The revelation that Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute posed as a Heartland Institute board member to obtain confidential board documents and then distributed these documents, along with an almost-certainly-fake “Climate Strategy” memo continues to reverberate through climate science and policy circles. Folks that might otherwise be discussing the new study claiming climate change could lead to shorter people are instead preoccupied with the ethics of Gleick’s actins. There’s also reason to believe legal action could be coming. Gleick may have violated relevant state laws, and Heartland has apparently referred the matter to the FBI and is considering civil actions. Gleick has canceled recent speaking engagements, resigned posts with some organizations involved in climate science and policy, and is taking a leave from the Pacific Institute, where he is also under investigation.
The Heartland Institute, for its part, has released two sets of e-mail correspondence (on its new “Fakegate” website) that shed further light on Gleick’s actions. Early this year, heartland’s James Taylor had an exchange with Gleick on the Forbes website. More specifically, Taylor lambasted a Gleick essay, and Gleick responded. Shortly thereafter, Heartland invited Gleick to participate in a debate over climate change at the Institute’s annual dinner. There was a brief back and forth, but on January 27, Gleick declined the offer, even though Heartland had offered to pay $5,000 to a charity of Gleick’s choice. Interestingly enough, on the very same day he turned down Heartland’s invitation to debate — citing, among other things, concerns about the organizations lack of transparency and refusal to list all of its donors — Gleick began posing as one of Heartland’s board members in an e-mail exchange that led to his receipt of confidential Heartland documents. This is quite a coincidence — a coincidence that makes Gleick’s explanation of his actions all the more curious (as if they were not curious enough). As Steven Hayward quipped, “The only thing missing right now to make Gleick’s story weaker is an old Woodstock typewriter.”
Meanwhile, Heartland has been quite heavy-handed with bloggers and websites who posted the documents distributed by Gleick, suggesting that posting the documents on line could be illegal and demanding that all of the relevant documents, and not just the “Climate Strategy” memo, be taken down. Debbie Fine, general counsel for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has responded to Heartland’s threats with a letter noting CAPAF (like many other organizations) has taken down the almost-certainly-faked memo, but explaining why it is under no legal obligation to remove the other documents. As I understand the law, CAPAF is correct. Those who obtained the documents lawfully may disclose their contents.