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FLASHBACK: Democracy Now! Show Funder Censors Anti-War Journalist John Pilger

Where’s the Change?

July 9, 2011

By Bob Feldman

LannanLogo

According to the Lannan Foundation’s Form 990 financial filing for 2008, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! Productions was given three grants, totaling $375,000, by the Lannan Foundation. And that same year the Lannan Foundation also gave three grants, totaling $545,000, to The Nation/Nation Institute alternative left media group and three grants, totaling $475,000, to Foundation for National Progress/Mother Jones magazine.

But the Lannan Foundation apparently doesn’t want to allow anti-war journalists who criticize the Democratic Obama Administration’s failure to end the endless U.S. military intervention in Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Libya-Yemen-Somalia to speak too freely in the United States these days, as indicated by Australian anti-war journalist and anti-war filmmaker John Pilger’s recent experience with Democracy Now!‘s foundation funder. In an article, titled “The Strange Silence of Liberal America,” that was recently posted on the Global Research site, Pilger wrote the following about how the Lannan Foundation apparently operates these days:

“The Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, believes in free speech. The foundation’s website says it is `dedicated to cultural freedom, diversity and creativity’. Authors, film-makers, poets make their way to a sanctum of liberalism bankrolled by the billionaire Patrick Lannan in the tradition of Rockefeller and Ford.

“Lannan also awards `grants’ to America’s liberal media, such as Free Speech TV, the Foundation for National Progress (publisher of the magazine Mother Jones), the Nation Institute and the TV and radio programme Democracy Now! In Britain, Lannan has been a supporter of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, of which I am one of the judges. In 2008, Patrick Lannan personally supported the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, he is `devoted’ to Obama.

“On 15 June, I was due in Santa Fe, having been invited to share a platform with the distinguished American journalist David Barsamian. The foundation was also to host the US premiere of my new film, The War You Don’t See, which investigates the false image-making of war-makers, especially Obama.

“I was about to leave for Santa Fe when I received an email from the Lannan official organising my visit. The tone was incredulous. `Something has come up,’ she wrote. Patrick Lannan had called her and ordered all my events to be cancelled. `I have no idea what this is all about,’ she wrote.

“Baffled, I asked that the premiere of my film be allowed to go ahead as the US distribution largely depended on it. She repeated that `all’ my events were cancelled, `and this includes the screening of your film’. On the Lannan website `cancelled’ appeared across a picture of me. There was no explanation. None of my phone calls was returned, nor subsequent emails answered. A Kafka world of not-knowing descended.

“The silence lasted a week until, under pressure from local media, the foundation put out a brief statement that too few tickets had been sold to make my visit `viable’ and that `the Foundation regrets that the reason fr the cancellation was not explained to Mr. Pilger or to the public at the time the decision was made’. Doubts were cast by a robust editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican, The paper, which has long played a prominent role in promoting Lannan events, disclosed that my visit had been cancelled before the main advertising and previews were published. A full-page interview with me had to be hurriedly pulled. `Pilger and Barsamian could have expected closer to a packed 820-seat Lensic [arts centre].’

“The manager of The Screen, the Santa Fe cinema that had been rented for the premiere, was called late at night and told to kill all his online promotion for my film, but took it upon himself to re-schedule the film for 23 June. It was a sell-out, with many people turned away. The idea that there was no public interest was demonstrably not true.

“Theories? There are many, but nothing is proven. For me, it is all reminiscent of the long shadows cast during the cold war. `Something is going to surface,’ said Barsamian. `They can’t keep the lid on this.’

“My talk on 15 June was to have been about the collusion of American liberalism in a permanent state of war and the demise of cherished freedoms, such as the right to call government to account. In the United States, as in Britain, serious dissent – free speech — has been substantially criminalised. Obama, the black liberal, the PC exemplar, the marketing dream is as much a warmonger as George W. Bush. His score is six wars. Never in US history has a president prosecuted as many whistle-blowers; yet this truth-telling, this exercise of true citizenship, is at the heart of America’s constitutional first amendment. Obama’s greatest achievement is having seduced, co-opted and silenced much of liberal opinion in the United States, including the anti-war movement.

“The reaction to the Lannan ban has been illuminating. The brave, like the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, were appalled and said so. Similarly, many ordinary Americans called into radio stations and have written to me, recognising a symptom of far greater suppression. But some exalted liberal voices have been affronted that I dared whisper the word, censorship, about such a beacon of `cultural freedom’. The embarrassment of those who wish to point both ways is palpable. Others have pulled down the shutters and said nothing. Given their patron’s ruthless show of power, it is understandable. For them, the Russian dissident poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko once wrote, `When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.’

“The War You Don’t See” is available on www.johnpilger.com

(Not surprisingly, neither The Nation, Democracy Now! nor Mother Jones magazine has apparently provided its readers, listeners or viewers with much information about either the historic or current business activities of Lannan family members or about which transnational corporate stocks are contained in the investment portfolio of the Lannan Foundation. Yet, according to its Form 990 financial filing, on December 31, 2008 the Lannan Foundation owned $942,000 worth of Microsoft stock, $953,683 of Disney Company stock, $1,267,640 worth of Wells Fargo stock, $1,389,789 worth of Coca-Cola Company stock, $1,580,982 worth of Wal-Mart stock and $44,145 worth of Goldman Sachs stock.–bf)

 

40 Years After CIA & ITT’s 1973 Coup In Chile: A Look At Democracy Now!’s ITT-Lannan Foundation Connection | Part 2

Where’s the Change?

