Not long ago, the American Tradition Institute initiated a transparency campaign using federal and state freedom of information laws to learn more about how taxpayer-funded academics use their positions to advance a particular agenda. On its face, this should have been welcomed by the Left, which often lays claim to the "transparency" mantle. It is instead causing great angst.
Our project would compile the context to the "Climategate" scandal, which, as activist academics central to its revelations assured us, was really an out-of-context misrepresentation. Curiously, the same people think this project a very bad idea.
So do the media and environmentalist establishments. Of the latter, the Union of Concerned Scientists became particularly exercised, mobilizing left-wing groups to urge universities not to satisfy our requests for public documents.
None of these groups, incidentally, was troubled by a series of similar requests by Greenpeace, whose effort we replicated. They only became opposed when we sought the emails of the sort of activists with whom they work.
Some of these, recently obtained from Texas A&M University, provide one explanation for this reversal.
For example, they reveal a sophisticated UCS operation to assist activist academics and other government employees as authorities for promoting UCS's agenda. This includes "moot-courting" congressional hearings with a team of UCS staff, all the way down to providing dossiers on key committee members, addressing in particular their faith, stance on gay marriage and stimulus spending. Of course.
This also includes directing the taxpayers' servants to outside PR consultants -- apparently pro bono or else on UCS's dime. Keep this last point in mind.
They also expose the New York Times reporter who covers the environment, science and specifically the global warming issue, Justin Gillis, as being no disinterested party.
Gillis wrote a piece in May laboring to undermine one of the most highly credentialed and respected climate "skeptics," the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Dr. Richard Lindzen. This front-page article prompted my request for information reflecting how the A&M professor and activist whom Gillis quoted was using his taxpayer-funded position.
The specific correspondence began when Gillis wrote that interviewing Lindzen for a piece on his area of expertise was "unavoidable," and "[s]o I need a really good bibliography of all the published science" countering Lindzen's position on cloud feedback -- "that is, anything that stands as evidence against Lindzen's claim that the feedback has to be strongly negative."
Remember, this was a reporter for the New York Times writing this. In the released emails, Gillis comes off as an activist posing as a journalist, sneering at Lindzen. Of another prominent skeptic, Gillis wrote, "I sense you've got him in a trap here ... can't wait to see it sprung." (Ellipses in original.)
Our transparency campaign caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth among academia and its affiliated societies, the Washington Post, and the American Constitution Society. They joined UCS to attest that these sacrosanct exchanges of ideas would be fatally chilled if not granted an unlegislated exemption from freedom of information laws.
So you might be surprised to learn that the Texas A&M email production shows the academics actually forwarding their email discussions outside their circle. To New York Times reporters, for example. They even often copy reporters on the very exchanges they otherwise insist represent an intellectual circle that must remain free from violation by prying, nonacademic eyes. Awkward.
Following my Texas A&M request, a producer contacted me from "Frontline," a PBS program known for grinding liberal axes. She wanted to discuss our Freedom of Information Act litigation. As we are currently only involved in the high-profile case involving the University of Virginia's Climategate records, I referred her to lead counsel.
It turns out she was really interested in records requests with two different, more cooperative schools: the Texas A&M request, and one I filed at Texas Tech University. The latter sought a professor and climate activist's correspondence about a chapter she was writing for Newt Gingrich's upcoming book. (Naturally, this Texas Tech professor who opposed providing me the emails had already provided them to a Los Angeles Times reporter.)
Now, you might ask, how would two otherwise fairly obscure Texas activists become the subject of interest to "Frontline"? That brings us back to UCS.
One of the emails produced by Texas A&M shows its activist contacting, and being given advice by, a D.C. media consultant, Richard Ades of Prism Public Affairs, "a strategic communications firm that operates at the intersection of public policy and the media" according to its website. The professor says he was referred by Aaron Huertas of UCS.
I have sent two other public records requests following up on these points. Expect the usual suspects to respond in their usual way. The media, academia and environmentalist pressure groups share an agenda, and work closely together to advance it. Remember this when these interests assail efforts to obtain public records shedding light on these activities.
Christopher C. Horner is director of litigation for the American Tradition Institute and author of the forthcoming book "The Liberal War on Transparency: Confessions of a Freedom of Information 'Criminal' " (Threshold).