Newsweek Failed to Disclose Fossil Fuel Ties in Article Promoting Industry Groups' Claims
By Kevin Kalhoefer
Newsweek missed multiple opportunities to disclose the fossil fuel ties of industry groups when it re-published a Daily Signal article promoting allegations of collusion between Russia and environmental groups that oppose fracking.
On July 11, Newsweek posted an article by Kevin Mooney that first appeared in The Daily Signal about a letter House science committee members Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Randy Weber (R-TX) had written to Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin. According to Mooney, the congressmen alleged that "the Russian government has been colluding with environmental groups to circulate 'disinformation' and 'propaganda' aimed at undermining hydraulic fracturing" in order to prop up Russian oil prices by reducing the U.S.' natural gas production.
Newsweek failed to disclose that The Daily Signal is the news site of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has received almost $800,000 from ExxonMobil and millions from the oil billionaire Koch brothers' family foundations.
And, as Andrew Freedman of Mashable noted, the allegations contained in Smith and Weber's letter were "based on research done by a PR front group, known as the Environmental Policy Alliance, with a record of ties to the energy industry. This raises the question of whether Smith is using the alleged Russian activities as cover to go after environmental groups, who are no friend of his." Indeed, the Environmental Policy Alliance is a subsidiary of a group called the Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE), which was founded and is run by the PR firm of corporate lobbyist Richard Berman. The New York Times reported that Berman had "solicited up to $3 million from oil and gas industry executives" in 2014 for a campaign against environmental activists and boasted of being able to keep donors' contributions and involvement hidden.
Dianna Wray of the Houston Press also highlighted the Environmental Policy Alliance's industry ties in a July 12 article about the congressmen's letter, noting that it doesn't offer proof of its allegations and that the claims come from the "other EPA":
The idea that Russians are attempting to meddle in the U.S. energy industry isn't entirely ludicrous. After all, it is believed Russian money was backing protesters opposed to fracking in Romania back in 2014, according to the The New York Times.
But keep in mind that what Smith presents is far from actual proof. Plus, the letter Smith and Weber signed failed to note one crucial detail about the stories claiming the Russians have been attempting to influence energy policy by dumping money secretly into U.S. environmental organizations like the Sierra Club. Namely, that all of the stories about this big Russian plot to shut down fracking in the United States are based on research from the Environmental Policy Alliance. (The other EPA.)
While the name may sound fairly innocuous, the organization is actually a public relations firm with ties to the oil industry, i.e., a group that has its own reasons for wanting to cast doubt on any and all environmental reports, particularly any reports that find problems with fracking.
In its article, Newsweek also failed to note that Smith and Weber themselves have received substantial donations from the fossil fuel industry. Both congressmen have individually received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fossil fuel campaign contributions over their respective careers.
This isn't the first time Newsweek has allowed industry-tied authors and groups to push pro-fossil fuel claims without disclosure. In 2015, Newsweek published an article by Randy Simmons, the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University, without disclosing his affiliation. The magazine subsequently added an update disclosing his fossil fuel ties after Media Matters flagged the omission. In publishing The Daily Signal's article, Newsweek missed another opportunity to be transparent with its readers and disclose important conflicts of interest.
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When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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