ICN's Exxon Series Named Finalist for Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

Exxon: The Road Not Taken is one of six investigative projects cited for its impact on public policy.

Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

InsideClimate News' series Exxon: The Road Not Taken has been chosen as a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, a prestigious award administered by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

ICN's series is the result of an ambitious eight-month investigation into how the world's largest oil company engaged in rigorous study of climate science as far back as the 1970s, yet chose for decades to cast doubt on that science, fund denial groups and block meaningful policy action to combat climate change.

It was reported, written and edited by a team of ICN journalistsNeela Banerjee, Lisa Song, David Hasemyer and John H. Cushman Jr.and supported by the entire staff.

Aside from the team from InsideClimate News, the award selection committee honored five other finalists: the Associated Press, the Guardian U.S., The New York Times, the Tampa Bay Times and the Washington Post.

"The Goldsmith Prize judges had a difficult if rewarding task," Thomas Patterson, interim director of the Shorenstein Center, said. "Many of this year's submissions were prize worthy, and the top sixthe judges' picks as finalists for the Goldsmith Prizeare spectacular. They testify, at a time when newsrooms are shrinking, to journalists' commitment to exposing wrongdoing by those entrusted with power."

The winner will be announced at a ceremony at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on March 3. The winner will receive $25,000, while the remaining five finalists will each receive $10,000.

"We are honored to see our work recognized in the company of such excellent, impactful and public-spirited investigations," said David Sassoon, publisher of InsideClimate News.

The prize seeks to reward journalism that "best promotes more effective and ethical conduct of government, the making of public policy, or the practice of politics." It honors investigations that impact public policy on a federal, state or local level.

The impact of Exxon: The Road Not Taken has come swiftly and powerfully.

Most significant has been the probe of Exxon launched by Eric Schneiderman, New York's attorney general, under the Martin Act. He has subpoenaed Exxon records on its climate change research, communications and funding of advocacy groups, aiming to determine if Exxon misled the public about the risks posed by global warming. 

In addition, Reps. Mark DeSaulnier and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wrote to the Department of Justice urging a federal probe of Exxon under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act—the same law used to investigate tobacco companies in the 1990s. 

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrote a similar letter calling for an investigation of Exxon's "potential corporate fraud." Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and former Vice President Al Gore have also publicly endorsed the idea. 

Senator Whitehouse and three other congressmen wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission asking it to investigate ExxonMobil's past federal filings to see if the company violated securities laws by failing to adequately disclose material risks to its business posed by climate change.

Environmental leaders delivered a petition with 350,000 signatures to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging a federal probe of whether ExxonMobil misled the public on global warming. Some 50 heads of national environmental and justice organizations have endorsed the call.

The 2015 Goldsmith Prize was awarded to a team from the Miami Herald for Innocents Lost, an investigation into how cutbacks in protection for children by the state of Florida resulted in hundreds of children dying under terrible circumstances, their safety net having been abdicated by the government.

The Associated Press' nominated work, Seafood from Slaves, uncovers the use of slave labor in the seafood industry; the Guardian U.S. was chosen for The Counted, documenting the staggering number of people killed by police in 2015; The New York Times' nomination, Beware the Fine Print, reveals the rise of clauses used by companies in consumer and employee contracts essentially depriving Americans of the right to sue; the Tampa Bay Times was chosen for Failure Factories, which explores how Pinellas County abandoned integration in its school system and deprived black schools of resources; the Washington Post was cited for Fatal Shootings by Police, a tally of all the fatal police shootings in the country, a tabulation more comprehensive than the F.B.I.'s.

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