Bloomberg Business Fails to Disclose Journalist's Connection to Greenpeace

Denies conflict of interest

Bloomberg Buzinessweek / AP
February 5, 2015

Bloomberg Business failed to disclose a connection between Mark Hertsgaard, who has written about environmental subjects for the magazine, and Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace, in a recent exclusive on the backlash against the group's vandalism of the Nazca Lines in Peru last month.

According to multiple accounts, Leonard advised in the creation of a global warming group, named Climate Parents, which Hertsgaard co-founded. It has also been reported that Leonard sat on the board of the group.

The connection between the journalist, a freelancer for Bloomberg Business who is also the Nation's environment correspondent, and the organization on which he was reporting went unmentioned in the piece on Jan. 20. The magazine’s failure to identify the connection has outraged critics.

Jim McCarthy, the president of CounterPoint Strategies, a communications agency whose clients are often at odds with Greenpeace, called it "particularly egregious" and accused Greenpeace's Leonard of giving the story to her "best buddy." "It’s bad enough that the environmental press so rarely holds Greenpeace accountable despite all their asinine conduct and research that might as well be written in crayon," he said. "But now they are actively planting their own operatives within supposedly respectable publications that are then passing it off as legitimate journalism.

"By planting a manipulated story with a writer they are in league with, Greenpeace is acting with the same arrogance and hubris as before," he said. "It is dishonest, insulting, and once again proves Greenpeace believes it can act with total impunity."

Dan Gainor, the vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog, was similarly outraged by the omission. "What Bloomberg ran was an opinion piece disguised as a news story," he said. "It's both unethical and unprofessional."

"The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics states that journalists should clearly label sources and avoid all potential conflicts of interest."

Bradford Wieners, who is executive editor for features at Bloomberg Business, defended the piece and insisted there was no conflict of interest at play.

"Annie Leonard, in her official capacity at Greenpeace, confirmed for Mark that the backlash to the Nazca lines stunt had had a material impact on the activist organization -- both confirming the authenticity of an email he'd seen, and in an interview specifically for his story," he said via email. "Did not - and still do not - see a prior connection or conflict of interest worth noting."

He dismissed a report from New America Media which identified Hertsgaard as a co-founder of Climate Parents and placed Annie Leonard on its board. "Appears that New American Media post is inaccurate," he said. "While Mark's book may have inspired some members of Climate Parents, he does not have a formal role with that organization, and it has no board."

However, Wieners declined to answer why Climate Parent's website lists Hertsgaard on its about page or why he has been repeatedly referred to as its co-founder in media reports. "This has become a waste of time, Stephen," he said. "If you're interested in what Mark may or may not have done to help Climate Parents - take it up with him/ the Parents."

Hertsgaard did not wish to comment for the story and Climate Parents did not respond to a request for comment.

Hertsgaard's personal website describes him as "a co-founder of the group, Climate Parents" though. The citation for his Atlas Award, which he won in 2013 for helping to build "a converging, unified and urgent voice for the Climate Movement," also labeled him a "co-founder of Climate Parents."

Anne Mulkern, reporting for ClimateWire, described a meeting between Lisa Hoyos and Mark Hertsgaard at a festival in 2011. "She approached Hertsgaard and told him she wanted to start Climate Moms," Mulkern wrote. "When he asked, What about dads? Climate Parents was born."

Mulkern's report also reiterates Leonard's close relationship with Climate Parents. "Hoyos and Hertsgaard early on sought advice from people they knew in the environmental space, including Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club; Betsy Taylor, on the board of directors of; and Greenpeace's Leonard, who at the time was with The Story of Stuff, advancing the idea of reducing consumption," the report said. It said Leonard was the one who told Hoyos and Hertsgaard to reach out to Citizen Engagement Lab which ended up providing funding to Climate Parents.

Annie Leonard did not respond to requests for comment but has publicly described Climate Parents as a leader in the environmental movement. "Climate Parents is engaging parents to act on this monumental threat to our children’s future," Leonard said in a 2013 interview. Leonard even had Hoyos, who she described as a "dear friend and longtime colleague," on her podcast to promote Climate Parents.

Though Wiener dismisses the relevance, and even existence, of connections between Leonard and Hertsgaard, critics are drawing damning conclusions from them.

"In an article that claims Greenpeace is coming clean, here they are working under the table with a hidden ally to evade responsibility yet again," McCarthy said.