The smart people over at Exxon Mobil have found a new target for their ire, after they killed all the birds and whales they could muster: a group of postgraduate journalism students at Columbia University.

In a letter obtained by Politico written by Exxon’s Vice President for Public and Government Affairs, Kenneth Cohen, the company alleged that a journalism professor and her students at Columbia violated the university’s research policy. Cohen claims that the students created a “false narrative” and “cherry-picked” information in reports that the company’s scientists knew about the threat of climate change decades ago, and actively misled the public about their findings.

Multiple sources, many of whom were employed as scientists at Exxon, have come forward in recent months to say that the company knew about climate change, and even funded organizations to lead a misinformation campaign about climate change. The reports have been revealed mainly by Inside Climate News and the LA Times, which specifically referenced the Columbia research.

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The letter is lengthy, but perhaps the most interesting bit is the last paragraph, which contains something that looks mighty like a veiled threat to revoke funding from the university. Exxon, which gave $219,229 (among other smaller gifts) to the school last year for its educational institutions, seemed to suggest that this relationship could be harmed by the students’ research.

“ExxonMobil has had numerous and productive relationships with Columbia University for many years, whether through research programs, interactions with the business school or recruiting of graduates for employment with our company. The interactions [between Exxon and the Columbia journalists] detailed above are not typical of the high standards and ethical behavior we have come to expect from your institution.”

Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, told Politico that he’s preparing a response to the allegations.

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It’s far from the first time that Exxon has targeted journalists in an attempt to discredit their findings on its history—lately, the company’s PR team has been on the offensive, going after countless reporters who’ve published the findings. I guess if you can’t beat ‘em, smear ‘em (with oil).

[Image via AP]


Contact the author at melissa.cronin@gawker.com.