Jan 7, 2014

by Bob Feldman

weatherunderground

Bernardine Dohrn addresses a radical gathering in 1969. Picture: David Fenton Source: Getty Images

On Sept. 28, 1973 the now-defunct Weather Underground anti-imperialist political group sent a letter and communique to various underground newspapers and aboveground U.S. media outlets. The letter from the Weather Underground stated the following:

“Dear Friends,

“We are sending this communique to newspapers and radio stations around the country. Our purpose is to help explain the role of ITT and the U.S. in the overthrow of President Salvador Allende and the popular government of Chile…This communique accompanies the bombing of the Headquarters for Latin America of ITT in New York City, which was carried out today…”

And the Weather Underground’s September 28, 1973 communique included the following text:

“Tonight we attacked the ITT headquarters for America in New York City, in support of the people in Chile, and to add our voice to the international expression of outrage and anger at the involvement of ITT and the U.S. government in the overthrow of socialist Chile…

“Without the machinations of ITT and the U.S. government these events would not have happened. In spite of their insolent denials they stand indicted by their own words and deeds. The blood of thousands of people is on their hands.

Paid to Lose | The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats

Paid to Lose | The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats

Counterpunch

Weekend Edition March 15-17, 2013

by John Stauber

There is good news in the Boston Globe today for the managers, development directors, visionaries, political hacks and propaganda flacks who run “the Progressive Movement.”   More easy-to-earn and easy-to-hide soft money, millions of dollars,  will be flowing to them from super rich Democrats and business corporations.  It will come clean, pressed and laundered through Organizing for Action, the latest incarnation of the Obama Money Machine which has recently morphed into a “nonpartisan non-profit corporation” that will  ‘‘strengthen the progressive movement and train our next generation of leaders.’’

“Manufactured Dissent”: The Financial Bearings of the “Progressive Left Media”

Global Research

By Prof. James F. Tracy

3 August 2012

 

"Manufactured Dissent": The Financial Bearings of  the "Progressive Left Media"

 

Since the early 2000s US-based “left-progressive” media that purport to be independent have received tens of millions in grants and contributions while they have ignored some of the most important news stories of our time. History suggests a relationship between elite philanthropic sponsorship of such outlets and self-censorship toward pressing events and issues while concurrently maintaining a public semblance of issue-oriented rebellion and dissent.

Why do the self-proclaimed left-progressive “independent” media repeatedly overlook, obfuscate or otherwise leave unexamined some of the most momentous geopolitical and environmental events of our time—September 11th and related false flag terror events, the United Nations’ “Agenda 21,” the genuinely grave environmental threats posed by the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, geoengineering (weather modification), and the dire health effects of genetically modified organisms?[1] In fact, these phenomena together point to a verifiable transnational political economic framework against which a mass social movement could readily emerge.

Yet over the past decade the actual function of such journalistic outlets has increasingly been to “manufacture dissent”–in other words, to act as the controlled opposition to the financial oligarchs and an encroaching scientific dictatorship that to an already significant degree controls the planet and oversees human thought and activity. Indeed, many alternative media outlets that appear to be independent of the power structure are funded by the very forces they are reporting on through their heavy reliance on the largesse of major philanthropic foundations.

With the across-the-board deregulation of the transnational financial system in the late 1990s and consequent enrichment of Wall Street and London-based investment banks and hedge funds, the resources of such foundations and charities have increased tremendously. Consequently, the overall funding of “activist” organizations and “alternative” media has climbed sharply, making possible the broadly disseminated appearance of strident voices speaking truth to power. In fact, the protesters and journalists alike are often tethered to the purse strings of the powerful. As a result,

“Dissent has been compartmentalized. Separate “issue oriented” protest movements (e.g. environment, anti-globalization, peace, women’s rights, climate change) are encouraged and generally funded as opposed to a cohesive mass movement.”[2]

The efforts of financial elites to influence left-progressive political opinion goes back a century or more. In the early 1900s, for example, the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations decisively shaped the trajectory of elementary and higher education. Yet a less-examined development is how such influence extended to the mass media. A specific instance of such interests seeking to influence the Left community specifically is the establishment of The New Republic magazine at a decisive time in US history.

Purchased Political Opinion: The Founding of The New Republic


Throughout the twentieth century powerful financial interests have sought to anticipate and direct American left wing social movements and political activity by penetrating their opinion-shaping apparatus. This was seldom difficult because progressives were usually strapped for funds while at the same time eager for a mouthpiece to reach the masses. In 1914 Wall Street’s most powerful banking house, J.P. Morgan, was willing to provide both. “The purpose was not to destroy, dominate, or take over but was really threefold,” historian Carroll Quigley explains.

“(1) to keep informed about the thinking of Left-wing or liberal groups;

(2) to provide them with a mouthpiece so that they could “blow off steam,” and

(3) to have a final veto on their publicity and possibly on their actions, if they ever went “radical.” There was nothing really new about this decision, since other financiers had talked about it and even attempted it earlier. What made it decisively important this time was the combination of its adoption by the dominant Wall Street financier, at a time when tax policy was driving all financiers to seek tax-exempt refuges for their fortunes, and at a time when the ultimate in Left-wing radicalism was about to appear under the banner of the Third International.”[3]

As an example, in 1914 Morgan partner and East Asia agent Willard Straight established The New Republic with money from himself and his wife, Dorothy Payne Whitney of the Payne Whitney fortune. “’Use your wealth to put ideas into circulation,’ Straight had told his wife. ‘Others will give to churches and hospitals.’”[4]

The idea of funding such an organ partly developed between the wealthy couple after they read Herbert Croly’s The Promise of American Life, in which the well-known liberal author assailed the foundations of traditional Progressivism, with its Jeffersonian doctrine of free enterprise and inclination for decentralized, unrestrictive government. In such a laissez-faire arrangement, Croly reasoned, the strong would always take advantage of the weak. “Only a strong central government could control and equitably distribute the benefits of industrial capitalism. … guided by a strong and farsighted leader.” Toward this end Croly proposed a “constructive” or “New Nationalism”, and a medium to reach a captive audience could promote such ideals on a regular basis.[5]

As Croly recalls, Straight

“hunted me up and asked me to make a report for him on the kind of social education which would be most fruitful in a democracy. Thereafter I saw him frequently, and in one of our conversations we discussed a plan for a new weekly which would apply to American life, as it developed, the political and social ideas which I had sketched in the book … We hoped to make it the mouthpiece of those Americans to whom disinterested thinking and its result in convictions were important agents of the adjustment between human beings and the society in which they live.”[6]

Straight designated Croly editor-in-chief of The New Republic‘s and the young socialist writer Walter Lippmann, who by his mid-twenties was an adviser to presidents and a member of the shadowy Round Table Groups, was approached to be a founding editorial board member and subsequently entrusted with gearing the American readership toward a more favorable view of Britain.

