Compiled by SCA Staff Writers
In a startling revelation, a joint investigation by The Intercept, The Nation, Drilled, and DeSmog has exposed seven major global news outlets for their role in producing and promoting misleading promotional content for the fossil fuel industry. The implicated media companies include Bloomberg, The Economist, the Financial Times, The New York Times, Politico, Reuters, and The Washington Post.
The investigation, spanning the period from October 2020 to October 2023, focused on advertorials or native advertising, sponsored content designed to mimic a publication’s authentic editorial work. The report reveals that these outlets, often considered among the “most trusted” news sources, have been lending their journalistic credibility to the fossil fuel industry’s key climate talking points.
The Deceptive Nature of Advertorials
The report highlights that major news outlets, such as Reuters, have been involved in creating misleading promotional content without transparently disclosing the sponsor’s involvement. For instance, a podcast episode produced by Reuters Plus in partnership with Saudi Aramco features discussions on the energy transition without clearly stating the podcast’s sponsorship by the fossil fuel giant.
The investigation, in collaboration with The Intercept and The Nation, analyzed hundreds of advertorials, events, and ad data, shedding light on the media’s role in perpetuating the fossil fuel industry’s deceptive messaging during a critical period of heightened public awareness about climate change.
Crisis of Credibility
All seven media companies under scrutiny have internal brand studios dedicated to creating advertising content for major oil and gas companies. This has raised concerns about the blurring of lines between journalism and advertising, with the potential to damage the reputation and credibility of these news outlets.
A 2016 Georgetown University study found that about two-thirds of people confuse advertorials for real content, contributing to the erosion of trust in news sources. Another study in 2018 by Boston University revealed that only one in 10 people recognized native advertising as distinct from reporting.
Impact on Climate Reporting
The investigation highlights the oil and gas industry’s increased sponsorship of advertorials and events with media partners to portray itself as a climate leader. The conflict between independent climate reporting and sponsored content advocating industry-backed technologies has left readers confused about the actual impact of these solutions.
Historical Context and Financial Motivations
The fossil fuel industry’s involvement in shaping media narratives dates back to 1970, with the creation of advertorials by Mobil Oil in collaboration with The New York Times. The advent of brand studios within media outlets has fueled the growth of such content programs, as fossil fuel companies willingly pay vast sums to bolster their social license and promote their agendas.
Recent data from MediaRadar revealed that The New York Times earned over $20 million in revenue from fossil fuel advertisers from October 2020 to October 2023, with Saudi Aramco contributing a significant portion. The financial reliance on such advertising further underscores the complex relationship between media outlets and the fossil fuel industry.
Consequences and Criticisms
Critics argue that the practice of producing advertorials and event sponsorships for fossil fuel companies undermines the integrity of climate journalism. Journalists, speaking anonymously, expressed concerns over the potential damage to their outlets’ credibility and questioned the ethical implications of aligning with companies that have a history of casting doubt on climate science.
The investigation sheds light on the intricate connections between media outlets and the fossil fuel industry, raising important questions about transparency, credibility, and the responsibility of news organizations in the era of climate crisis awareness.