Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Today on, 'As the Oil World Turns'..."

Remember in high school, when your best friend got dumped and the school hallways were abuzz with rumors of who did what and who said what?

Well, in today's Washington Post, Dan Eggen examines “the murky world of advocacy-for-hire in Washington” – which, as it turns, bears resemblance to those same high school dramas.

The article focuses on an advocacy arm of the conservative Institute for Energy Research (IER), which launched a campaign over the July 4 weekend highlighting how the actions of BP leading up to the Gulf spill were not indicative of the industry as a whole:

Days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, a conservative nonprofit group called the Institute for Energy Research asked BP to contribute $100,000 for a media campaign it was launching in defense of the oil industry.

Although BP took a pass, the group's advocacy arm went ahead with a campaign -- only instead of defending BP, it vilified the company as a "safety outlier" in an otherwise safe industry. The campaign's Web site features dozens of images of the burning rig, oil-smeared birds and other environmental devastation from the spill.

This where the mess really turns into a he-said-she-said ideally suited for the high school lunchroom.

Backers of BP familiar with the situation called it a shakedown, saying the original proposal contained no anti-BP messages. Thomas Pyle – IER president and formerly an oil industry lobbyist – responded that rather than retaliation, the images were part of a separte campaign to distance BP from the industry as a whole (funny then that a document sent to group supporters last week included a scathing, 19-point attack on BP's safety record).

It's not clear who to believe in this saga fit for a teen soap opera (I think I saw a "Degrassi" episode just like this). What is clear is this: these 'advocacy-for-hire' groups connive stealth communications campaigns with no disclosure of their backers or their motives. What's more, Big Oil will cannibalize its own in the name of protecting their bottom line and keeping us addicted to oil.