Croly later noted how Straight was hardly liberal or progressive in his views. Rather, he was a regular international banker and saw the magazine’s purpose “simply [as] a medium for advancing certain designs of such international bankers, notably to blunt the isolationism and anti-British sentiments so prevalent among many American progressives, while providing them with a vehicle for expression of their progressive views in literature, art, music, social reform, and even domestic polices.”[7]

Following establishment of The New Republic, Straight considered purchasing The New York Evening Post or The Washington Herald. “He longed for a daily newspaper,” Croly recalls, “which would communicate public information in the guise of news as well as in the guise of opinion and which would be read by hundreds of thousands of people instead of only tens of thousands, to serve as his personal medium of expression.”[8]

Straight and Payne Whitney’s son, “Mike” Straight, carried on The New Republic through the 1940s in close alignment with Left and labor organizations, even providing Henry Wallace with a position on the editorial staff in 1946 and backing Wallace’s 1948 presidential bid.

With Willard Straight’s early death in 1918 another Morgan partner, Tom Lamont, apparently became the bank’s representative to the Left, supporting The Saturday Review of Literature in the 1920s and 1930s, and owning the New York Post from 1918 to 1924. Lamont, his wife Flora, and son Corliss were major patrons to a variety of Left concerns, including the American Communist Party and Trade Union Services Incorporated, which in the late 1940s published fifteen union organs for CIO unions. Frederick Vanderbilt Field, another well-heeled Wall Street banker, sat on the editorial boards of The New Masses and the Daily Worker—New York’s official Communist newspapers.[9]

Progressive-Left Media’s Financing Today


Since the 1990s the framework for guiding the Left has developed into a vast combine of powerful, well-funded philanthropic foundations that function on the behalf of their wealthy owners as a well-oiled mechanism of opinion management. Such philanthropic entities oversee formidable wealth that today’s heirs to the Straight and Payne Whitney tradition seek to shield from taxation while. At the same time they are able to employ such resources to influence political thought, discourse, and action. Further, following the broad-based 1999 protests of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, global elite interests recognized the importance of developing the means to “manufacture dissent.”

Such foundations no doubt exert at least subtle influence over the editorial decisions of the vulnerable progressive media beholden to them for financing. This is partially due to the personnel of the foundations themselves. The task of doling out money frequently falls to foundation officials who are retired political advocates with certain notions about what organizations should be funded and, moreover, how the money should be spent. As Michael Shuman, former director of the Institute for Policy Studies observed in the late 1990s,

“A number of program officers at progressive foundations are former activists who decided to move from the demand to the supply side to enjoy better salaries, benefits and working hours. Yet they still want to live like activists vicariously… by exercising influence over grantees through innumerable meetings, reports, conferences and “suggestions” . . . Many progressive funders treat their grantees like disobedient children who need to be constantly watched and disciplined.”[10]

Doling out grant money to a journalistic outlet is especially controversial since genuine journalism is inherently political given its inclination toward pursuing and examining the decisions and policies of power elites. As Ron Curran of the Independent Media Institute notes, money from foundations “has engendered a climate of secrecy at IAJ (Institute for Alternative Journalism n/k/a Independent Media Institute [IMI]) that’s in direct conflict with IAJ’s role as a progressive media organization.” He continues, “the only money nonprofits can get these days is from private foundations–and those foundations want to control the political agenda.”[11]

If funding is any indication of sheer influence over progressive media, that influence has grown by leaps and bounds at the foremost left media outlets since the 1990s. For example, between 1990 and 1995 the four major progressive print news outlets, The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Mother Jones received a combined $537,500 in grants and contributions. In 2010, however, The Nation Institute (The Nation) alone received $2,267,184 in funding, The Progressive took in $1,310,889, the Institute for Public Affairs (In These Times) accepted $961,015, and the Foundation for National Progress (Mother Jones) collected $4,725,235.[12] These figures are for grants and contributions alone and do not include revenue generated from subscription sales and other promotions. Alongside the overall compromised nature such funding can bring, the tremendous increase over the past decade suggests one reason for why specific subject matter that is off-limits for coverage or discussion.

With the development of the internet several new alternative-progressive outlets have emerged between the late 1990s and early 2000s, including Alternet, Democracy Now, and satellite channel Link TV. Recognizing their influence a vast array of “public support” has likewise made these multi-million dollar operations alongside their print-based forebears.

For example, between 2003 and 2010 Democracy Now has taken in $25,577,243—an annual average of $3,197,155, with 2010 assets after liabilities of $11,760,006. Between 2006 and 2010 the Pacific News Service received $26,867,417, or $5,373,483 annually.  The Foundation for National Progress (Mother Jones) brought in $46,623,197, or $4,662,320, and Link TV raised $54,839,710 between 2001 and 2009 for average annual funding of $6,093,301.(Figure 1)

Media Organization

501(c) 3
Total Support 2001-2010
Average Annual Support 2001-2010

Net Assets After Liabilities (2010)

Democracy Now
Productions Inc.

