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Feb 20, 2012

Heartland launches legal action against climate change bloggers, journos

Controversial US think tank the Heartland Institute has sent legal letters to bloggers and writers who reported on the release of the leaked Heartland Institute documents last week.

Controversial US think tank the Heartland Institute has sent legal letters to bloggers and writers who reported on the release of the leaked Heartland Institute documents last week.

The Heartland documents revealed the key donors for the institute, plans for a K-12 curriculum based on a climate science denier agenda and how much well-known climate science denialists are paid to push the anti-climate change agenda for Heartland.

Heartland questioned the authenticity of some of the documents and threatened legal action last week. It proved over the weekend that it was going through with it, with a number of environment writers receiving legal letters.

“We realize this will be portrayed by some as a heavy-handed threat to free speech,” announced Heartland president Joseph L Bast in a press release. “But the First Amendment doesn’t protect Internet fraud, and there is no right to defamatory speech.”

Heartland’s communications spokesperson Jim Lakely told Crikey that so far five media organisations have been sent legal letters: Brendan de Melle from DeSmog Blog, Brad Johnson from ThinkProgress, Arianna Huffington from The Huffington Post, John H. Harris from Politico and Greg Laden, a blogger at ScienceBlogs. However at least one other climate blog received a legal notice notice.

Heartland has republished the letter it emailed to climate news website DeSmogBlog. The legal letter, written by Heartland’s general counsel Maureen Martin states:

“On or about February 14, 2012, your web site posted a document entitled ‘Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy’ (the ‘Fake Memo’), which is fabricated and false.

“On or about the same date, your web site posted certain other documents purporting to be those of The Heartland Institute (‘Heartland’). Heartland has not authenticated these documents (the ‘Alleged Heartland Documents’).

“Your site thereafter has reported repeatedly on all of these documents.”

It notes that Heartland is still investigating whether the leaked Heartland documents — excluding what they allege to be a fake climate strategy memo — “are authentic or have been altered or fabricated”, although they have been released publicly for five days already:

 “Though third parties purport to have authenticated them, no one — other than Heartland — has the ability to do so. Several of the documents say on their face that they are confidential documents and all of them were taken from Heartland by improper and fraudulent means. Publication of any and all confidential or altered documents is improper and unlawful.”

DeSmogBlog, which first published the leaked Heartlands document dump last week, is refusing to remove any of the documents or articles in question and said it will keep them in place as a matter of public interest.

“After due consideration, we could see no basis in fact or law for Heartland’s demand that we remove these documents,” wrote DeSmogBlog founding editor and well-known environment journalist Richard Littlemore.

Crikey spoke to the Vancouver-based Littlemore this morning. The legal letter is full of “logical inconsistencies at the very least”, Littlemore told Crikey.

“What they are saying is that we’re accusing you of theft but we can’t be sure that the stuff you have is stolen,” said Littlemore. “If the stuff is legitimate, then you can accuse someone of having stolen it. But if you can’t even satisfy yourself that the material is yours, then you’re certainly not in a very good position to tell anyone that they’ve stolen it.”

DeSmogBlog were sent the leaked documents after an individual pretended to work at Heartland and convinced the Institute to email them the allegedly confidential documents in full.

“If any of this turns out to be demonstrably incorrect then we will take that very seriously,” Littlemore told Crikey. “But in the meantime we look forward to reading and writing about the material.”

Greg Laden, a climate blogger at ScienceBlogs who also received the legal letter threat, agrees that the legal letter was confusing. Laden thought at first that the legal letter “looked like something some crazy denialist made up and sent me” since the  letter he received via email didn’t include his name in full (it’s Gregory), the title was wrong (he’s a doctor) and the address was wrong (he doesn’t live at the address or know anyone who does).

“As far as I can tell looking at it, no one I know who is a lawyer would retain staff who are as incompetent as those who wrote this letter,” said Laden.

How can Heartland seek action against a document it says is a fake? “They can’t take down a document they have nothing to do with,” said Laden. “If it’s made up and has nothing to do with Heartland, it would be difficult for them to argue that I should take it down off my website.”

