The Heartland Strategy Memo

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFeb 24, 2012 4:01 AM


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If you're following the Peter Gleick/Heartland Institute saga, you know this story likely has a few more twists and turns. Or as journalist Marc Gunther puts it:

This story will get worse before it gets better. There remains the sticky problem of a "climate strategy" memo which appears to be a forgery, for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that it includes mistakes about Heartland that no insider would make. (See McArdle for the details. ) Even before Gleick confessed, his critics suggested that he forged the climate memo; it's written in a style similar to his, and identifies him as a nemesis of the climate deniers, thus inflating his own importance. Gleick says that he got the strategy memo in the mail, and that was what prompted him to lie to pry the other documents out of Heartland. That story strains credulity, to put it mildly.

Indeed. And now there is rampant speculation in the blogosphere that Gleick is the author of the memo. Even Shawn Lawrence Otto has joined the parlor game:

Gleick says it [the strategy memo] was anonymously mailed to him. Perhaps this was by a whistleblower, or perhaps it was by an disgruntled insider. Or perhaps it was a honeypot - a sweet trap designed to compromise or discredit Gleick by getting him to write about it, while Heartland could trumpet how it is not authentic - in which case it would seem Gleick turned the tables by posing as a board member and requesting - and receiving - a cache of authentic Heartland documents.

Personally, I have a hard time believing that a Heartland insider would mail such a document to Gleick, instead of, say, a reporter. And to my mind, the memo has a fishy quality to it, for all the reasons Megan McArdle has laid out. In a separate post, she has also worked through the leaps of logic required to believe Gleick's explanation:

You receive an anonymous memo in the mail purporting to be the secret climate strategy of the Heartland Institute. It is not printed on Heartland Institute letterhead, has no information identifying the supposed author or audience, contains weird locutions more typical of Heartland's opponents than of climate skeptics, and appears to have been written in a somewhat slapdash fashion. Do you:

A. Throw it in the trash

B. Reach out to like-minded friends to see how you might go about confirming its provenance

C. Tell no one, but risk a wire-fraud conviction, the destruction of your career, and a serious PR blow to your movement by impersonating a Heartland board member in order to obtain confidential documents.

As a journalist, I am in fact the semi-frequent recipient of documents promising amazing scoops, and depending on the circumstances, my answer is always "A" or "B", never "C".

For those inclined to take Gleick at his word--that the memo was mailed to him by a Heartland insider--what do you make of Otto's musing about about it being a Heartland set-up? Lastly, what would it take for Gleick himself to end all this speculation?

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