Fox News' Bret Baier badly misrepresented the "Exxon Knew" scandal, falsely claiming that Exxon and other oil companies could be punished by the federal government simply because they "do not believe man is responsible for global warming." In fact, the reason Exxon could face a federal Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation is because of evidence that the company intentionally "misled the public regarding the role of fossil fuels in climate change," as Fox News reporter James Rosen explained later in the same segment.
On the March 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Baier introduced Rosen's report by alleging that the government could target oil companies because of their "politically incorrect thinking" on climate change:
BAIER: Some of the millions of people around the world who do not believe man is responsible for global warming could soon be facing more than just mockery from the left. President Obama's top lawyer admits the government is considering much more forceful action. Chief Washington correspondent James Rosen tonight, on the growing campaign against politically incorrect thinking.
But a potential DOJ investigation of Exxon and other oil companies would occur not because of what Exxon "believe[s]" or because Exxon's position is "politically incorrect"; the federal investigation, like ongoing or possible investigations by attorneys general in New York, California, and Maryland, would focus on whether oil companies violated the law by purposely withholding truthful information about climate change from shareholders and deceiving the public at large. Last year, InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times each reported on a series of documents showing that Exxon deceived the public for decades about the science of climate change, and InsideClimate News detailed further evidence that other oil companies -- including Shell and Texaco -- also knew as far back as the 1970s about the dangers fossil fuel pollution poses for the climate.
Climate scientists and members of Congress have called for the DOJ to investigate Exxon and Shell under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which would apply only to those that purposely misled the public about climate change. The DOJ previously filed a civil RICO lawsuit against big tobacco companies, and a federal judge ruled that the tobacco companies had violated RICO by lying about the health risks associated with smoking.
Later in the Special Report segment, Rosen directly contradicted Baier's claim that Exxon could be punished over an honest disagreement about whether humans are responsible for climate change, pointing out that the investigation would be about whether Exxon "misled the public." Rosen explained: "It was Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California who first asked the Justice Department to investigate, specifically whether ExxonMobil has misled the public regarding the role of fossil fuels in climate change."
Baier's false description of the "Exxon Knew" scandal recalls equally incorrect comments about the issue by other conservative media figures, who have alleged that those seeking investigations of Exxon's climate deception are trying to "shut down free speech."
From the March 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier: