New report reveals fossil fuel's media influence as Big Oil sponsors dinners, awards for journalists

By Dan Bacher | 

For years, I have covered the capture of media outlets, journalists, politicians, regulators and environmental NGOs by the fossil fuel industry in California and the West.

It’s good to see that somebody else is finally stepping up to the plate on a national and global level on exposing the increasing collaboration between Big Oil and media corporations.

Drilled and DeSmog, in collaboration with The Intercept and The Nation, just released a startling new report: Readers for Sale: The Media's Role in Climate Delay.

"As the business model for media has faltered, the fossil fuel industry has increasingly weaponized weaknesses to its benefit," the report begins.

The report, coming out as the ongoing COP28 climate summit continues to generate controversy, goes into detail on how much money some of the biggest media companies in the world are taking in from fossil fuel, and where exactly the money is being spent. 

“Reuters is one of at least seven major news outlets that creates and publishes misleading promotional content for fossil fuel companies, according to a report released today. Known as advertorials or native advertising, the sponsored material is created to look like a publication’s authentic editorial work, lending a veneer of journalistic credibility to the fossil fuel industry’s key climate talking points,” wrote Amy Westervelt and Matthew Green in the Intercept on Dec. 5.

“In collaboration with The Intercept and The Nation, Drilled and DeSmog analyzed hundreds of advertorials and events, as well as ad data from MediaRadar. Our analysis focused on the three years spanning October 2020 to October 2023, when the public ramped up calls for media, public relations, and advertising companies to cut their commercial ties with fossil fuel clients amid growing awareness that the industry’s deceptive messaging was slowing climate action,” the authors wrote.

“All of the companies reviewed — Bloomberg, The Economist, The Financial Times, The New York Times, Politico, Reuters, and The Washington Post — top lists of most-trusted news outlets in both the U.S. and Europe. Each has an internal brand studio that creates advertising content for fossil fuel majors that range from podcasts to newsletters, videos, and advertorials, and some allow fossil fuel companies to sponsor their events. Reuters goes a step further, with marketing staff creating custom industry conferences explicitly designed to remove the “pain points” holding back faster production of oil and gas.”

Read the Intercept article here:

And view the full report here:

You will rarely see deep reporting on Big Oil regulatory capture by journalists in the MSM and  “alternative” media. The new report by Drilled and DeSmog, in collaboration with the Intercept and The Nation, is very welcome news in a time of increasing collaboration between media and Big Oil.

This has been a big year for capture of the media and journalists by the Western States Petroleum Association in California and the U.S., as I have documented in my articles.

In one of the clearest examples of the collaboration between Big Oil and the media, the Western States Petroleum Association, the largest corporate lobbying group in California and the West, sponsored a “media dinner” on Tuesday, February 28 this year in Sacramento as part of #BizFedSactoDays.

The flyer for the event stated, “Journalists who play an outsize role in shaping narratives about state politics and holding lawmakers accountable will join business leaders to pull back the curtain on how they select and tell stories about California policies, policy and power.”

Featured speakers at the program included Coleen Nelson of the Sacramento Bee, Laurel Rosenhall of the Los Angeles Times, Kaitlyn Schallhorn of the Orange County Register and Dan Walters of Cal Matters.

In a tweet, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, gushed:

“One of our favorite times of year is #BizFedSactoDays- when @BizFed helps amplify the presence and power of business in California. And we're honored to host the Media Dinner and featured media speakers! @DanCALmatters @LaurelRosenhall@ColleenMNelson @K_Schallhorn”

Then on March 16, the Sacramento Press Club announced in a tweet that WSPA was the new “Lede Sponsor” of the Sacramento Press Club's Journalism Awards Reception that was held on March 29: “Thank you to our new Lede Sponsor @officialWSPA! WSPA is dedicated to guaranteeing that every American has access to reliable energy options through socially, economically and environmentally responsible policies and regulations. Learn more more at

In response to this tweet, investigative journalist Aaron Cantu tweeted back on March 20, “As the recipient of @SacPressClub ’s environmental award last year, it’s concerning to see fossil fuel industry talking points passed off uncritically here. WSPA becoming lede sponsor happened in the context of a global PR turn as the climate crisis worsens.”

Unfortunately, Cantu is the only journalist other than me with the integrity to contest the sponsorship of the Sacramento Press Club’s Journalism Awards Reception by WSPA.

Even more unfortunately, there is no doubt that WSPA and Big Oil have for years worked closely with media outlets.

In 2015, I wrote this article about how LA Times and the California Resources Corporation (formerly Occidental Petroleum) teamed up on a propaganda website: Fortunately, the Times is no longer managing and running that website.

In another example of media collaboration with Big Oil, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, WSPA President,  was on the "short list" of nominees for the LA Times "Inspirational Women Awards” held on October 18, 2022.

Can you guess who was one of the sponsors of the LA Times awards? Yes, you guessed right — WSPA was a sponsor.

According to a tweet from @OfficialWSPA, "Today @latimes acknowledged a woman who is already well known in our industry as a trailblazer and inspiration to tens of thousands of women. Congrats to our fearless leader @WSPAPrez for being recognized as a shortlisted nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards."

In addition, four LA Times reporters received the “Courage in Journalism” award from the Sacramento Press Club in 2022. Yes, the Western States Petroleum Association was one of the sponsors of these awards last year also.

In addition to sponsoring journalism events in California, the Western States Petroleum Association has expanded its campaign to influence journalists nationally. WSPA and the controversial waste management firm Veolia North America sponsored events at this year’s Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference in Boise, Idaho, according to a report from DeSmog: 

“The agenda for the conference, which is being hosted in Boise, Idaho, shows that the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the waste management company Veolia North America are sponsoring two of the “beat dinners” hosted on Friday, April 21 — the third day of the event,” the article by Sam Bright reported.

Fortunately, WSPA and Veolia’s sponsorships of the SEJ conference spurred condemnation by at least one group, Fossil Free Media.  

“There’s no excuse for these sorts of conflicts of interest,” Jamie Henn of the campaign and communications group Fossil Free Media told Bright. “By letting the fossil fuel industry sponsor events, groups like SEJ lend credibility to bad actors” that are attempting to “influence coverage and maintain their social license by pretending to be well-meaning supporters of the free press.”  

The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, describes itself as “non-profit trade association that represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.” WSPA’s headquarters is located right here on L Street in Sacramento.    

I have documented how WSPA and the oil companies wield their power in 8 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups; (5) working in collaboration with media; (6) sponsoring awards ceremonies and dinners, including those for legislators and journalists; (7) contributing to non profit organizations; and (8) creating alliances with labor unions, mainly construction trades.

When so called journalism organizations are tainted by the toxic stench of Big Oil money — and very few “environmental” and “climate” organizations have any problem with this — you know that were are in a really dark time in human history.

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