From Reuters to The New York Times, Big Oil pays ‘most trusted media brands’ to push greenwashing

From Reuters to The New York Times, Big Oil pays 'most trusted media brands' to push greenwashing

From Reuters to The New York Times, Big Oil pays ‘most trusted media brands’ to push greenwashing. A new report highlights the role of the media in climate delay, a practice that promotes ineffective solutions to the climate crisis and distracts from genuinely useful measures.

Produced by two climate investigative outlets, Drilled and DeSmog, it analyses seven “most trusted” news brands in the US and Europe: Bloomberg, The Economist, The Financial Times, The New York Times, Politico, Reuters and The Washington Post.

While all these outlets have dedicated, independent editorial teams who duly scrutinise the fossil fuel industry, they all also take Big Oil sponsorship money for advertorials, podcasts, newsletters and live events, allowing the polluters to promote narratives portraying them as environmentally friendly.

This practice blurs the lines between unbiased reporting and paid advertising. A 2018 study by Boston University found that less than one in 10 people can tell sponsored content from an article. This sows confusion and undermines the already shaky trust in news, while also delaying an urgent action against climate change.

“Influencing the influencers”

This is nothing new – the very concept of advertorial was invented in the 1970s by Herbert Schmertz, the then vice-president of public affairs at Mobil Oil, who ran weekly paid-for articles in The New York Times. The articles were not just advertising the latest motor products. They also often emphasised doubt in science when mentioning climate change.

Although the report only focuses on the seven “most trusted brands”, this practice also seeped into the new kind of media. The US startup Semafor, for instance, partnered with Chevron to sponsor its climate newsletter launched in October 2022. Axios has also lined up with fossil fuel companies that have been sponsoring its newsletters since 2017.

“Influencing the influencers” – as Schmertz put it – does not come cheap. According to Yahoo! News, sponsoring POLITICO Playbook and Axios newsletter can cost more than $300,000 a week.

As for the seven media brands analysed in the report, the biggest spender by far was Saudi Aramco, which spent $13 million with The New York Times, $3 million with Reuters, $2.13 million with The Economist, and $1.55 million with Bloomberg from October 2020 to October 2023.


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