorship of at least one two scientists with whom he disagreed.

[Update: According to the Guardian, Peter Gleick was scheduled to lecture at Oxford University on April 24 when Bast demanded that Oxford bar Gleick from speaking. The lecture went ahead as planned.]

In February 2011, S&R reported on a controversy regarding climate disruption and the political aspirations of former Apollo astronaut and Heartland board member Harrison Schmitt. Specifically, a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories, Mark Boslough, had criticized Schmitt for his position on climate disruption in a Santa Fe New Mexican editorial op-ed. In response to Boslough and in defense of Schmit, Bast wrote an error-filled op-ed of his own. The last sentence of Bast’s letter reads

[Boslough] should apologize to his victims and then be banned from future debates on this topic. [emphasis added]

Bast was clearly calling for Boslough’s views to be censored. Bast is a self-described libertarian. He’s the president of a libertarian organization. And yet he hypocritically called for the censorship of two scientists, something that “Our Billboards” rejects – when it’s applied to “dissenting views on climate.”

Even Ross McKitrick of Climate Audit recognized Heartland’s hypocrisy regarding the billboard. McKitrick was an invited speaker to the 7th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC), a Heartland-organized conference later this month dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific data supporting the man-made drivers of climate disruption. On May 4, he wrote in a letter to Heartland’s Bast

You cannot simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers. Once you have done such a thing you have lost the moral high ground and you can never again object if someone uses that kind of rhetoric on you.

McKitrick has since withdrawn from speaking at this month’s ICCC.

On May 4, Bast wrote in an update to “Our Billboards” that “We do not apologize for running the ad.” Given The Heartland Institute’s long history of hypocrisy, his refusal to apologize is hardly a surprise. An apology would mean admitting that Heartland can’t claim to want civil debate while being uncivil itself. That Heartland can’t demand ethical behavior of others while behaving unethically itself. That Heartland can’t hold its opponents to different standards than its allies.

An apology would have necessarily led to an admission of a long history of hypocrisy. And there’s no evidence yet that Bast and The Heartland Institute are willing to admit that.

8 replies »

  1. “In addition, in the United States it’s illegal to record a telephone conversation without permission.”

    Actually, it’s not according to 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2511(2)(d)

    (d)It shall not be unlawful under this chapter for a person not acting under color of law to intercept a wire, oral, or electronic communication where such person is a party to the communication or where one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to such interception unless such communication is intercepted for the purpose of committing any criminal or tortious act in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or of any State.

    Basically, each state can decide for itself whether it’s a “one-party” or a “two-party” state (the former allows only one person to consent, while the latter requires consent of both/all parties concerned).

    • JosephW – I did a little more digging, and it appears that Illinois is one of the states where one party to the call is allowed to record the other party without their permission, so I’ll run a correction. Clearly this is one of those cases where my journalistic ethics (always get permission from the person you’re recording) are above and beyond the legal requirement. At least for the state of Illinois.

      Thanks for catching that!

  2. After the 10:10 video appeared showing a teacher blowing up kids … I showed it to my children. I can’t remember expressing disgust but I may.

    When the Heartland institute post came out, I watched the huge interest and realized it was a classic marketing gimmick: one provactive advert costing next to nothing and hundreds of news articles expressing consternation.

    But if you think this article is moaning, then you should have heard the sceptics moan. You would have thought Heartland themselves were a serial killer and not the first sceptic group to successful get huge publicity.

    Personally I don’t like such media stunts … but that’s why us sceptics are an utter shambles when it comes to PR.

    PS. Sent out my first press release a couple of days ago. The irony is that I used a green peace templeate THANKS! … zero response … which is great, as things can only get better!

    • Mike, something tells me that, unless Heartland is of the “any press is good press” mindset, they’re not happy with all the attention they got this time. They’ve had at least two speakers (McKitrick and Donna Laframboise) drop out of thier ICCC this week, their Washington DC group FIRE is breaking away and going independent, they’ve lost donors worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – all because of their billboard.

      It’s true that any press that’s not bad press is good press. But this is very, very bad press for them.