intheloop/endofthelesson. This the third part of a new mini-series (Part I here, Part II here) which touches upon a couple of issues in StratCom. Firstly, dirty tricks. We’ll point out some of the time-honoured ploys that are frequently em-ployed in StratCom when actors run out of arguments – predominantly on the tactical level. This is for emancipatory and educational purposes only, of course: Kids, don’t try this at home. Second, we’ll talk about strategy – something that strikes us as not unimportant in the context of strategic communication. Expect to meet good ol’ Clausewitz, but since it’s hard to discuss strategy in abstracto, we’ve decided to do it in concreto, i.e. by commenting on a case: The Climate Warriors. The idea here is, moreover, that StratCom-scholars and students can make a tiny tiny contribution. Not by refuting the arguments, but by pointing out the too-familiar tricks. Believe it or not: practitioners have made their contribution already: http://www.desmogblog.com, run amongst others by PR practitioner Jim Hoggan, was voted into the Top 25 of TIME magazine’s best blogs of 2011. Third, we’ll address the concerted attack on the credibility of science. It is worrying, we believe, that powerful forces in society are actively undermining the credibility of scientific knowledge by means of more or less cleverly crafted StratCom. And we’re not talking about the credibility of postmodernist literature theory here, but about largely uncontroversial or undisputed results in the natural sciences. Climate change denial, our fourth issue, is the prime example, but there are others: the rise of religious fundamentalism and its denial of evolutionary theory; the fact that research on what makes humans happy and content (e.g. more equal societies) is constantly ignored by policy-makers; the way economics has declared itself value-free and has at the same time become highly ideological, etc.
Enuff talk. Here’s the case. The following is our translation from German weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, Nov, 22, 2012 – you can read the original here. We have asked to acquire the copyright for the purpose of this blog.
The Climate Warriors
How industry-financed PR managers trick the world into believing that global warming is a fake. Chronology of an organized lie.
By Anita Blasberg und Kerstin Kohlenberg (translated by endofthelesson)
The Climate-Warriors, Part 3
Nine years later, in autumn 2012, Marc Morano says: ‘We managed to stop the climate bills within three years of time.’ He says it with pride – like a schoolboy who boasts about a home assignment well done. The location is the Capital Grill, an exquisite steakhouse in a Washington suburb. Padlocked wall-cupboards used to harbour the expensive cigars of regular guests.
‘That was the time when you were allowed to smoke in restaurants,’ Morano says, rolling his eyeballs. Morano doesn’t like when politics intrudes into people’s private lives. He doesn’t like to hear that smoking may harm his health, or that the rain forest may be in danger, or that overpopulation of the planet may constitute a problem.
‘Ideology’, he says.
Morano loves his family, the four kids, his wife Jennifer. He loves his big Victorian house with the beautiful garden. He loves his big, heavy SUV. He likes to live life his way.
The first thing Morano does after being hired by Senator Inhofe is to rebuild the website of the Environmental Committee. He collects everything that denies global warming. The more a text agitates against climate change, the more prominently it is placed. The internet is a treasure-trove of such texts. Things are going well for Marc Morano.
But then, the year is 2006, ex-presidential candidate of the Democrats Al Gore releases the documentary movie An Inconvenient Truth. Gore shows pictures of glaciers melting away, of deserts spreading, of cities flooded. And he works the same way Morano works. Gore has a message and he formulates it so that everybody gets it. With the one difference that Al Gore is not backed up by heavy industry. He’s backed up by scientific consensus.
An Inconvenient Truth
endofthelesson: An Inconvenient Truth is conveniently on vimeo. If you haven’t seen it, if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Al Gore has a cool haircut, go ahead and wreck your day.
The movie is screened in cinemas and schools. Suddenly, 84 percent of Americans believe that climate change constitutes a threat. Morano needs to come up with something. He remembers the maxim of Karl Rove, once George W. Bush’s chief of staff: Don’t attack your opponent’s weaknesses, attack his strengths! The strength of science, clearly, is its credibility.
Endofthelesson: It’s time for remark on strategy. Taken word-by-word, Rove’s advice is stupid advice, of course. But it becomes sensible if one eliminates a terminological inexactitude. To go for the strengths of the enemy makes sense in one case and that is if you go for your opponent’s power-base. It’s the equivalent of a dog going for the jugular. It might be harder to get at the jugular than to get, say, a bite out of the leg. But if you do get at the jugular, the fight is over. If you knock out the capstone of an archway, the edifice crumbles. There are numerous examples of battles won by go-for-the-jugular-maneuvers. A historical figure with a predilection for daring, even foolhardy, knock-out-blows, provided we believe historic accounts, was Alexander the Great (for analysis of Alexander’s battles cf. John Keegan, Face of Battle, Random House). In his three great set-piece battles against the Persians, on the Granicus, at Issus and at Gaugamela (Arbela), Alexander executed, in principle, the same brutal high-risk maneuver: a knock-out blow against the power-base, the strongest point, the center of gravity. At the Granicus (334 BC), the Persian Emperor Darius III wasn’t present, but Alexander attacked across the river (only 20 metres wide though) against a fortified position. When the elite troops of the enemy fled, the others followed. Alexander tore out the jugular, the Persian army bled away. At Issus (333 BC), Alexander repeated the maneuver. Again, he – literally he, at the head of the Companion Cavalry – charged directly at the fortified position behind which Darius had taken position. When the terrified Emperor fled, the Imperial Army disintegrated. At Gaugamela (331 BC), where Alexander was heavily outnumbered, the same maneuver again – although this time with the refinement of the oblique battle-formation which opened up the very gap Alexander needed to get a Darius’s position. Darius fled, the Imperial Army disintegrated.
