Almost two years ago, former health insurance PR executive Wendell Potter published his tell-all book, Deadly Spin, about the deceptive media campaigns and PR trickery the health insurance industry uses to beat back meaningful health care reform in the U.S. Potter pointed out the striking similarities between the insurers' tactics and those the tobacco industry applied for decades to delay regulation and confuse people about the health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke. These manipulative PR tactics held off meaningful tobacco regulation for over 40 years, and also proved highly successful for the insurance industry, which used the same strategies to defeat true health care reform. Now Al Gore is pointing out that the energy, steel and utility industries are applying those same, tricky and time-worn PR strategies to confuse people about global warming and delay efforts to address it.
Today, CNBC's Mad Money with Jim Cramer's "Invest in America" series will take the show to a seemingly unlikely locale. The crew will head to a place many would consider the middle of nowhere -- the state of North Dakota.
Why North Dakota? Four words: The Bakken Shale Formation.
Referred to as "Kuwait on the Prairie" by The New Yorker in an April 2011 feature story and located predominately in northwest North Dakota, the shale formation possesses a vast amount of both oil and methane ("natural") gas, gathered via the notorious fracking process. Recognizing the economic opportunities that the formation would present to fossil fuel corporations, the U.S. Energy Information Administration penned a report in November 2006 titled "Technology-Based Oil and Natural Gas Plays: Shale Shock! Could There Be Billions in the Bakken?", highlighting them in some depth.
It's our responsibility as journalists to let the public know who is paid by what corporation, or if they're representing the government. Otherwise, it's unforgivable. The media is our lens on the world. And it is absolutely critical we trust the media. Because, ultimately, when people are terrorized, when people are targeted, when people are marginalized, that does not make any of us safer.
- Amy Goodman, interview in "Programming the Nation?" documentary
If NBC's David Gregory had asked just a couple of follow-up questions of Michele Bachmann on Meet the Press on Sunday, August 14, he would have found that her anecdote about how "Obamacare" will lead to economic ruin doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
On July 11, Chesapeake Energy, the second largest methane gas corporation in the United States, announced its "bold new plan": a "Declaration of Energy Independence" for America's energy future. ("Natural gas" is the public relations term the industry uses for methane gas, because it sounds so much more appealing than the real name.)
The plan is double-pronged and will no doubt lead to increased levels of fracking, the process drilling companies use to extract methane gas in areas like the Marcellus Shale and other shale deposits throughout the country. Fracking is a dirty process, as indicated by the Center for Media and Democracy's ongoing look into the state-by-state and federal legislative push for domestic gas drilling.
As the first half of 2011 has revealed, Wisconsin is not a moderate "purple" state, but a state divided between staunchly "blue" progressives and righteous "red" right-wingers. That rift is particularly apparent in legislative conflicts over the criminal justice system, a debate spurred by corporate interests represented in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and perpetuated by ALEC legislative members, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Wisconsin's history and public policy reflects the red/blue divide. It is the state that gave birth to the Republican Party, which supported slavery abolition, and the John Birch Society, which opposed the civil rights movement. In the first half of the 20th Century, the state elected both progressive hero Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette and right-wing extremist Joe McCarthy. It is the state that elected both former Senator Russ Feingold (D) and Representative Paul Ryan (R).
Wisconsin also produced Paul Weyrich, who in 1973 co-founded both the Heritage Foundation and ALEC (and in subsequent years, Free Congress and Moral Majority). Weyrich's ALEC, it seems, has been a factory for many of the state's most recent right-wing policy initiatives.
Ridge, now 65 years-old, has worn multiple hats throughout his extensive political career.
Among them: first-ever head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Bush Administration from 2003-2005, former Governor of Pennsylvania from 1995-2001, and former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from from 1983-1995.
Harold Camping poured millions of dollars into his global PR campaign to convince people around the world that Earth as we know it would end on Saturday, May 21. Some believers who took his prediction to heart gave up their homes, their jobs and liquidated their worldly assets to buy more advertising to advance his message. But the biggest sacrifice that occurred as a result of Camping's prediction is a 14 year old girl from Russia who reportedly hanged herself to avoid being left behind with the nonbelievers Camping claimed would suffer on Earth after the rapture. The Christian Post reported that in the days leading up to May 21, Nastya Zachinova of Central Russia's Republic of Mari El wrote entries in her personal diary that revealed she was terrified of the suffering Camping predicted would come, and that she didn't believe she was one of the "righteous" who would rise up to heaven and be saved. On Monday, May 23 -- two days after the world failed to end as he predicted -- Camping faced the media and gave a statement acknowledging his "error." After he was finished speaking, a reporter informed Camping that a mother who had believed his prediction had attempted to kill herself and her two children, but did not succeed. Camping said he was relieved she did not succeed. But when a reporter pressed Camping about whether he would accept any responsibility for the mother's attempt, Camping answered he would not. "I don't have any responsibility. I can't take responsibility for anybody's life. I'm only teaching the Bible," Camping responded. Presumably he accepts no responsibility for Nastya Zachinova's death, either.
The Institute for One Wisconsin, a non-partisan organization, released a report (pdf) last week that says that "despite claims from Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin is not 'broke.'" Their research found that the state's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has risen in the past twenty years, and though the state is overall quite wealthy, the bulk of that wealth has shifted to the richest people of the state, while Wisconsin's tax structure "is built around the middle class."
How does this shift in wealth make the state look as though it was broke? One Wisconsin stated that "this discrepancy has led to tax revenues failing to keep pace with Wisconsin's GDP, an over tax-burdened middle class, and budget shortfalls, instead of surpluses." While tax cuts for the wealthiest of the country and state have been extended, the tax burden has now been handed over to the middle class of the state, creating a disparity in people's falling incomes and rising taxes in the middle class.
Gasland, a documentary film that exposes the dangers accompanying methane gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region, has been mercilessly attacked by Big Oil since the film was released during the summer of 2010. The attacks have only escalated both in intensity and volume as the film has grown in popularity and acclaim, reaching their peak when it was announced that the film was a candidate for Best Documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards.
While most of the spin has centered around factual misinformation about fracking, utilizing the prototypical Big Oil, Big Lies playbook tactic, Big Oil has now raised the stakes. In lieu of lying about how "environmentally friendly" the fracking process is, they have shifted to the propagandist's last resort: shooting the messenger.