Hurricanes and Climate Change: A case of “Fake TV News” & ExxonMobil disinformation?

I am often asked the difference between disinformation and misinformation. The following is a prime example of disinformation, made more stark by Hurricane Ida that just left devastation in New Orleans and surrounds.

In June 2006, less than a year after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and wrecked New Orleans, Tech Central Station, a project run by a public affairs firm called DCI Group, produced and distributed a Video News Release (VNR) that looked like a national news broadcast, complete with sitting authoritative newscasters. The video cassette was sent to Gulf State news stations according to PRWatch.

The fake news segment questioned the link between stronger hurricanes with climate change, something that is now clearer than ever, as shown here by Climate Central and a subject that has been covered far and wide in the past few years by the Washington Post and last week or so by Scientific American and the New York Times, “Ida Strengthened Quickly Into a Monster. Here’s How.

Scientific understanding of the risk of meaner hurricanes with a warming climate was pretty clear back in 2006, painting a grim picture of what warmer air and sea surface temperatures would do to the intensity of hurricanes….but this video pitches an alternative reality.  Wonder why?

Was this done on the ExxonMobil bill?

What motivated the production of this video and the project to send it to Gulf State TV stations? Was this work on the ExxonMobil contract with DCI Group? We know through lobbying records that DCI Group was being paid by Exxon at the time. We know from ExxonMobil tax records and charitable donations documents that Exxon paid money to TechCentral Station.

The VNR itself, along with a known newscast that used the piece, was preserved by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Dr. William Gray, the hurricane scientist and climate change denier in the video, who passed away recently at the age of 86.

VNRs are pre-produced news segments, contracted generally by corporations, edited and sent out to news stations in small markets in hopes of filling airtime within the actual newscast. And they often do.  This one was aired on at least one station.Materials sent to TV stations with the video listed “TCS Daily Science Roundtable” as the producer.

The press release for the VNR video said:

“Some scientists say it’s part of a naturally occurring cycle, while others have made the claim global warming is to blame. Two of the foremost weather and ocean scientists believe that this is all part of the cycle of nature.”

The voiceover in the video included a similar message:

“There’s a lot of debate as to what’s been causing all of these hurricanes. Some scientists say it’s part of a naturally occurring cycle, while others have made the claim global warming is to blame.“Dr. William Gray and Dr. James O’Brien, two of the nation’s top weather and oceans scientists, point to scientific data for the answer […].“Gray and many of his colleagues believe it’s not global warming that’s creating these massive hurricanes, but the cycle of nature itself.”

We are interested in any information about this or other disinformation campaigns about hurricanes and climate change. Please get in touch via [email protected]

Posted by Climate Investigations Center