S3: The Mad Men of Big Oil

S3: The Mad Men of Big Oil

Inaction on climate doesn’t start or end with climate denial. In fact, the only reason science denial worked is because it came on the heels of a 100-year propaganda campaign. The fossil fuel industry helped to create the PR industry, and publicists came up with disinformation and manipulation tactics that they deployed for oil, tobacco, and chemical companies for decades. In this season we trace the creation of disinformation from its origins in the American oil industry to the well-oiled machine it is today.

Ep 1: The Father of Public Relations

In this season we're tackling Big Oil's big propaganda machine—its origins, the spin masters who created it, and why it's been so effective. It all began more than 100 years ago with Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller and his son, a bloody miners' strike, and the very first P.R. guy, who swooped in to clean it all up. Transcript

Ep 2: The Oil-Nazi-Propaganda Triangle

Ivy Lee worked with Standard Oil and the Rockefellers for the rest of his life, helping to establish the American Petroleum Institute in 1919, and working for the company's various joint ventures as well, including a petrochemicals partnership with German chemical giant IG Farben. That job, later in his life, took Lee to Germany, to meet with Goebbels and Hitler and give them advice on dealing with the American press. He was under investigation by Congress for his role in Nazi propaganda at the time of his death. Lee's work creating and building the API was one of his most important contributions to fossil fuel propaganda, it's the foundation on which the next 100 years was built. Transcript

Ep 3: Psychological Warfare, Astroturfing, and Another Tobacco-Oil Connection

Daniel Edelman learned the tools of his trade combatting Nazi propaganda in WWII, then came home and put his psychological warfare training to work for American industry, including tobacco and Big Oil. Transcript

Ep 4: Oil Slick, Part 1—The Rise of the Corporate Persona

Mobil Oil's longtime PR guy Herb Schmertz really started to aggressively manipulate the media. He introduced so many new bells and whistles to Big Oil's propaganda apparatus, we're going to stay with his story for two episodes. In Part 1: Corporate personhood. First Schmertz worked to humanize oil companies by creating the "corporate persona" then he fought for First Amendment rights to be extended to corporations. Transcript

Ep 5: Oil Slick, Part 2—False Equivalence and Free Speech

In part two of our episode on former Mobil VP Herb Schmertz, we dig into how Schmertz's approach bred false equivalence, and why he pushed so hard for the extension of First Amendment rights to corporations. Transcript

Ep 6: Manipulating the Masses and Predicting the Future—Edward Bernays and W. Howard Chase

Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, coined the term "public relations" when propaganda started to become a negative term. His specialty was using psychological know-how to manipulate the masses and orchestrate cultural shifts in his clients' favor (clients like Standard Oil, the American Tobacco Company, and General Motors). A few decades later, W. Howard Chase built onto that foundation with the idea of issues management—predicting an industry's potential issues, and manipulating political, social, and cultural forces to neutralize them. Chase is responsible for one of the best-known examples of greenwashing, the so-called "crying Indian ad," which introduced the idea of "litter bugs" and individual responsibility for pollution. Transcript

Ep 7: John Hill and the Tobacco-Oil-Plastic Triangle

John Hill, founder of Hill & Knowlton, was an Ivy Lee devotee who worked for Standard Oil in the 1930s, strategized against labor movements and the New Deal, and wound up representing the American Petroleum Institute and the Tobacco Industry Research Committee—a fake research group formed by the CEOs of all the major tobacco companies in the 1950s—at the very same time. His manipulation skills were so good they even fooled the legendary Edward R. Murrow. Transcript

Ep 8: Meet the Harrisons

E. Bruce and Patricia Harrison launched the E. Bruce Harrison Company in 1973 and ran it until 1996, working for a mix of chemical companies, oil & gas companies, and tobacco companies. E. Bruce is considered the father of environmental public relations ... or by his critics, "the godfather of greenwashing." Together the Harrisons ran multiple cross-industry coalitions and front groups, aimed primarily at stopping regulation on everything from smoking to carbon emissions. Today, Ms. Harrison is the president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a position she's held since 2005. Transcript

Ep 9: Jay Rosen and Nicholas Johnson on What the Media Can Do About Disinformation

This season we've traced the creation of Big Oil's big propaganda machine. In this episode, the season finale, we look at what can be done about it now that it has delivered us into an era of disinformation. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen and former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson join us to talk about everything from the Fairness Doctrine to cable access to today's "post-fact" world, and where we can really go from here. Special thanks to Mary Catherine O'Conner for additional reporting. Transcript