The strategic point here, of course, is that the climate change deniers took the decision to go for the jugular: scientific credibility. It was a tough proposition, but it was made a bit easier by the fact that folks want to believe that climate change is not real. And here’s the parallel: With the exception of Darius’s bodyguard, the Imperial army consisted of troops drawn together from all over the Persian Empire. They wanted to run away. Alexander was probably well aware of that tactical advantage, as Mr. Morano is well aware of his strategic advantage.
On December, 20, 2007, newspapers and TV-stations all over the U.S. receive a report published by Marc Morano. 175 pages, apparently highly serious stuff. Under the letterhead of the Environmental Committee, adorned with the seal of the U.S. senate, the headline reads as follows: ‘More than 400 eminent scientists doubt man-made climate change.’
Almost all newsrooms fall for Morano’s bait. It’s the time before Christmas. Few journalists take the trouble to check the 413 names. Very few take a look at the statements. Again and again newspapers and TV-stations refer to the ‘report’: New York Times, Boston Herald, the news networks Fox News and CNN.
The reality is: 44 of the alleged ‘scientists’ are merely weather outlook announcers. 84 have previously worked in the oil industry. 49 are pensioners. 90 have no connection whatsoever with climate research. The rest is a number of researchers who never doubted that climate change is man-made, but who have critically questioned details – for example the speed with which the sea level rises. Something that is common practice in science, of course.
Endofthelesson: Don’t believe the business world is a monolithic block, or ignorant. ‘It’s global warming, stupid’, Bloomberg Businessweek blared in red type on the cover of its issue 11/2012. Author Paul M. Barrett writes that while ‘it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change’, you don’t have to believe scientists, if you mistrust the the nerds. Listen to business. ‘If all that doesn’t impress, forget the scientists ostensibly devoted to advancing knowledge and saving lives. Listen instead to corporate insurers committed to compiling statistics for profit.’ Barrett quotes a report by a German reinsurance firm Munich Re (Muenchner Rueck) that found that weather-related losses in North America had quintupled since 1980 and quotes an Environmental Defense Fund VP as saying we now have “weather on steroids.” You can read the full article in bloomberg businessweek here: [http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-01/its-global-warming-stupid#p1]
Morano’s chief witnesses, however, are the atmospheric physicist Fred Singer, 83 years old at that time, and the physicist Frederick Seitz, 96 years of age. Until Seitz’ death in 2008, the two scientists are good old buddies. In the 1980ies, Singer worked for the national missile program, Seitz for the nuclear weapons program. Under the aegis of Ronald Reagan they helped to defend freedom against the communist threat. Now they help Marc Morano to defend against eco-fascism. Their articles are published in the New York Times, in Wall Street Journal, in Washington Post. The same way newspapers once jumped onto Michael Mann’s hockeystick, they now lap up the newest news: it’s not even half as bad.
Seitz had spent ten years trivializing the dangers of smoking for the tobacco company Reynolds, earning 65,000 dollars per annum. Singer was on the payroll of the oil-multis ExxonMobil, Shell and Texaco. Now they team up to found the associations Science and Environment Policy Project and Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). Its declared goal: to smear the World Climate Council.
Singer and Seitz are part of an industry-financed complex of associations and institutes which has grown around Washington. It is a kind of Potemkin’s village of science, populated by paid experts who find out what serves the interests of their financers. There is the Heartland Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Marshall Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the Independent Institute.
endofthelesson: The Potemkin’s villages of science are not a peculiar feature of Washington DC, you find them in Brussels, too. On the website of the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) you can find loads of facts about the climate change deniers in Europe: http://corporateeurope.org/
It’s an endless list of seemingly reputed, seemingly independent institutions who, in turn, spawn offshoots which then specialize in environmental issues. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow which employs Marc Morano is one example. Within a few years, these organizations publish more than an hundred books about climate change. Their authors are guests in big TV shows, they present papers at climate research conferences which have been organized for these papers to be presented.
It is a well-oiled, self-perpetuating machinery of denial.
End of Part III. Stay tuned.