Yes
$25.577,243 (from 2003)
$3,197,155
$11,760,006

Schumann Center for Media and Democracy

Yes
NA
$3,471,682 (2010)
$33,314,688

Nation Institute (The Nation)
Yes
$22,246,533
$2,224,653
$4,798,831

Pacific News Service
Yes
$26,867,417 (2006-2010)
$5,373,483
$712,011

Foundation for National Progress (Mother Jones)
Yes
$46,623,19

$4,662,320
-$1,189,040

The Progressive
Yes
$8,702,146
$870,215
$5,493,782

Link TV
Yes
$54,839,710 (excludes 2010)
$6,093,301
$1,533,308

Institute for Public Affairs (In These Times)
Yes
$4,469,119 (excludes 2006, 2007)
$558,640
-$114,532

Institute for Independent Media (Alternet)
Yes
$14,441,678
$1,444,168
$900,585

Figure 1. Grants, Gifts, Contributions, and Membership Fees of Select “Independent Progressive” Media or Media-Related Organizations 2001-2010 (unless otherwise noted). Based on 2001-2010 IRS Form 990s.

Bill Moyers’ Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, which funds The Nation Institute and online news organ Truthout, has net assets of $33,314,688 and brought in $3,471,682 in 2010 income.[13] Because these organizations assert under their 501c3 status that they have no overt political agenda, all income is untaxed.[14] Nor are they required to list the sources of their funding—even especially generous contributions. As the early 1990s grant figures for The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Mother Jones suggest, nickel-and-dime contributions constitute a small percentage of such outlets’ overall “public” support.

Funding and Self-Censorship / Conclusion


Given the extent of foundation funding for left-progressive media, it is not surprising how such venues police themselves and proceed with the wishes of their wealthy benefactors in mind. As Croly observed concerning The New Republic, the Straights and Payne Whitneys “could always withdraw their financial support, if they ceased to approve of the policy of the paper; and in that event it would go out of existence as a consequence of their disapproval.”[15] Indeed, this is the left news media’s greatest fear.

In light of these dynamics and the big money at stake the progressive media’s censorial practices are understandable. At the same time self-censorship involves a fairly implicit set of social and behavioral processes. As Warren Breed discovered several decades ago, journalists’ socialization and workplace routinization constitute a process whereby newsworkers themselves internalize the mindset and wishes of their publishers, thereby making overt censorship unnecessary.[16]
We may conclude that a similar process is in play when today’s “progressive” journalists and their editors share or accept many of the same interests, sentiments and expectations of those who hold the purse strings–and who would likely disapprove of attending to certain “controversial” or “conspiratorial” topics and issues.

With this in mind the foremost concern with such media is the uniform declaration of their “alternative” and “independent” missions–claims that are as problematic and misleading as Fox News’ “fair and balanced” mantle. A more appropriate (and honest) moniker for the foundation-funded press is a caveat emptor-style proclamation: “The following content is intended to impart the illusion of empowerment and dissent, yet can leave you uninformed of the most pressing issues of our time, in accordance with the wishes of our sponsors.”

 

Notes

[1] On false flag terror see Daniele Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, New York: Routledge, 2005. On Fukushima see Fukushima: A Nuclear War without a War: The Ongoing Crisis of World Nuclear Radiation, ed. Michel Chossudovsky, Ottawa: Centre for Research on Globalization, January 25, 2012, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28870. For ongoing reportage see Enviroreporter.com. On Agenda 21 see Rachel Koire, Behind the Green Mask: UN Agenda 21, The Post-Sustainability Press, 2011. On geoengineering and weather modification see Project Censored 2012 Story #9, “Government Sponsored Technologies for Weather Modification,” Censored 2012: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2010-2011, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011, 84-90, http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/9-government-sponsored-technologies-for-weather-modification/. On genetically modified organisms see Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods, White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2007, and F. William Engdahl, Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation, Ottawa: Centre for Research on Globalization, 2007.

[2] Michel Chossudovsky, “Manufacturing Dissent: The Antiglobalization Movement is Funded by the Corporate Elites,” GlobalResearch.ca, September 20, 2011, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=21110

[3] Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World In Our Time, New York: MacMillan, 1966, 938.

[4] Ronald Steele, Walter Lippmann and the American Century, Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1980, 60. Payne Whitney would continue to fund the publication until 1953.

[5] Steele, Walter Lippmann and the American Century, 59.

[6] Herbert Croly, Willard Straight, New York: Macmillan & Company, 1924, 472.

[7] Quigley, Tragedy and Hope, 940.

[8] Croly, Willard Straight, 474.

[9] Quigley, Tragedy and Hope, 945-946.

[10] Michael Shuman, “Why do Progressive Foundations Give too Little to too Many?” The Nation, January 12, 1998, 11-16, The Nation ( January 12): 11–16. Available at http://www.tni.org/archives/act/2112

[11] Ron Curran 1997. “Buying the News.” San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 8, 1997. Cited in Bob Feldman, “Reports from the Field: Left Media and Left Think Tanks—Foundation Managed Protest,” Critical Sociology 33 (2007), 427-446. Available at www.irasilver.org/ wp-content/ uploads/ 2011/ 08/Reading-Foundations-Feldman.pdf

[12] Feldman, “Reports from the Field.”

[13] All tax-related information obtained through GuideStar, http://www2.guidestar.org/Home.aspx, and Foundation Center, http://foundationcenter.org/

[14] Progressive-left finger pointers such as Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America are similarly awash in foundation funding and require separate treatment.

[15] Croly, Willard Straight, 474.

[16] Warren Breed, “Social Control in the Newsroom: A Functional Analysis,” Social Forces, 33:4 (May 1955), 326-335. Available at https://umdrive.memphis.edu


James F. Tracy
is Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University and blogs at www.memorygap.org

‘The Wrong Kind of Green’

The Wrong Kind of Green

BY JOHANN HARI

This article appeared in the March 22, 2010 edition of The Nation.

In the middle of a swirl of bogus climate scandals trumped up by deniers, here is the real Climategate, waiting to be exposed.

