'Gasland' Gets the 'Deadly Spin'

Gasland logo

Yesterday I posted that Gasland — which exposes the dangers of gas drilling through a process called "fracking" that can poison drinking water — was recently nominated for an Oscar. (Gasland is a client project.) And in an unprecedented move, an oil and gas industry front group sent a letter to the Academy saying that Gasland should be ineligible for best documentary feature, attacking it as "fiction" and claiming it is riddled with falsehoods. (Salon published a great piece about this "self-destructive PR move.")

A couple weeks ago the same group attacked an investigative piece on drilling pollution by ProPublica, the highly credible public interest journalism organization.

And just last week, T. Boone Pickens, the most visible promoter of fracking, went on The Daily Show claiming that he personally has fracked over 3000 wells and never witnessed any contamination cases, even when Jon Stewart asked him about Gasland point blank.

Deadly SpinIf all this sounds familiar, it's because it's the same playbook used to discredit Michael Moore and Sicko, which health care whistleblower Wendell Potter (another Antidote client) exposed in his recent book Deadly Spin.

Congress will soon introduce a bill banning fracking (as some states have, including NY). Congressional investigators recently called out frackers for pumping millions of gallons of diesel fuel directly into the ground, exposing drinking water sources to benzene and other carcinogens.

Expect these industry attacks to continue.

Is Ethical PR an Oxymoron? Does 'Deadly Spin' Distort the PR Field?

Richard Edelman, president/CEO of global PR firm Edelman, recently reviewed former CIGNA PR head Wendell Potter's book, Deadly Spin, on his own blog and on PR news site O'Dwyer's, saying it "distorts [the] PR field."

I disagree. It exposes the PR field, or at least the dark side of it — some of which Edelman has practiced in the past (for Big Tobacco and Wal-Mart, for example, and perhaps others).

Wendell responded to Richard in a blog post simultaneously posted on Huffington Post, Center for Media and Democracy, and his own site.

As Wendell says, "The reason I wrote my new book, Deadly Spin, was to explain not only how the insurance industry used the dark arts of PR to shape health care reform legislation, but also how many other special interests use them to influence how we think and act every day."

Wendell, of course, doesn't think PR is inherently evil or manipulative. He writes in the book:

PR has been — and is being — used to good ends. Even the noblest of causes can benefit from the services of a communications expert to clarify facts, disseminate information, and counter unfair arguments. And there are plenty of ethical PR people out there to do this....

But with PR so intricately woven into every major industry and movement in today’s mass media reality, the stakes of spin have become incredibly high. And ethics do slip. PR often crosses the line into misleading, withholding, or simply lying. And when it does, society suffers — sometimes tragically so.

This is a conversation worth having, and I encourage all of you to engage in the comments of Wendell's blog.

Disclosure: I am proud to be a friend and colleague of Wendell's, and we're exploring ways that we together can use PR to the "good ends" that he notes in the book — one of which is to spread the messages in Deadly Spin. I left corporate PR years ago with that in mind.