But he sees the legal letter as a threat from Heartland against those who write about climate change and climate science. “It’s obvious to me Heartland is interested in making people who argue against their point of view quiet,” said Larden. “They want people to shut up.”

Crikey understands The New York Times will tomorrow reveal the identity of Heartland’s “Anonymous Donor”, an individual who has donated $13.7 million to the Heartland Institute since 2007 and at times has provided 60% of the institute’s funding.

Crikey asked Heartland to clarify how long it will take for all of the leaked documents to be authenticated, but we didn’t hear back before deadline.

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16 comments

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16 thoughts on “Heartland launches legal action against climate change bloggers, journos

  1. CATBRAIN

    Hey, why is the address blacked out in the image above, but clicking on the image brings up a PDF showing the full address?

  2. Amber Jamieson

    @Catbrain We blocked it out as it was the private address of the individual, but it links through to the Heartland website where they chose to publish it.

  3. Roger Clifton

    Every professional with a conscience about climate change must hanker to contribute to the struggle. In this case, it is lawyers who have an opportunity to put a shoulder to the wheel. If what Heartland is doing is terribly wrong, it should be made a crime.

    We need a process for International Crimes Against the Environment. Of course this would require the emergence of an international consensus of a universal “wrong”. And of course this would take enormous amount of time — legal advice to environmental groups worldwide, legal advice within political parties and eventually legal communication between governments. That’s work for lawyers with a conscience.

    If reformist lawyers have a heart for the Commons, they would be talking up possibilities amongst themselves. It’s about time you guys talked with us.

  4. Mike Flanagan

    It is interesting the tactics of Heartland. Whilst they manipulate data to support their activities, and they set about the destruction of scientist’s reputations, and they support parties that advocate the review of our media’s responsibilities to be honest, they use every means under the law, including legal bullying to protect themselves.
    A recent survey in America of relevent practicing scientist indicates that over 97% actively agree that Climate Change was occuring and is the result of human behaviour.
    This same survey identified that the scientists, that responded, were of the same mind regardless whether they were from a publicly funded institute or from industry.
    So much for the organisation’s like Heartland’s claim that our University and public institute scientists are maintaining a fallacy to feed their funding.

  5. John Mashey

    Heartland is not exactly handling this well.
    The leak is embarrassing and messy for Heartland, but people might look at the first few pages of Fake science, fakexperts, funny finances, free of tax, much of which is about Heartland, with some strange AU/NZ connections. Those show up in Appendices H.3 and H.4. Heartland sent money to CA, NZ and almost certainly AU to non-charities and the IRS takes very dim view of that.

    There are a raft of alleged abuses of US tax law, which are rather more serious than embarrassment and having donors mad at you. This one might even rise to tax fraud conspiracy involving many people. Try this as an example of a far smaller case.

    It would have made my life a lot simpler of HeartlandInsider had waited a week … but should the 501(c)(3) violations and tax evasion issues happen … whoever did it may well be able to claim a whistleblower award of money reclaimed from Heartland.

    Meanwhile, Joe bast is spending his time doing this.

  6. heavylambs

    Joe Bast and Heartland : born spinning,they don’t know when or how to stop. John Mashey’s work is a must-read,as is his last link for an insight into the delightful ways of Mr Bast.

  7. AR

    BigBuck$ & Slap Writs. hey ho, off to the bank we go!

  8. Bellistner

    So it’s not really launching legal action, but rather sending nasty letters threatening legal action.

  9. Scott

    It appears Peter Gleick, head of the Pacific Institute and a noted water and climate scientist has admitted to obtaining the documents by deception from the Heartland Institute on his blog.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-h-gleick/-the-origin-of-the-heartl_b_1289669.html

    He claims that he received the “fake” document first (by mail) and then admits he obtained the subsequent documents deceptively.

    “and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name”

    He claims he did so confirm that the first document was authentic.

    Not a good look for Gleick.