Five days later, InsideClimate News ran an article by Elizabeth McGowan headlined, “Koch Bros. Accused of Stonewalling Congress on Their Keystone XL Pipeline Interest.” When Reuters carried that piece, too, the company decided it was time to go on the offensive.

Phillip Ellender, whom Politico called “the Koch brothers’ enforcer” in a June profile, sent an e-mail to the wire service’s managing editor, Jack Reernick in May, which began:

For the second time in recent weeks, Reuters has permitted an agenda-driven advocacy organization, SolveClimate [referring to InsideClimate’s original name], to run an article on your news agency about Koch Industries that is factually inaccurate and beneath Reuters’ standards.

The letter went on to say that Koch had no financial stake in Keystone XL, that it was not a proposed shipper or customer of oil delivered by the pipeline, and that it had taken no position on the legislative proposal to construct the pipeline. It also called InsideClimate “a self-described advocacy organization, which is also easily discerned from the articles since they are littered with opinionated assertions about what it thinks the administration and Congress ought to do or not do.”

Richard Baum, Reuters’s general manager for New York and Canada replied:

We take feeds from several news organizations on the condition that they uphold Reuters standards. We’re satisfied that SolveClimate, which is a news organization, meets those. I have in particular checked that they contact companies for comment. SolveClimate says they have tried to get comment from you repeatedly without success.

Baum added that it was Reuters’s policy to direct complaints about “third-party content” to those who supplied it.

Ellender wrote back expressing dismay at Baum’s response. A few days later, according to the account laid out at, he followed up with another e-mail that laid out a variety of specific complaints about Sassoon. They included Sassoon’s ownership of Science First, Inc., which Sassoon once described on his LinkedIn page as a “communications consulting practice devoted to helping organizations working in the public interest to advance their agendas”; the fact that Science First received funding from The Energy Foundation (which supports actions to address climate change); and the fact that Sassoon had written a report for Greenpeace and what Ellender described as “advocacy articles” for The Huffington Post and National Geographic.

“Mr. Sassoon seems to have an active financial relationship with numerous groups that he is reporting on in your pages—and yet he is being presented to Reuters readers as an objective, legitimate news source,” Ellender concluded. “He also takes grants from advocacy groups with the explicit goal of helping advance their environmental agenda—a fact that is being obscured from Reuters readers.”

Baum rejected nearly all of Ellender’s contentions, writing that Sassoon had assured him that since began publishing stories from SolveClimate in 2010, neither Sassoon nor Science First had been involved in any business other than SolveClimate, and that Science First “is a shell company he uses exclusively as the legal entity of SolveClimate.” Baum pointed out that The Energy Foundation described its grant to SolveClimate as supporting “objective, nonpartisan reporting of climate and energy issues in 2010 midterms.”

With regard to Sassoon’s other writings, Baum said the work for Greenpeace and The Huffington Post predated his relationship with Reuters:

Mr Sassoon says that in-between that period and the start of the relationship he decided to focus his work exclusively on building up SolveClimate as a non-partisan organization. I think he made a subsequent misstep with the National Geographic blog post that you mention, but not a fatal one. The post was published this year and concerns an activist who at the time was awaiting trial, not convicted. It was an interesting story covered by many media outlets. This post was not written in a form that would have been published on, but then of course it wasn’t.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.