Environmental Group Paid for Journalists' Vacations, Got Favorable Coverage as Result

As part of its week-long special report on "Big Green," the Washington Examiner's Mark Tapscott wrote a piece detailing the cozy relationship - often brushing right up against unethical - between journalists, policymakers, and environmental advocacy groups.

The Examiner raises serious ethical concerns regarding a 2003 article in U.S. News and World Report that, according to Tapscott, continues to influence policy concerning the nation's fisheries.

The article, written by reporter Thomas Hayden, warns that "fish stocks are dangerously overexploited" and at risk due to commercial fishing. But nowhere in the article did Hayden disclose that he two of the primary sources for the had recently returned from a Carribean junket funded by a leading organization in the push for stricter environmental regulations, including on commercial fisheries. Nor did he mention that another 11 sources cited in the article received funding from that same organization.

Tapscott reports:

In 2002, for example, the Pew Charitable Trust flew a group of elite scientists and reporters from the New York Times, the Economist, Time, U.S. News & World Report, and other prestigious publications to the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean for five days of fun in the sun...

But there was an agenda for the gathering, too. Among the attending scientists was Daniel Pauly, author of "Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish," and head of a fisheries center at the University of British Columbia that received $15 million from Pew.

Following the Bonaire junket, Tom Hayden (no relation to the radical activist formerly married to Jane Fonda) of U.S. News & World Report, wrote a cover story in the magazine, "Fished Out," that strongly supported the idea that commercial fishing is destroying the oceans' fish populations.

The article quoted 14 sources, including Pauly and another Pew-funded scientist who went snorkeling with Hayden on Bonaire, according to Pew's scheduled program. Thirteen of the 14 sources Hayden quoted in the article received Pew funding, directly or indirectly. The other quoted source was a restaurant chef.

Hayden did not disclose that Pew paid for his trip to the Caribbean or that Pew funded all but one of his sources. Even so, his article continues to influence debate on commercial fishing's alleged impact on the environment. In March of 2009, the Pew Charitable Trust started a nationwide public relations campaign against overfishing.

The lack of disclosure in Hayden's article represents a fairly obvious ethical conflict. And the effects of this sort of collusion are not confined to academia and the non-profit sector. They affect policy, as this experience so clearly demonstrates:

One of the scientists whose research was cited by the Pew PR campaign and in Hayden's article was Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco. a Pew fellow, member of the Pew Oceans Commission and of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative that evolved from it. Obama appointed her as director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2009.

The Packard Foundation gave $2.1 million for Lubchenco's Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which she started in 1997. She says scientists must lead politicians and the public to create a world that is "ecologically sound, economically feasible and socially just."

Her ALLP trains selected scientists to use talking points with reporters. Among the trainers for ALLP are current and former newspaper and broadcast journalists, as well as current and former White House and congressional staff members.