“At Thomson Reuters, we’re in the business of turning change into opportunity,” say the owners of one of the world’s biggest and most influential news agencies.
But the commitment of Reuters to reporting on arguably the most pressing issue in human history – climate change – is now being questioned.
In January, after almost 20 years working for Reuters, the agency’s Asia climate change correspondent David Fogarty was told his role was being axed, but that he could be the correspondent for the shipping industry. He resigned. While Fogarty’s position has apparently not been filled, the agency in late July appointed a dedicated “Gaming Correspondent” to “drive casino coverage in Asia”.
Fogarty had spent four and a half years as the agency’s climate change correspondent for Asia. But things started to change in early 2012. He was told that climate and environment stories were “not a priority” and as time went on, he says it became harder and harder to get climate change stories published.
In a blog post for the Reuters-focussed The Baron website, Fogarty recalled meeting Reuters boss Paul Ingrassia, who at the time was deputy editor-in-chief and is now managing editor.
He told me he was a climate change sceptic. Not a rabid sceptic, just someone who wanted to see more evidence mankind was changing the global climate. Progressively, getting any climate change-themed story published got harder. It was a lottery. Some desk editors happily subbed and pushed the button. Others agonised and asked a million questions. Debate on some story ideas generated endless bureaucracy by editors frightened to take a decision, reflecting a different type of climate within Reuters – the climate of fear.
The Columbia Journalism Review’s Alexis Sobel Fitts spoke to “several” Reuters journalists, who, Fitts wrote, “said that since Ingrassia was hired, they’ve felt pressure from management to add “balance” to climate change stories by including the views of global-warming sceptics”.
“I’m really glad someone outside the company is looking into this,” said one staffer who did not wish to be identified. “I think this is the most worrying thing any of us have seen here.”
Reuters still retains some respected climate change writers, including the experienced reporter Alister Doyle and columnist Gerard Wynn. But Fogarty told DeSmogBlog:
Reuters remains one of the great names, a trusted brand, for news unbiased coverage. That hard-earned reputation has immense value because clients, the public and staff know they can trust the accuracy of Reuters news and that major issues will be covered fully and insightfully. So when there’s a major policy shift on coverage of an issue of global importance, it is fair to ask for an honest explanation. Reuters management has not done this and it is a fair question to ask why.
The Baron has also reported that a senior editor had clashed with Ingrassia over the way a climate change story was being covered. DeSmogBlog asked Ingrassia if there had been a policy shift at Reuters, if he classed himself as a climate science sceptic and if the agency would be hiring a replacement climate correspondent for Asia. Responding for the first time to the accusations that climate change has been pushed down the editorial pecking order, Ingrassia emailed DeSmogBlog:
My side of the story is that there is no story. On all issues that we cover, Reuters covers all sides and takes none, as our Trust Principles require. Just a few days ago Reuters exclusively broke the need [sic] of the latest IPCC climate report. Other major news organisations credited us with the scoop. That fact speaks louder than the claims of a disgruntled former employee.
The Trust Principles operate across the Thomson Reuters business. Reuters’ news agency service accounted for only three per cent of the company’s $12.4 billion revenue base in 2012. But the reach and influence of the agency is large.
According to Thomson Reuters, its news service employs more than 2,700 journalists in almost 200 offices writing 2.1 million unique news stories a day. “Reuters news and insight reaches over 1 billion people each day,” the company claims.
Ingrassia was hired by Reuters in April 2011 from Dow Jones where he had been the president of Dow Jones Newswires from 1998 to 2006. Ingrassia had held various positions, including an editor and journalist with the Wall Street Journal, which was owned by Dow Jones. He won a Pulitzer Prize 20 years ago for his reporting on the auto industry while in the Detroit bureau of the WSJ.
Also during his time at Dow Jones, Ingrassia served as an unpaid director for several years with the free market think tank the Property and Environment Research Center. Tax forms and PERC newsletters suggest Ingrassia was on the PERC board from 2004 until around September 2006.
PERC, one of many think tanks to have accepted funds from ExxonMobil and Koch foundations, advocates environmental protection based on property rights and argues “the market process can be used to improve environmental quality”. PERC fellows have taken a number of positions on climate change, including citing scientists who claim climate impacts may be manageable and in some cases beneficial.
The think tank generally downplays the impacts of rising greenhouse gas emissions, opposes any subsidies for environmental protection and opposes regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Ingrassia has also voiced beliefs that the free market should be preferenced over government intervention when it comes to solving environmental issues.
In a September 2008 interview on National Public Radio, Ingrassia was asked if it was in the US government’s interest to invest in ways to make cars greener. He answered: “Well, why is government investment going to make it happen more quickly and more efficiently and more effectively than the free market?”
Earlier this year, PERC’s long-standing president Terry Anderson argued renewable energy would have little impact on reducing climate change impacts, so people should take out insurance instead.
Two PERC associates have also written climate change books aimed at schoolchildren – one published in 2002 and another in 2007 – and which both cited several climate science denial groups as reference material.
More recently, PERC fellow Jonathan Adler appeared to attack climate change deniers in conservative ranks, arguing it was possible to oppose regulating greenhouse gases while still acknowledging that human-caused climate change was a “serious problem”.
If the claims of David Fogarty and others within Reuters are right, then perhaps Adler might be the right person to make a phone call to fellow free marketer Paul Ingrassia.