March 4, 2010

Why did America’s leading environmental groups jet to Copenhagen and lobby for policies that will lead to the faster death of the rainforests–and runaway global warming? Why are their lobbyists on Capitol Hill dismissing the only real solutions to climate change as “unworkable” and “unrealistic,” as though they were just another sooty tentacle of Big Coal?

At first glance, these questions will seem bizarre. Groups like Conservation International are among the most trusted “brands” in America, pledged to protect and defend nature. Yet as we confront the biggest ecological crisis in human history, many of the green organizations meant to be leading the fight are busy shoveling up hard cash from the world’s worst polluters–and burying science-based environmentalism in return. Sometimes the corruption is subtle; sometimes it is blatant. In the middle of a swirl of bogus climate scandals trumped up by deniers, here is the real Climategate, waiting to be exposed.

I have spent the past few years reporting on how global warming is remaking the map of the world. I have stood in half-dead villages on the coast of Bangladesh while families point to a distant place in the rising ocean and say, “Do you see that chimney sticking up? That’s where my house was… I had to [abandon it] six months ago.” I have stood on the edges of the Arctic and watched glaciers that have existed for millenniums crash into the sea. I have stood on the borders of dried-out Darfur and heard refugees explain, “The water dried up, and so we started to kill each other for what was left.”

While I witnessed these early stages of ecocide, I imagined that American green groups were on these people’s side in the corridors of Capitol Hill, trying to stop the Weather of Mass Destruction. But it is now clear that many were on a different path–one that began in the 1980s, with a financial donation.

Environmental groups used to be funded largely by their members and wealthy individual supporters. They had only one goal: to prevent environmental destruction. Their funds were small, but they played a crucial role in saving vast tracts of wilderness and in pushing into law strict rules forbidding air and water pollution. But Jay Hair–president of the National Wildlife Federation from 1981 to 1995–was dissatisfied. He identified a huge new source of revenue: the worst polluters.

Hair found that the big oil and gas companies were happy to give money to conservation groups. Yes, they were destroying many of the world’s pristine places. Yes, by the late 1980s it had become clear that they were dramatically destabilizing the climate–the very basis of life itself. But for Hair, that didn’t make them the enemy; he said they sincerely wanted to right their wrongs and pay to preserve the environment. He began to suck millions from them, and in return his organization and others, like The Nature Conservancy (TNC), gave them awards for “environmental stewardship.”

Companies like Shell and British Petroleum (BP) were delighted. They saw it as valuable “reputation insurance”: every time they were criticized for their massive emissions of warming gases, or for being involved in the killing of dissidents who wanted oil funds to go to the local population, or an oil spill that had caused irreparable damage, they wheeled out their shiny green awards, purchased with “charitable” donations, to ward off the prospect of government regulation. At first, this behavior scandalized the environmental community. Hair was vehemently condemned as a sellout and a charlatan. But slowly, the other groups saw themselves shrink while the corporate-fattened groups swelled–so they, too, started to take the checks.

Christine MacDonald, an idealistic young environmentalist, discovered how deeply this cash had transformed these institutions when she started to work for Conservation International in 2006. She told me, “About a week or two after I started, I went to the big planning meeting of all the organization’s media teams, and they started talking about this supposedly great new project they were running with BP. But I had read in the newspaper the day before that the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] had condemned BP for running the most polluting plant in the whole country…. But nobody in that meeting, or anywhere else in the organization, wanted to talk about it. It was a taboo. You weren’t supposed to ask if BP was really green. They were ‘helping’ us, and that was it.”

She soon began to see–as she explains in her whistleblowing book Green Inc.–how this behavior has pervaded almost all the mainstream green organizations. They take money, and in turn they offer praise, even when the money comes from the companies causing environmental devastation. To take just one example, when it was revealed that many of IKEA’s dining room sets were made from trees ripped from endangered forests, the World Wildlife Fund leapt to the company’s defense, saying–wrongly–that IKEA “can never guarantee” this won’t happen. Is it a coincidence that WWF is a “marketing partner” with IKEA, and takes cash from the company?

Likewise, the Sierra Club was approached in 2008 by the makers of Clorox bleach, who said that if the Club endorsed their new range of “green” household cleaners, they would give it a percentage of the sales. The Club’s Corporate Accountability Committee said the deal created a blatant conflict of interest–but took it anyway. Executive director Carl Pope defended the move in an e-mail to members, in which he claimed that the organization had carried out a serious analysis of the cleaners to see if they were “truly superior.” But it hadn’t. The Club’s Toxics Committee co-chair, Jessica Frohman, said, “We never approved the product line.” Beyond asking a few questions, the committee had done nothing to confirm that the product line was greener than its competitors’ or good for the environment in any way.

The green groups defend their behavior by saying they are improving the behavior of the corporations. But as these stories show, the pressure often flows the other way: the addiction to corporate cash has changed the green groups at their core. As MacDonald says, “Not only do the largest conservation groups take money from companies deeply implicated in environmental crimes; they have become something like satellite PR offices for the corporations that support them.”

It has taken two decades for this corrupting relationship to become the norm among the big green organizations. Imagine this happening in any other sphere, and it becomes clear how surreal it is. It is as though Amnesty International’s human rights reports came sponsored by a coalition of the Burmese junta, Dick Cheney and Robert Mugabe. For environmental groups to take funding from the very people who are destroying the environment is preposterous–yet it is now taken for granted.

This pattern was bad enough when it affected only a lousy household cleaning spray, or a single rare forest. But today, the stakes are unimaginably higher. We are living through a brief window of time in which we can still prevent runaway global warming. We have emitted so many warming gases into the atmosphere that the world’s climate scientists say we are close to the climate’s “point of no return.” Up to 2 degrees Celsius of warming, all sorts of terrible things happen–we lose the islands of the South Pacific, we set in train the loss of much of Florida and Bangladesh, terrible drought ravages central Africa–but if we stop the emissions of warming gases, we at least have a fifty-fifty chance of stabilizing the climate at this higher level. This is already an extraordinary gamble with human safety, and many climate scientists say we need to aim considerably lower: 1.5 degrees or less.

