Greenpeace is demanding that Newsweek disclose how much money it has made selling the oil industry's biggest lobbying group advertising deals that included the ability to co-host energy policy forums and seat the association's president as a panelist beside members of Congress.
Greenpeace's executive director, Phil Radford, urged Newsweek editor Jon Meacham in a letter Friday to reveal the information, following an E&E story that exposed the magazine's ad sales practices and its involvement with the American Petroleum Institute and other advertisers (Greenwire, Nov. 5). Radford also asked Meacham to disclose Newsweek revenue from selling the co-hosting advertising packages and to balance a planned Dec. 1 panel with scientists and representatives from environmental groups.
"API and its members have spent tens of millions of dollars over the past decade alone on propaganda efforts and front groups to undercut public confidence in the wide and deep global scientific consensus that global warming is real, that human consumption of fossil fuels is driving it, and that the problem is a serious threat to America and the rest of the world," Radford wrote.
"I hope you'll consider that it is not a good idea for news organizations, however financially troubled in this recession, to sponsor public relations functions with the lobbyist for the world's most powerful polluting industry."
Newsweek responded today in an e-mail to Radford.
"The events that Newsweek holds are open, on-the-record and designed to present various voices on the topic of discussion; this particular event is no different," Newsweek spokesman Frank De Maria said, referring to the Dec. 1 panel. "A Newsweek journalist will moderate the discussion and ask questions he deems newsworthy and relevant. The panel for this event will include a range of points of view."
De Maria did not address the advertising arrangements that led to the controversy. In an e-mail to E&E, he said "we don't comment on specific advertising revenue arrangements."
E&E reported that Newsweek since 2007 has sold API advertising deals that allowed it to co-host forums on energy issues and put its top executive on the panels. Four of those forums have been held since 2007. The magazine and API plan to co-host a fifth forum Dec. 1, with API President and CEO Jack Gerard speaking and members of Congress invited. That panel, on climate and energy legislation, would come potentially as the Senate would be debating the climate bill on the floor.
At two previous forums, members of Congress sat side-by-side on panels with an API president, a Newsweek representative, and no other industry representative or alternative voice. Gerard was the sole panelist joining Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and a Newsweek employee at an "executive forum" that the magazine and API held at the U.S. Capitol in March. Gerard's predecessor Red Cavaney spoke at a May 2007 forum with Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Gerard is a registered lobbyist, as was Red Cavaney when he was API president.
Radford in his letter suggested that Newsweek invite to its next panel Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, an "independent scientist such as top NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen," or Republic of Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, "who is preparing to move his entire nation due to rising sea waters and acidified seas."
In his e-mail, De Maria told Radford, "you may know, James Hansen and Carl Pope have appeared with us in the past, and may again. We're in conversations with others too. We will announce additional panelists once they are confirmed."
E&E also revealed that Newsweek has also sold that same co-hosting partnership deal to petroleum company BP, office equipment manufacturer Ricoh and Lufthansa Airlines. Newsweek said 20 to 30 advertisers spend enough to reach the threshold qualifying them to attach their name to a Newsweek event. A smaller number has chosen to actually co-host, the magazine said.
Newsweek last week said that it imposes ethical safeguards for the events, including that industry sponsors have no say in who is invited as panelists or what questions are asked by the moderator, usually a Newsweek editor. API has no direct contact with the magazine's newsroom, which sometimes covers the forums. Outside media are invited and attend, and everything said is on the record for publication.
Journalism and ethics experts, however, decried that arrangement, saying Newsweek was using its good reputation to bring lawmakers to the panels, and then was selling API and others the right to put an executive on the panels.
Disclosure of the Newsweek arrangement with advertisers comes not long after its parent, the Washington Post Co., dropped a plan to have off-the-record "salons" at the home of its publisher where companies could pay $25,000 to meet with journalists and policymakers.
Greenpeace noted that scandal in its letter.
"As one of your readers, I want to save you the extended embarrassment experienced by Newsweek's sister publication, The Washington Post, when it considered 'salons' that would have given polluting industry lobbyists access to top Post news staff," Radford's letter said. "That story was an example of the conflicts that can arise when a news publication sells its name to those lobbying for influence through public relations opportunities."