What is it about most far left (and some far right) ‘hit’ groups? They seem to possess an almost congenital inability to remain focused on the issues and facts without resorting to ad hominen attacks, personal and motivational.
Having taken part in public square debates on numerous issues, I quickly grasped that, for many on the far liberal-left, Kant’s postmodern “subjectivity is truth” philosophy has become a way of thinking, a way of life. Thus the whole concept of absolute truth or hard facts doesn’t come easy. Best avoided then – allowing any verbal curmudgeon into the armoury in pursuit of an ideological agenda, regardless of facts.
Take Canada’s well-funded toxic campaigners DeSmogBlog. But first, let’s look at DeSmog in action in a recent attack on the oil and gas industry funded PR outfit Energy In Depth (EID).
DeSmog v Energy In Depth
Having just viewed Josh Fox’s anti-gas industry movie Gasland, my review Gasland’s Fracking Nonsense included some investigative elements I had checked out from EID’s Debunking Gasland report. Based in the UK, I had not come across EID before. A look at EID’s site, however, made it perfectly clear that they represented the PR interests of the US oil and gas industry. I have no problem with that. I’ve done a lot of PR work myself, though none in or for the energy industry. What interests me is ‘do claims stack up’ on the evidence and facts? Being only too aware that many journalists in the mass media have abandoned their traditional media role, I have a great deal of sympathy with businesses that feel they have to join the public debate to de-fog media reports where facts and context are obfuscated and integrity questioned.
Clearly outraged by EID’s Debunking Gasland report and how it has been widely picked up, DeSmog’s executive director, Brendan DeMelle penned Gasland Attack Group ‘Energy In Depth’ Funded by Major Oil and Gas Interests published mid-February at Huffington Post. Far from focusing on the issues EID raised about the movie, DeMelle chose the path of all anti-intellectual debaters: attempting to undermine the credibility of those with whom they disagree. And it’s not the first time either that DeMelle, DeSmog and the de-Huffington Post have been caught in smear tactic cahoots, as Andrew Breitbart’s excellent Big Journalism site has reported.
Let me be clear. I have no problem with either industry PR teams or self-proclaimed public watchdogs, Left or Right, tangling in the public square. Bring it on. But engaging with evidence and facts is not what DeSmogladites are about, as we shall see.
So what’s DeSmog’s beef?
The peg for DeMelle’s article was that DeSmog had “uncovered a memo” dated 2009 which proved EID is “hardly comprised of the mom-and-pop small, independent oil and natural gas producers it claims”. The thrust of the piece was that EID is a PR group “orchestrated” by oil and gas majors as well as smaller groups. In fact, EID’s ‘Who we are’ section states right at the start: “America’s natural gas and oil producers – the majority of which are small, independent businesses with less than 12 employees – are committed…” Not exactly the inference DeMelle intones. As EID’s Chris Tucker explained to me, EID was conceived by a group of independent gas and oil producers but was ultimately funded by a cross-section of independents and majors. Yet almost half DeMelle’s article is spent attempting to play up what he believes is a “misrepresentation” over EID’s origins.
Next up DeMelle doesn’t seem to like the fact that EID’s website was created with help from a Washington PR firm who works with “major tobacco and nuclear industry interests”. This nonsense perhaps cuts some ice with the post-hippie Big Bad Oil generation who forget oil and gas producers are driving the economy, everything businesses big and small, not to mention providing power in our homes. But it is puzzling when one considers that DeSmogBlog itself is a project of a Canadian PR firm.
Let’s cut to the chase. Having used the “uncovered memo” peg on which to hang a non-story, EID, we are told, clearly wants “to hide its high-profile sources of funding … perhaps because these same companies are responsible for some of the worst environmental disasters in history”. DeMelle mentions the usual suspects of course, BP, Halliburton…yawn … rounding off by suggesting EID might “lose credibility” if the public knew of such links. But didn’t EID state it represented “America’s natural gas and oil producers” in its opening line? Am I missing something?
