[Correction: James Taylor is Director of Heartland’s Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, and not the President of The Heartland Institute]
Today I’m writing about a public relations disaster here in Germany by the Heartland Institute where its president, James Taylor, allowed himself to be fully duped by leftist journalists posing as industry lobbyists offering half a million dollars to his Chicago-based think tank.
Just days ago, flagship ZDF German public television broadcast a segment here — created by “investigative” site Correctiv here — at its popular weekly Frontal 21 magazine. Frontal 21 describes how the two “investigative” journalists from the leftist Correctiv infiltrated Heartland Institute and exposed its “lobbying and climate disinformation campaign”.
The ZDF’s Frontal 21 magazine shows how Correctiv set up a phony PR agency, fake website and printed phony business cards so that two of its reporters could pose as lobbyists representing the German automotive and coal industry. Their Project Veritas-like mission: to infiltrate Heartland and uncover “what goes on in the climate denier scene, how it works, which strategies it’s pursuing in Europe and how influential it is.”
“That’s how we want to find out whether and how to question climate change in exchange for money and to buy influence,” reported Frontal 21.
Unfortunately, James Taylor fell for the entire ploy. The ZDF’s Frontal 21 (and Corectiv) took the material and later pieced together a major hit piece seen nationally on February 4th. A blow to the skeptic scene in Germany.
First meeting in Munich
The two undercover German journalists started by making their way from their base in Berlin to the Munich Climate Conference last November, where they had an easy time fooling James Taylor.
Equipped with hidden cameras, they sat down with Taylor for dinner and asked how he went about convincing people of his mission. ZDF’s Frontal 21 quotes Taylor: “The people cannot be motivated by logical things; you have to argue emotionally.”
$500,000 offer in Madrid
According to Frontal 21, after dinner Taylor then personally invited the two “German lobbyists” to Madrid for a later conference, where they met again with Taylor in the Marriott Hotel lobby.
ZDF Frontal 21 reported: “Taylor boasted about his good contacts to the Trump administration. ‘The Trump administration often asked for advice and about what we could do. We worked closely together.'” Taylor even told the undercover journalists that Heartland’s budget was $6 million.”
When asked how a $500,000 donation could be made, Frontal 21 says Taylor told them to donate it directly to Heartland. “And if you want to remain anonymous, then give it to an organization. One of them is Donors Trust.”
“To keep it hidden?” one undercover Correctiv journalist asked.”
“Yeah right, exactly,” replied Taylor, alleges Frontal 21.
Untypical for interviews, Taylor’s voice is completely filtered out by Correctiv editors, so it’s impossible to ascertain whether Frontal 21 translated Taylor’s words accurately.
In the Marriott lobby meeting, Taylor discloses Heartland’s future plans for Germany, where he also brings up young German influencer Naomi Seibt – the “anti-Greta”.
Duped by the mean and nasty media
Weeks later, Taylor sends the two undercover journalists his proposal dubbed “Funding Proposal: Germany Environmental Issues”, outlining Heartland’s strategy for Germany and that Heartland was interested in the funding in order to inform the public about the minimal effects of diesel exhaust and to produce videos on the negative impacts of excessive environmental regulation.
The set-up succeeded, and Correctiv got all the footage they needed, and much more, to allow German ZDF public television to weave a highly distorted, one-sided, yet believable hit piece. All in all, a major PR blow for climate skeptics in Germany.
A little research and precaution on Heartland’s part could have avoided being duped to the extent they were. They were sloppy. And we also have to feel bad that a young, promising German influencer got caught up in it and was so inaccurately portrayed on national television.
In her latest video, a visibly distraught Naomi tells of her experience of being observed by impostors under the table by hidden cameras, yet bravely pledges to keep up the fight for what she believes to be the truth. Now she understands just how mean and nasty the German media really are.