By Paul Farhi
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages may be the beating heart of climate-change skepticism, but the newspaper apparently was willing to entertain an alternative view — for a price.
The leading business newspaper is letting an obscure environmental group challenge the Journal editorial page’s orthodoxy on the issue, although it will cost the group thousands of extra dollars to run its kickoff ad on the page.
The Partnership for Responsible Growth, based in Washington, approached the Journal last month with plans to run 12 ads, in print and digital form, promoting a proposed fee on carbon-fuel producers. It sought to place its print ads on the newspaper’s op-ed page, where columns blasting environmentalists in general and climate-change activism in particular are standard fare.
The group’s first ad, however, seemed to have hit a little too close to home.
“Exxon’s CEO says fossil fuels are raising temperatures and sea levels,” its headline reads. “Why won’t the Wall Street Journal?”
The Partnership for Responsible Growth says this ad was initially rejected by the Wall Street Journal, although the paper denied this.
The ad goes on to call out the Journal’s editorial position — long held and staunchly defended — that climate change is complex and the science surrounding it is still uncertain: “If the CEO of the world’s largest company accepts the basic physics that humans are heating the climate with excess C02, why won’t the editorial board of this newspaper?” the copy says. “Isn’t it about time?”
No dice, said the Journal’s advertising department, according to the environmental group. The newspaper — owned by News Corp., one of two companies controlled by Rupert Murdoch — initially rejected the first ad but accepted 11 subsequent ads, none of which mention the Journal.
According to internal documents supplied by the environmental organization, the newspaper is charging the group $36,528 for the Journal-bashing ad while charging $27,309 each for the eight ads that follow it (the last three in the series are freebies, known as “bonus” ads).
Journal spokeswoman Colleen Schwartz denied that the paper initially rejected the first ad. “We do welcome the debate,” she said.
And that premium price? It’s actually not a premium, Schwartz said, but the standard, non-discounted rate. Any advertiser that challenges something in the paper can expect to pay this rate, she said. All other ads are subject to negotiation and discounts. And that’s what happened here: The partnership paid the standard rate for the first ad and received discounted prices for the rest of the series, she said.
Bottom line: The Journal published the Journal-bashing ad in Tuesday’s edition.
Money aside, the message is as important as the medium, said George Frampton, the co-founder and chief executive of the partnership.
“We’re not really trying to convert or attack the paper,” he said. “We’re trying to reach out to a business audience in a medium that never tells them the the science is basically settled and that this is a national-security and economic problem . . . I’d say if the Journal won’t cover it, we’ll pay to have them cover it.”
Several studies, including one by the partnership itself, indicate that the Journal’s editorial pages have tipped strongly toward climate-change denial for years. The partnership found that none of the paper’s 201 editorials on the topic since 1997 acknowledged that fossil fuels were a cause of climate change, and only 14 percent of 279 guest editorials published since 1995 reflected “mainstream climate science.”
The Partnership for Responsible Growth, which says it is bipartisan, calls the proposed fee on carbon-fuel producers a “revenue-neutral, pro-growth, free-market” response to climate change. The group was co-founded by Frampton, a lawyer and former president of the Wilderness Society; Walter Minnick, a former Democratic congressman from Idaho; and William Eacho, a businessman and former ambassador to Austria.
The group also plans to buy two TV ads on Fox News — also owned by a Murdoch-controlled company — during the Republican National Convention in July featuring Republicans speaking about the need to address climate change.