Beyond 2 degrees, the chances of any stabilization at the hotter level begin to vanish, because the earth’s natural processes begin to break down. The huge amounts of methane stored in the Arctic permafrost are belched into the atmosphere, causing more warming. The moist rainforests begin to dry out and burn down, releasing all the carbon they store into the air, and causing more warming. These are “tipping points”: after them, we can’t go back to the climate in which civilization evolved.

So in an age of global warming, the old idea of conservation–that you preserve one rolling patch of land, alone and inviolate–makes no sense. If the biosphere is collapsing all around you, you can’t ring-fence one lush stretch of greenery and protect it: it too will die.

You would expect the American conservation organizations to be joining the great activist upsurge demanding we stick to a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: 350 parts per million (ppm), according to professor and NASA climatologist James Hansen. And–in public, to their members–they often are supportive. On its website the Sierra Club says, “If the level stays higher than 350 ppm for a prolonged period of time (it’s already at 390.18 ppm) it will spell disaster for humanity as we know it.”

But behind closed doors, it sings from a different song-sheet. Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, in Arizona, which refuses funding from polluters, has seen this from the inside. He told me, “There is a gigantic political schizophrenia here. The Sierra Club will send out e-mails to its membership saying we have to get to 350 parts per million and the science requires it. But in reality they fight against any sort of emission cuts that would get us anywhere near that goal.”

For example, in 2009 the EPA moved to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to ensure that the levels of pollutants in the air are “compatible with human safety”–a change the Sierra Club supported. But the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the EPA to take this commitment seriously and do what the climate science says really is “compatible with human safety”: restore us to 350 ppm. Suckling explains, “I was amazed to discover the Sierra Club opposed us bitterly. They said it should not be done. In fact, they said that if we filed a lawsuit to make EPA do it, they would probably intervene on EPA’s side. They threw climate science out the window.”

Indeed, the Sierra Club’s chief climate counsel, David Bookbinder, ridiculed the center’s attempts to make 350 ppm a legally binding requirement. He said it was “truly a pointless exercise” and headed to “well-deserved bureaucratic oblivion”–and would only add feebly that “350 may be where the planet should end up,” but not by this mechanism. He was quoted in the media alongside Bush administration officials who shared his contempt for the center’s proposal.

Why would the Sierra Club oppose a measure designed to prevent environmental collapse? The Club didn’t respond to my requests for an explanation. Climate scientists are bemused. When asked about this, Hansen said, “I find the behavior of most environmental NGOs to be shocking…. I [do] not want to listen to their lame excuses for their abominable behavior.” It is easy to see why groups like Conservation International, which take money from Big Oil and Big Coal, take backward positions. Their benefactors will lose their vast profits if we make the transition away from fossil fuels–so they fall discreetly silent when it matters. But while the Sierra Club accepts money from some corporations, it doesn’t take cash from the very worst polluters. So why is it, on this, the biggest issue of all, just as bad?

It seems its leaders have come to see the world through the funnel of the US Senate and what legislation it can be immediately coaxed to pass. They say there is no point advocating a strategy that senators will reject flat-out. They have to be “politically realistic” and try to advocate something that will appeal to Blue Dog Democrats.

This focus on inch-by-inch reform would normally be understandable: every movement for change needs a reformist wing. But the existence of tipping points–which have been overwhelmingly proven by the climate science–makes a mockery of this baby-steps approach to global warming. If we exceed the safe amount of warming gases in the atmosphere, then the earth will release its massive carbon stores and we will have runaway warming. After that, any cuts we introduce will be useless. You can’t jump halfway across a chasm: you still fall to your death. It is all or disaster.

By definition, if a bill can pass through today’s corrupt Senate, then it will not be enough to prevent catastrophic global warming. Why? Because the bulk of the Senate–including many Democrats–is owned by Big Oil and Big Coal. They call the shots with their campaign donations. Senators will not defy their benefactors. So if you call only for measures the Senate could pass tomorrow, you are in effect giving a veto over the position of the green groups to the fossil fuel industry.

Yet the “conservation” groups in particular believe they are being hardheaded in adhering to the “political reality” that says only cuts far short of the climate science are possible. They don’t seem to realize that in a conflict between political reality and physical reality, physical reality will prevail. The laws of physics are more real and permanent than any passing political system. You can’t stand at the edge of a rising sea and say, “Sorry, the swing states don’t want you to happen today. Come back in fifty years.”

A classic case study of this inside-the-Beltway mentality can be found in a blog written by David Donniger, policy director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), after the collapse of the Copenhagen climate summit. The summit ended with no binding agreement for any country to limit its emissions of greenhouse gases, and a disregard of the scientific targets. Given how little time we have, this was shocking. Donniger was indeed furious–with the people who were complaining. He decried the “howls of disaster in European media, and rather tepid reviews in many U.S. stories.” He said people were “holding the accord to standards and expectations that no outcome achievable at Copenhagen could reasonably have met–or even should have met.”

This last sentence is very revealing. Donniger believes it is “reasonable” to act within the constraints of the US and global political systems, and unreasonable to act within the constraints of the climate science. The greens, he suggests, are wrong to say their standards should have been met at this meeting; the deal is “not weak.” After fifteen climate summits, after twenty years of increasingly desperate scientific warnings about warming, with the tipping points drawing ever closer, he says the world’s leaders shouldn’t be on a faster track and that the European and American media should stop whining. Remember, this isn’t an oil company exec talking; this is a senior figure at one of the leading environmental groups.

