ExxonMobil Blasts Columbia University Journalism Students Over Climate Change Story

Big-oil company says J-school postgrads’ LA Times investigation “cherry picked and distorted” information provided by the company

ExxonMobil is taking on some Columbia University journalists for a Los Angeles Times investigation into its evolution from a leader on climate change to a skeptic.

The story, published in October by three postgraduate students, motivated Democratic lawmakers to call for a probe into whether the big-oil company covered up its understanding of the threat of global warming produced by burning fossil fuels.

In a letter sent on Nov. 20, Exxon Mobil executive Kenneth Cohen accused a professor and her team of deliberately ignoring information the company provided students.

The company added that the journalists “cherry-picked — and distorted — statements attributed to various company employees to wrongly suggest definitive conclusions about the risk of climate change were reached decades ago by company researchers.”

ExxonMobil claimed that what the journalists accused the company of doing in the story is exactly what they did in their reporting.

“It’s ironic — what they’re accusing us of is exactly what they’re doing themselves, which is trying to manipulate public opinion behind the scenes,” ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers said.

Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, Steve Coll, told Politico on Monday he reviewed the story and plans to respond to ExxonMobil.

“I’ve reviewed the allegations in the letter, and I am preparing a response which we are preparing to publish on our website in the next couple of days. It would be premature for me to comment on details in their letter,” Coll said.

The journalists’ investigation also sparked the “Exxon Knew” campaign recently launched by Green activist groups.