Published Heartland documents become officially authentic in 14 days

Posted on March 2, 2012


It’s now been 17 days since confidential Heartland Institute documents describing the Institute’s budget and fund raising plan for 2012 were published on the web. In that time, Heartland has steadfastly refused to authenticate the content of the published documents even as they have implied the documents’ authenticity with email screen captures and multiple claims that the documents were stolen. It’s difficult to steal a document from someone if they’re not in possession of the document in the first place, after all.

Over the last 17 days, Heartland president Joseph Bast has been very busy, what with all the emails, interviews, blog posts, and detailed analyses of allegedly fabricated documents. So why hasn’t he officially acknowledged the authenticity of the Heartland documents? Has he simply been too distracted by begging for donations and threatening journalists to execute on his responsibilities as the head of The Heartland Institute?

I wrote a week after the documents were published online that it was no longer credible that Heartland in general, and Bast in particular, hadn’t authenticated each and every one of the published documents. Two people with a set of highlighters could have authenticated all of the documents in less than two days. Add a light table and it gets much easier – one person in two days, or two people in a day. Use a scanner and PhotoShop instead and one person could have authenticated every document in less than a day.

If it wasn’t credible that Bast and Heartland knew whether or not the documents had been altered a week after initial publication, then it’s even less credible today, 17 days post-publication. So by now Bast and Heartland know that the documents are authentic and were not altered. By extension, the public also knows that the documents are authentic. After all, if they’d been forgeries or altered in any way, Heartland would have trumpeted those facts far and wide.

So why hasn’t Heartland announced that the documents are authentic? I don’t know, but I can conceive of two reasons. The first is that they believe that refusing to authenticate the documents provides some legal maneuvering room that would go away once they admitted the documents were authentic and unaltered. The second is that admitting the documents are authentic would attract further attention to the documents themselves. One only needs to review the website’s focus on the allegedly fabricated memo and Peter Gleick to see that Reason #2 is almost certainly in play, but Reason #1 could be as well – we don’t know enough to say for certain.

Representative Edward Markey, ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, sent a letter to Bast on February 24. In it, Markey requested that Heartland indicate, for each and every one of the published Heartland documents, whether:

a) The document is an authentic Heartland Institute document or draft document;
b) If the document is not an authentic Heartland Institute document or draft document, please identify and fully describe the inaccuracies the document or draft document contains. If a different authentic Heartland Institute document or draft document exists that describes the applicable subject matter, please provide a copy of the authentic document(s) or draft document(s); and,
c) If the document or draft document has been changed by the The Heartland Institute since it was obtained by the individual who provided it to the media, please provide a copy of the latest version.

Bast and Heartland have been trying, with some success, to distract the media and the public from looking too deeply at their published documents for the last 17 days. They have only two more weeks before Markey’s deadline and they have to officially acknowledge what everyone who has been following this story already knows – that the documents are authentic.

T minus 14 days and counting….