Heartland Memo Looking Faker by the Minute

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After yesterday's post on why I thought that one of the documents in the Heartland leak was a fake, I discovered that David Appell had been investigating along the same lines.  Appell, however, looked at one thing that hadn't occurred to me: where the PDF was created.  One of his commenters elaborates:


I used a pdfinfo script to analyse the memos. The info I got is that all the meta data dates changed on the day of the leak in the Pacific time zone (-8 GMT). This is likely where our thief resides. This is also where the "fake" was created on 2/13. The other docs, with the exception of the IRS form were in the central time zone (-6 GMT). The IRS form was -4 GMT. This has been corroborated by a commenter at Lucia's. Based on this, and I'm not sure if I've covered every base, the strategy memo is a fake.

The only other option would be if the create dates were faked, highly, highly unlikely or, the sender from HI didn't have the doc, and someone from the west coast scanned it , emailed to her to send to the leaker. This, to me, doesn't seem likely either. Logically, I have to go with HI's story.

Heartland's offices are in the Midwest.  And Heartland's story about the provenance of the documents--a story that is being cited as proof of authenticity by climate bloggers--is that they were emailed by a support staffer who was tricked into sending the documents to an unverified email address by someone impersonating a board member.  So I don't see how they could have obtained a hard copy, but not the original electronic file.


No, if it is indeed true that the document was scanned on the west coast, then I think we can say with a very high degree of confidence that it is a fake--especially when you put this together with all the other anomalies that I pointed out yesterday, notably the update I posted about the Koch contributions:

Koch says that their contribution was for health care, not global warming:
 
The documents presented by the blog indicate "[the Foundation] returned as a Heartland donor in 2011 with a contribution of $200,000. We expect to push up their level of support in 2012...if our focus continues to align with their interests." But this is not so. The Foundation gave just $25,000 to Heartland in 2011 (the only such donation to that organization in more than 10 years) and that funding was specifically directed to a healthcare research program, and not climate change research, as was erroneously reported.

Statistically speaking, the Foundation's contribution represents approximately one-twentieth of one percent of Heartland's total funding over that ten year period. The Foundation has made no further commitments of funding to Heartland.

And indeed, when you look at the fundraising document, the coding next to Koch's donation is "HCN" which certainly seems to be their health care code--other donors with that code include Bayer, Amgen, EliLilly, and GlaxoSmithKline.

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The high probability that the memo is fake makes this response from Desmogblog, one of the first places to post the memos, all the more disappointing:


The DeSmogBlog has no evidence supporting Heartland's claim that the Strategic document is fake. A close review of the content shows that it is overwhelmingly accurate ("almost too accurate" for one analyst), and while critics have said that it is "too short" or is distinguished by "an overuse of commas," even the skeptics at weatherguy Anthony Watts's WUWT say that a technical analysis of the metadata on the documents in question does not offer sufficient information to come to a firm conclusion either way.

But in the tradition of the famous, and famously controversial "hockey stick graph," the challenge to the single document has afforded the DeSmogBlog's critics - and Heartland's supporters - something comfortable to obsess about while they avoid answering questions raised by the other documents.

The first two links are to my post, and they are an egregious misrepresentation of what I said.

"Too short" was the least of my concerns with the document, not my central objection, as he implies; and the phrase "almost too accurate" did not bolster the case for the document's authenticity, but rather, referred to the fact that large segments of the document appeared to have been plagiarized from other sources.   

The fact that the document was created at a different time, place and manner, from the others, that it makes errors about things like the purpose of Koch funds, and that Heartland has unequivocally denied authorship while seeming to concede the authenticity of the other documents, should lead any honest observer to at least reasonable doubt.

Mr. Littlemore contends that this is a distraction from larger issues, but I cannot agree.  The foundation of journalism is accurate sources.  Anyone who considers themselves to be in the business of informing the public about the truth should care very deeply when faked documents make it into the public record.  They should especially care if their own work has been the vehicle.

Dismissing the possibility of fakery--and the obvious questions about who might have perpetrated it--does not help us focus on the "real issues".  I'm afraid "Fake but accurate" just won't do.  Nor will trying to shift the burden of proof to the people who are pointing out solid reasons for concern.   Instead, the stubborn willingness to ignore obvious problems becomes the story--something that Dan Rather learned to his dismay in 2004. 

Moreover, the fact is that this document does not merely confirm facts found in other sources.  It substantially recasts those facts, in the case of the Koch donation.  And in the selection of facts it presents, and the spin it puts on them, it alters the reporting.  

There's a reason that the majority of the quotes in the early blogging and reporting on this story seem to have been taken from the memo, including the initial post on DeSmogBlog.  For example, someone named Richard Littlemore wrote "It is clear from the documents that Heartland advocates against responsible climate mitigation and then uses that advocacy to raise money from oil companies and 'other corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies.' Heartland particularly celebrates the funding that it receives from the fossil fuel fortune being the Charles G. Koch Foundation."  That is all taken from the memo, not the supporting documents.  The fundraising document actually contains no record that I can see of contributions from oil companies.

The climate blogs presumably relied so heavily on the memo because the quotes were punchier, and suggested far darker motivations than the blandly professional language of the authenticated documents--and because it edited the facts into a neat, almost narrative story.  

In the first 24 hours, I saw a lot of comments along the line of "See!  They're really just as amoral and dangerous as we thought they were!" based on a memo which I now believe to have been written by someone who, well, thinks that AGW skeptics are amoral and dangerous.  (And judging from his update to the original document dump, Littlemore's fellow blogger, Brandon Demelle, is also unsure of the memo's "facts".)

For me, this leaves the most fascinating question of all: who wrote it?  We have a few clues:

1)  They are on the west coast

2)  They own or have access to an Epson scanner--though God knows, this could be at a Kinkos.

3)  They probably themselves have a somewhat run-on writing style

4)  I'm guessing they use the word "high-profile" a fair amount.  

5)  They are bizarrely obsessed with global warming coverage at Forbes, which suggests to me that there is a good chance that they write or comment on the website, or that they have tangled with writers at Forbes (probably Taylor) either in public or private.

6)  The last paragraph is the biggest departure from the source documents, and is therefore likely to be closest to the author's own style.

7)  I have a strong suspicion that they refrained from commenting on the document dump.  That's what I'd do, anyway.  A commenter or email correspondent who suddenly disappeared when they normally would have been reveling in this sort of story is a good candidate.

8)  They seem to have it in for Andy Revkin at the New York Times.  There's nothing in the other documents to indicate that Heartland thinks Revkin is amenable to being . . . turned?  I'm not sure what the right word is, but the implication in the strategy memo that Heartland believes it could somehow develop a relationship with Revkin seems aimed at discrediting Revkin's work.

Unfortunately, I'd imagine that this is still a sizeable set of people, and it will be hard to identify the author.  I suspect that it will be easier to do if the climate-bloggers--who may well know this person as a commenter or correspondent--get involved in trying to find out who muddied the story by perpetrating a fraud on their sites.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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