There is a different way for green groups to behave. If the existing political system is so corrupt that it can’t maintain basic human safety, they should be encouraging their members to take direct action to break the Big Oil deadlock. This is precisely what has happened in Britain–and it has worked. Direct-action protesters have physically blocked coal trains and new airport runways for the past five years–and as a result, airport runway projects that looked certain are falling by the wayside, and politicians have become very nervous about authorizing any new coal power plants [see Maria Margaronis, “The UK’s Climate
Rebels,” December 7, 2009]. The more mainstream British climate groups are not reluctant to condemn the Labour government’s environmental failings in the strongest possible language. Compare the success of this direct confrontation with the utter failure of the US groups’ work-within-the-system approach. As James Hansen has pointed out, the British model offers real hope rather than false hope. There are flickers of it already–there is an inspiring grassroots movement against coal power plants in the United States, supported by the Sierra Club–but it needs to be supercharged.

By pretending the broken system can work–and will work, in just a moment, after just one more Democratic win, or another, or another–the big green groups are preventing the appropriate response from concerned citizens, which is fury at the system itself. They are offering placebos to calm us down when they should be conducting and amplifying our anger at this betrayal of our safety by our politicians. The US climate bills are long-term plans: they lock us into a woefully inadequate schedule of carbon cuts all the way to 2050. So when green groups cheer them on, they are giving their approval to a path to destruction–and calling it progress.

Even within the constraints of the existing system, their approach makes for poor political tactics. As Suckling puts it, “They have an incredibly naïve political posture. Every time the Dems come out with a bill, no matter how appallingly short of the scientific requirements it is, they cheer it and say it’s great. So the politicians have zero reason to strengthen that bill. If you’ve already announced that you’ve been captured, then they don’t need to give you anything. Compare that to how the Chamber of Commerce or the fossil fuel corporations behave. They stake out a position on the far right, and they demand the center move their way. It works for them. They act like real activists, while the supposed activists stand at the back of the room and cheer at whatever bone is thrown their way.”

The green groups have become “the mouthpiece of the Democratic Party, regardless of how pathetic the party’s position is,” Suckling says in despair. “They have no bottom line, no interest in scientifically defensible greenhouse gas emission limitations and no willingness to pressure the White House or Congress.”

It will seem incredible at first, but this is–in fact–too generous. At Copenhagen, some of the US conservation groups demanded a course of action that will lead to environmental disaster–and financial benefits for themselves. It is a story buried in details and acronyms, but the stakes are the future of civilization.

When the rich countries say they are going to cut their emissions, it sounds to anyone listening as if they are going to ensure that there are fewer coal stations and many more renewable energy stations at home. So when Obama says there will be a 3 percent cut by 2020–a tenth of what the science requires–you assume the United States will emit 3 percent fewer warming gases. But that’s not how it works. Instead, they are saying they will trawl across the world to find the cheapest place to cut emissions, and pay for it to happen there.

Today, the chopping down of the world’s forests is causing 12 percent of all emissions of greenhouse gases, because trees store carbon dioxide. So the rich governments say that if they pay to stop some of that, they can claim it as part of their cuts. A program called REDD–Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation–has been set up to do just that. In theory, it sounds fine. The atmosphere doesn’t care where the fall in emissions comes from, as long as it happens in time to stop runaway warming. A ton of carbon in Brazil enters the atmosphere just as surely as a ton in Texas.

If this argument sounds deceptively simple, that’s because it is deceptive. In practice, the REDD program is filled with holes large enough to toss a planet through.

To understand the trouble with REDD, you have to look at the place touted as a model of how the system is supposed to work. Thirteen years ago in Bolivia, a coalition of The Nature Conservancy and three big-time corporate polluters–BP, Pacificorp and American Electric Power (AEP)–set up a protected forest in Bolivia called the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project. They took 3.9 million acres of tropical forest and said they would clear out the logging companies and ensure that the forest remained standing. They claimed this plan would keep 55 million tons of CO2 locked out of the air–which would, in time, justify their pumping an extra 55 million tons into the air from their coal and oil operations. AEP’s internal documents boasted: “The Bolivian project…could save AEP billions of dollars in pollution controls.”

Greenpeace sent an investigative team to see how it had turned out. The group found, in a report released last year, that some of the logging companies had simply picked up their machinery and moved to the next rainforest over. An employee for San Martin, one of the biggest logging companies in the area, bragged that nobody had ever asked if they had stopped. This is known as “leakage”: one area is protected from logging, but the logging leaks a few miles away and continues just the same.

In fact, one major logging organization took the money it was paid by the project to quit and used it to cut down another part of the forest. The project had to admit it had saved 5.8 million tons or less–a tenth of the amount it had originally claimed. Greenpeace says even this is a huge overestimate. It’s a Potemkin forest for the polluters.

When you claim an offset and it doesn’t work, the climate is screwed twice over–first because the same amount of forest has been cut down after all, and second because a huge amount of additional warming gases has been pumped into the atmosphere on the assumption that the gases will be locked away by the now-dead trees. So the offset hasn’t prevented emissions–it’s doubled them. And as global warming increases, even the small patches of rainforest that have technically been preserved are doomed. Why? Rainforests have a very delicate humid ecosystem, and their moisture smothers any fire that breaks out, but with 2 degrees of warming, they begin to dry out–and burn down. Climatologist Wolfgang Cramer says we “risk losing the entire Amazon” if global warming reaches 4 degrees.

And the news gets worse. Carbon dioxide pumped out of a coal power station stays in the atmosphere for millenniums–so to genuinely “offset” it, you have to guarantee that a forest will stand for the same amount of time. This would be like Julius Caesar in 44 BC making commitments about what Barack Obama will do today–and what some unimaginable world leader will do in 6010. In practice, we can’t even guarantee that the forests will still be standing in fifty years, given the very serious risk of runaway warming.

