CEI fails to manufacture its own 'stolen emails' controversy

The folks at Competitive Enterprise Institute seemed to enjoy Climategate so much that they tried to manufacture an email scandal of their own.  But two months and several attempts later, they haven’t been able to generate much interest.

On Dec. 31, 2009 NASA complied with a FOIA request from CEI by publicly posting 200 emails regarding a minor error made by NASA that had been discovered in August 2007 by climate skeptic Steve McIntyre.  NASA quickly corrected the error, but that didn’t stop CEI from filing a FOIA request for the departmental email traffic, no doubt hoping to find some out-of-context comments it could use to tarnish NASA’s image.

But in the days following NASA’s public posting of the files, CEI remained silent.  That left the door open for the Scaife-funded Judicial Watch to post a press release of their own two weeks later.  Judicial Watch didn’t just scoop CEI, though.  The group glossed over exactly who filed the FOIA request, and posted a few select quotes from the emails (hat tip to Eli Rabett for digging through that.)  It hardly mattered who spoke first though.  Response to Judicial Watch’s attempt to scandalize NASA was underwhelming, to say the least.

The announcement made a minor ripple on the usual skeptic websites like WattsupWithThat, ClimateAudit and The Blackboard.  On ClimateAudit, commenter stansvonhorch found a ‘forgotten password’ request in one of the emails, which enabled him to log in to NASA physicist Makiko Sato’s password-protected research directory on the GISS website.  He quickly mined all the info from there and uploaded it to a public file-hosting service, posting links as comments on ClimateAudit.org.  Other commenters pointed out that the use of the password was probably illegal and not covered under FOIA, but he persisted and the comments were not removed.  Further posts on this topic have so far avoided using illegally obtained files, which are mostly draft charts and random comments on various papers.  On WattsUpWithThat, Richard Henry Lee made a searchable database of the original FOIA email files, ala Climategate. 

But still no one in the media or the general public took any notice.

Never one to give up easily, CEI made a second attempt to create controversy a month later.  On February 17th, writing in Pajamas Media, CEI Senior Fellow Chris Horner detailed his role in filing the FOIA request and claimed “The emails show the hypocrisy, dishonesty, and suspect data management and integrity of NASA, wildly spinning in defense of their enterprise.”  He also dragged former New York Times science Andy Revkin into the mix, posting email exchanges between Revkin and NASA scientist James Hansen regarding questions about the integrity of surface station temperature measurements.  But that effort failed as well, generating only a few blog comments and reposts.

In the spirit of ‘try, try again’ CEI renewed its efforts almost 3 weeks later.  On March 2nd, CEI Vice President Iain Murray and research associate Roger Abbott announced in the American Spectator that “Now a new ‘Climategate’ scandal is emerging, this time based on documents released by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in response to several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suits filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).”

Third time’s a charm, perhaps? On March 5th, CEI staffer Myron Ebell proudly announced on globalwarming.com that “The e-mails were first reported in a front-page story by Stephen Dinan in the Washington Times today.”  CEI also issued its first press release on the matter on the 5th, bringing in CEI’s Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis and General Counsel Sam Kazman for further comment.

So, let’s review.  It took CEI over 60 days and public pronouncements by six of its directors and staff members to transform a batch of nearly three-year-old emails into a front-page story in exactly one third-rate newspaper. 

Perhaps the public is genuinely tired of the increasingly shrill claims of skeptics shouting ‘scandal’  or ‘conspiracy’ or anything ending in the suffix ‘gate’?

Or maybe we finally know the real reason why ExxonMobil stopped funding CEI in 2006?  Between 1998 and 2006, CEI received over $2 million in funding from ExxonMobil, but Exxon eventually dumped CEI like a bad habit.  Other organizations that have contributed to the CEI include tobacco giant Philip Morris, who has provided $370,000 since 1991 to the CEI for assistance in “regulatory issues.”

With results like these, CEI’s current funders must be questioning the impact of their donations.  Not that we know who they are, since CEI, so keen to access other people’s information, won’t open its own suspicious books.  Wouldn’t that be an interesting story?  Or has the public grown so tired of climate skeptics and their manufactured scandals that even the truth about which dirty energy companies are bankrolling an increasingly irrelevant group like CEI would be, well, a non-story?