Accuracy in Media

Climate change is a major topic for BuzzFeed, based on the number of articles on its website in recent weeks, and the recent court case in New York against oil company ExxonMobil is a major headline for its viewers and audience.

ExxonMobil defeated the state of New York in court when a judge ruled that the company did not make false or misleading public disclosures about the risks of climate change in its company’s practices. The judge said that the New York attorney general’s office “failed to establish a preponderance of the evidence” that ExxonMobil broke the law. The investigation of the oil company began in 2015 and the lawsuit was first filed in 2018.

ExxonMobil said that it was proven right despite “the New York Attorney General’s baseless investigation,” while New York Attorney General Letitia James said that her office will continue to fight against companies “that undermine and jeopardize the financial health and safety of Americans.”

Although BuzzFeed was fair in quoting both sides of the lawsuit, the headline was deceiving.

The headline ran as, “New York Lost A Landmark Climate Fraud Case Against Exxon.” Technically, it could have been a landmark decision, as the tactic of suing a company for climate change-related fraud had never been tried before in the courts. However, a more appropriate term would have been “longshot” or “long odds” because it was a novel and new approach to climate change lawsuits. In the words of the judge, New York failed to show enough evidence that ExxonMobil committed fraud, which demonstrated how the case faced long odds of being in New York’s favor.

Also, BuzzFeed lamented the decision when it called the case “a big blow to climate activists” in its subheading, thereby demonstrating its bias on the issue. BuzzFeed would be better served if it used more neutral, impartial, and non-partisan language when it comes to reporting on issues such as climate change.

Photo by Ivan Radic

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