Misrepresenting EID’s website biography as a pretext for an issue-averting mudslinging non-story might play well with DeSmog’s audience, yet while DeSmog is at pains to link EID and Big Oil, one wonders how that squares with the fact that DeSmog’s PR-professional founder counts Shell – an EID member – as a key client? A little nugget, by the way, Hoggan’s client list summary at DeSmogBlog surprisingly omits. So why I wonder should DeSmog’s chief want to “hide” his “high-profile sources of funding”?
DeSmogBlog’s site states it “exists to clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change”. But as Peter Foster noted in A Load of Hoggan-wash, Hoggan’s DeSmog is pretty much a “smear campaign against climate sceptics”.
DeSmog does at least get its funding from only the highest moral authority, right? Well, wrong again. DeSmog was founded with $300,000 from its chief benefactor John Lefebvre. Lefebvre is a convicted Internet fraudster currently out on bail awaiting conviction after pleading guilty in the NETeller multi-million dollar online pay system scam. Of its chief benefactor, DeSmog’s supporters are only told: “The DeSmogBlog team is especially grateful to our benefactor John Lefebvre, a lawyer, internet entrepreneur and past-president of NETeller, a firm that has been providing secure online transactions since 1999. John has been outspoken, uncompromising and courageous in challenging those who would muddy the climate change debate, and he has enabled and inspired the same standard on the blog.”
It was those same “secure online transactions” that led to Lefebvre becoming a convicted felon now facing up to five years in the slammer. Now why should DeSmog want to “hide” such key information about its “high-profile source of funding”? Much as Lefebvre’s “standards” didn’t run to US ‘legal requirements’, we might feel DeSmog’s “standards” don’t run to giving a voice to dissent in democratic debate.
In our recently published book Energy and Climate Wars, we quoted some high-profile media figures whose own journalistic standards led them to deny dissenting voices a public platform, much as DeSmog wishes to do, when it comes to the infant climate science. One we quoted said: “Not only do journos not have a responsibility to report what sceptical scientists have to say, they have a responsibility not to report what these scientists say.” So spoke one Ross Gelbspan, a former editor at the Boston Globe, now a contributing member at DeSmogBlog.
Canada’s toxic defamers
Not that’s its surprising that DeSmog should so dislike the notion of open debate – given they are so bad at it. But then it’s difficult when you can’t rely on facts, having constantly to fall back on bombast, even insults, as a Canadian radio interview in 2008 reveals. On that occasion DeSmog’s Richard Littlemore unwisely took on Britain’s Lord Christopher Monckton, a former policy advisor to British PM Margaret Thatcher and an expert, clued-up debater on climate issues. It is worth reading a transcript of parts of the debate online at the Heartland Institute. It reveals just how poorly informed one of DeSmog’s core team was on climate issues. Ardent DeSmog supporters on Littlemore’s own blog later angrily admitted defeat in the debate. One said, “Richard, you’ve got to show them you’ve got more than insults”. Another spoke for many saying, “I’d have to say that Monckton won the debate.” DeSmog’s Littlemore was reduced to admitting abjectly “Score one for Monckton” – and for arguing on climate facts, one might add.
The cornerstone of DeSmog’s alarmism is that the IPCC has settled the debate on climate science – debate over. But just last week, the United States House of Representatives delivered a broadside voting by 244 to 179 to kill funding to the UN IPCC. Why? Because they do not want Americans to have to fund its litany of “corrupt findings” – the alleged scientific ‘rock’ upon which DeSmog relies.
Like the guys at EID, I would much rather spend my time engaging publicly on the actual facts and issues than diversionary smokescreens. But when ‘de smog’ is blown away, we find the bottom line is that Energy In Depth and DeSmogBlog each represent the PR arms of their respective industries: energy production and climate alarmism. Each seek to influence public debate. But only one wants to be a voice in that debate, the other wants to close it down.
In a democratic society, which is the toxic pollutant to free speech, I wonder?