The news site’s justification for the special attention was that if the Obama administration approves the project, the president could unwittingly help his adversaries. A quarter of Sassoon’s February article was devoted to rehashing the Koch brothers’ “war” on Obama and, according to the third paragraph:

What’s been left out of the ferocious debate over the pipeline, however, is the prospect that if president Obama allows a permit for the Keystone XL to be granted, he would be handing a big victory and great financial opportunity to Charles and David Koch, his bitterest political enemies and among the most powerful opponents of his clean economy agenda.

It is true that the Koch brothers have been huge boosters of conservative politicians and opponents of liberal ones. They are also, as InsideClimate pointed out, “the most powerful opponents of his clean economy agenda,” so it makes sense to investigate their interest in Keystone XL. But without proof that the company will profit directly or inordinately from the pipeline—or more specific information about the “victory and opportunity” it would confer—the political frame seems weak.

The evidence that Feldman presented in her October article—Flint Hills Resources’ statement that it had “direct and substantial interest in the application” to build pipeline—did little to help InsideClimate’s case. The application for “intervener status” was newsworthy because it contradicted Koch’s statement to Waxman that Keystone XL had “nothing to do with any of our businesses.” Yet the contradiction was mild, and Feldman’s article was remiss for not explaining the relatively innocuous context of what it means to be an “intervener,” that the language Koch used is fairly standard, and the fact that groups like the Sierra Club also applied for, and received, intervener status.

These quibbles notwithstanding, Koch’s suggestion to Reuters (via Ellender’s e-mails) and to readers (via the online ad campaign) that InsideClimate News is a deceptive advocacy site that ought to be abandoned is spurious and unwarranted, and Reuters should be commended for defending the integrity of its content partner.

The shortcomings in InsideClimate’s work are those of a young news site flexing new muscles in effort to establish itself as a major contributor to American journalism. And journalism it is. There are no correctable mistakes in InsideClimate’s work. The flaws in its articles are errors of omission, tone, and tenor. They should be remedied in future coverage, but InsideClimate should also keep pursuing its investigative instincts.

If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of 10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.

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