Almost a year ago the Washington Post, following on my own work in Mother Jones, reported on Fox News “junk science” columnist Steven Milloy’s ties to ExxonMobil. The piece was by Howard Kurtz, and it included a reaction from Milloy:
Milloy says Mother Jones has taken “old information and sloppily tried to insinuate that ExxonMobil has a say in what I write in my Fox column, which is entirely false. . . . My columns are based on what I believe and no one pays me to believe anything.” Despite a mainstream scientific consensus, Milloy says that “the hysteria about global warming is entirely junk science-based” and that he sees no need to disclose the ExxonMobil funding in his writing because it’s not “relevant.”
I include this to highlight the following point: Milloy does not appear to dispute the information that has been reported about his funding. Instead, he merely says the information is “old”–to which I say, send us an update!–and that in any case, such funding doesn’t matter. It’s not “relevant” to his writing.
This background is very important in discussing the latest reporting about Milloy–this time by Paul Thacker in The New Republic. Milloy didn’t talk to Thacker, but the interview with Howard Kurtz certainly seems to confirm Thacker’s basic information. But Thacker goes further. He states (and documents) that Milloy “has a long history of taking payment from industries that have a stake in the science stories he writes.” It’s not just global warming; previously, Milloy had ties to the tobacco industry, and challenged scientific studies suggesting risks from secondhand smoke.
My view of this matter is not that it’s wrong for Milloy to get money from for-profit companies, be they ExxonMobil or Philip Morris. However, under the current standards of journalism, it is certainly questionable to go around attacking climate science on the Fox News website without even bothering to disclose such a connection. As Thacker puts it:
Objective viewers long ago realized that Fox News has a political agenda. But, when a pundit promotes this agenda while on the take from corporations that benefit from it, then Fox News has gone one disturbing step further.
Of course, I’m not sure I would expect much generally from Fox News’s science coverage. Consider their website’s science coverage page. “Science: A Liberal Plot,” reads one item. That leads to a free video promoting (almost entirely uncritically) Tom Bethell’s egregious Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. To be fair, at least one Fox anchor asked Bethell a semi-hard question about his “No AIDS Epidemic in Africa” conspiracy theory. Even most conservatives have a hard time swallowing that one.