News is partly shaped by the choice of people journalists interview for research, quotes and on-air appearances. A major focus of corporate activism has been to ensure that corporate-funded people are the ones that the media turn to for comment, be they scientists, think tank ‘experts’ or front group spokespeople.
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) studied US media coverage of environmental issues from April 1990 to April 1991, including the three main television networks, seven major newspapers and three national newsweeklies—in all almost 900 print articles and over 100 network news stories. It concluded: “Mainstream environmental reporting took its cue not from press-hungry environmentalists, but from the government, corporate and (often non-science) academic establishments.”
The increasing trend for corporations to use front groups and friendly scientists as their mouthpieces has further distorted media reporting on environmental issues since the media often do not differentiate between corporate front groups and genuine citizens groups and industry-funded scientists are often treated as independent scientists. Because of the myth of scientific objectivity journalists tend to have an uncritical trust in scientists and few “question the motivation of the scientists whose research is quoted, rarely attributing a study’s funding source or institution’s political slant.” Nor do the mainstream media generally cover the phenomenon of front groups and think tanks and artificially generated grassroots campaigns, which would serve to undermine their operation by exposing the deceit on which they depend.