You would expect the major conservation groups to be railing against this absurd system and demanding a serious alternative built on real science. But on Capitol Hill and at Copenhagen, these groups have been some of the most passionate defenders of carbon offsetting. They say that, in “political reality,” this is the only way to raise the cash for the rainforests, so we will have to work with it. But this is a strange kind of compromise–since it doesn’t actually work.

In fact, some of the big groups lobbied to make the protections weaker, in a way that will cause the rainforests to die faster. To understand why, you have to grasp a distinction that may sound technical at first but is crucial. When you are paying to stop deforestation, there are different ways of measuring whether you are succeeding. You can take one small “subnational” area–like the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project–and save that. Or you can look at an entire country, and try to save a reasonable proportion of its forests. National targets are much better, because the leakage is much lower. With national targets, it’s much harder for a logging company simply to move a few miles up the road and carry on: the move from Brazil to Congo or Indonesia is much heftier, and fewer loggers will make it.

Simon Lewis, a forestry expert at Leeds University, says, “There is no question that national targets are much more effective at preventing leakage and saving forest than subnational targets.”

Yet several groups–like TNC and Conservation International–have lobbied for subnational targets to be at the core of REDD and the US climate bills. Thanks in part to their efforts, this has become official US government policy, and is at the heart of the Waxman-Markey bill. The groups issued a joint statement with some of the worst polluters–AEP, Duke Energy, the El Paso Corporation–saying they would call for subnational targets now, while vaguely aspiring to national targets at some point down the line. They want to preserve small patches (for a short while), not a whole nation’s rainforest.

An insider who is employed by a leading green group and has seen firsthand how this works explained the groups’ motivation: “It’s because they will generate a lot of revenue this way. If there are national targets, the money runs through national governments. If there are subnational targets, the money runs through the people who control those forests–and that means TNC, Conservation International and the rest. Suddenly, these forests they run become assets, and they are worth billions in a carbon market as offsets. So they have a vested financial interest in offsetting and in subnational targets–even though they are much more environmentally damaging than the alternatives. They know it. It’s shocking.”

What are they doing to ensure that this policy happens–and the money flows their way? Another source, from a green group that refuses corporate cash, describes what she has witnessed behind closed doors. “In their lobbying, they always talk up the need for subnational projects and offsetting at every turn and say they’re great. They don’t mention national targets or the problems with offsetting at all. They also push it through their corporate partners, who have an army of lobbyists, [which are] far bigger than any environmental group. They promote their own interests as a group, not the interests of the environment.” They have been caught, he says, “REDD-handed, too many times.”

TNC and Conservation International admit they argue for subnational accounting, but they claim this is merely a “steppingstone” to national targets. Becky Chacko, director of climate policy at Conservation International, tells me, “Our only interest is to keep forests standing. We don’t [take this position] because it generates revenue for us. We don’t think it’s an evil position to say money has to flow in order to keep forests standing, and these market mechanisms can contribute the money for that.”

Yet when I ask her to explain how Conservation International justifies the conceptual holes in the entire system of offsetting, her answers become halting. She says the “issues of leakage and permanence” have been “resolved.” But she will not say how. How can you guarantee a forest will stand for millenniums, to offset carbon emissions that warm the planet for millenniums? “We factor that risk into our calculations,” she says mysteriously. She will concede that national accounting is “more rigorous” and says Conservation International supports achieving it “eventually.”

There is a broad rumble of anger across the grassroots environmental movement at this position. “At Copenhagen, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” says Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch, an organization that sides with indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin to preserve their land. “These groups are positioning themselves to be the middlemen in a carbon market. They are helping to set up, in effect, a global system of carbon laundering…that will give the impression of action, but no substance. You have to ask–are these conservation groups at all? They look much more like industry front groups to me.”

So it has come to this. After decades of slowly creeping corporate corruption, some of the biggest environmental groups have remade themselves in the image of their corporate backers: they are putting profit before planet. They are supporting a system they know will lead to ecocide, because more revenue will run through their accounts, for a while, as the collapse occurs. At Copenhagen, their behavior was so shocking that Lumumba Di-Aping, the lead negotiator for the G-77 bloc of the world’s rainforest-rich but cash-poor countries, compared them to the CIA at the height of the cold war, sabotaging whole nations.

How do we retrieve a real environmental movement, in the very short time we have left? Charles Komanoff worked as a consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council for thirty years before quitting in disgust recently. He says, “We’re close to a civil war in the environmental movement. For too long, all the oxygen in the room has been sucked out by this beast of these insider groups, who achieve almost nothing…. We need to create new organizations that represent the fundamentals of environmentalism and have real goals.”

Some of the failing green groups can be reformed from within. The Sierra Club is a democratic organization, with the leadership appointed by its members. There are signs that members are beginning to put the organization right after the missteps of the past few years. Carl Pope is being replaced by Mike Brune, formerly of the Rainforest Action Network–a group much more aligned with the radical demands of the climate science. But other organizations–like Conservation International and TNC–seem incapable of internal reform and simply need to be shunned. They are not part of the environmental movement: they are polluter-funded leeches sucking on the flesh of environmentalism, leaving it weaker and depleted.

Already, shining alternatives are starting to rise up across America. In just a year, the brilliant 350.org has formed a huge network of enthusiastic activists who are demanding our politicians heed the real scientific advice–not the parody of it offered by the impostors. They have to displace the corrupt conservationists as the voice of American environmentalism, fast.

This will be a difficult and ugly fight, when we need all our energy to take on the forces of ecocide. But these conservation groups increasingly resemble the forces of ecocide draped in a green cloak. If we don’t build a real, unwavering environmental movement soon, we had better get used to a new sound–of trees crashing down and an ocean rising, followed by the muffled, private applause of America’s “conservationists.”

About Johann Hari

Johann Hari is a columnist for the Independent in London and a contributing writer for Slate. He has been named Newspaper Journalist of the Year by Amnesty International for his reporting from the war in Congo. more…