I recently wrote an op-ed entitled “To the Media: Don’t Help the Merchants of Doubt.” In it, I asked the media to stop publishing factually inaccurate information on climate change, such as those made in a March 20 piece by climate denier William O’Keefe.

How did O’Keefe respond? By taking a classic page out of the “merchants of doubt” playbook. Throughout his piece, he attempts to make his fringe views appear credible by invoking bunk science: he cites discredited scientists like Dr. Willie Soon — who recently described his climate denial as “deliverables” produced in exchange for money from fossil fuel corporations — and his own organization — which, as we previously mentioned, Newsweek describes as a “central cog in the [climate change] denial machine.” Moreover, O’Keefe frames himself as the David to our Goliath — even while he’s bankrolled by the most profitable industry in the world.


But frankly, we don’t expect much better from O’Keefe. He’ll continue to accept fossil fuel money, and to take advantage of the media’s penchant for conflict to amplify what he’s paid to produce: climate denial.

Our argument doesn’t pertain to deniers like O’Keefe, but to the media. We say to the editors of The Hill: We believe you can — and must — do better regarding the subject of climate.

According to O’Keefe, if The Hill fact-checks his contributions, it would amount to a suppression of free speech. Yet while free speech is constitutionally protected, the right to exercise it in The Hill or any other media outlet is not.

Kelly McBride — the vice president of Academic Programs at the Poynter Institute, an organization that promotes responsible journalism — also makes this distinction. “All news organizations have an obligation to fact-check opinions that they may be running in their pages,” says McBride. “That doesn’t mean you have to censor certain points of view — but it does mean that it’s irresponsible to allow advocates to build an argument on false information.”

Like most media outlets, The Hill does fact-check its content on other issues — and should do the same for climate. For example, the science linking smoking tobacco to lung cancer is just as certain as the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). If a contributor — particularly one funded heavily by the tobacco industry and with a documented history of misleading the public — sought to publish claims disputing the link between smoking tobacco and cancer, would The Hill editors publish it? Certainly not.

There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to ensure factual accuracy on climate change — in large part because deniers like O’Keefe are so adept at confusing fact and fiction. The film “Merchants of Doubt” seeks to lift the veil on this very problem: industry-backed pundits have used the same masterful tactics to successfully distort the facts on issues ranging from chemicals to tobacco to carbon pollution.

But The Hill can look to several prominent media outlets that have already taken up this task. The Washington Postand The Guardianhave both launched initiatives to put climate front and center in the past year. In October 2013, The Los Angeles Times letters editor Paul Thornton announced the newspaper would no longer publish letters to the editor that deny man-made climate change. Why? In Thornton’s words:

Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying "there's no sign humans have caused climate change" is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy.

What’s at stake if The Hill continues to publish factual inaccuracies on climate? The Hill’s credibility as a reliable news source, for one.

But more importantly, The Hill will perpetuate the problem of misinformation — and will do so with grave results. After all, The Hill has the largest circulation of any paper on Capitol Hill, and that means it’s read by the same lawmakers who — time and time again — are failing to pass climate legislation that will protect us and our world.

Stein is a campaigner at Forecast the Facts, a grassroots human rights organization dedicated to ensuring that Americans hear the truth about climate change.