It’s no secret the corporate campaign against the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative has amassed more than $10 million to try to stop Alaskans from updating our 60-year-old, one-sentence-long salmon habitat law.
But there’s a darker effort unfolding behind the scenes, and it’s not pretty.
Pebble, Donlin, ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum and the other big corporations have engaged a slick, shadowy public relations firm named DCI to create a smutty stain of illusion and fear designed to confuse and bully Alaskans.
DCI thrives in the swampy backwaters of Washington, DC, and its client list reads like a who’s who of corporate bad actors – ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Big Pharma and many others. They specialize in creating phony front groups, attacking scientists and creating the noise and confusion needed to fulfil the profit-at-all-costs agenda of their corporate clients.
Health care reform? DCI helped create phony “patients’ rights” groups to attack single-payer health care. Second-hand smoke? DCI’s helped cloud the air there too (using fake Tea Party groups to do it, nonetheless). Freddie Mac mortgage reform? Yep. Climate change? DCI has a long history of sowing fake climate science, including the viral anti-climate change video, “Al Gore’s Penguin Army.” Big bank reform? DCI fought everyday Americans after the 2008 financial collapse to stop the “too big to fail” banking reform effort.
Whether it’s big tobacco, big banks, big oil or now – wild Alaska salmon – DCI sells the same products: doubt and fear. It’s a powerful one-two punch that plays off our human vulnerabilities and it’s a tried and true formula.
First, the doubt. Long before “fake news” took hold in our post-fact world, the tobacco industry invented a powerful public relations tool. In December 1953, the presidents of the four largest tobacco companies secretly met in a NYC hotel room to address a wave of scientific studies showing cigarettes caused cancer. Rather than address the problem and risk loss of profits, they devised a remarkable scheme: use diversion, fake groups (“astroturf”) and “alternative facts” to cast doubt on the science and anyone promoting it. It worked beyond their wildest dreams. Big Tobacco continued to reap big profits for decades to come.
Not surprisingly, DCI is marinated in tobacco money.
In the Stand for Salmon debate, the corporate campaign opposed to modern habitat protections has taken to a strategy of doubt that boils down to this: it’s not fish habitat that’s the problem, it’s the ocean. It’s the “warm blob.”
In other words, look over there. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Of course our changing ocean is affecting our salmon. But when we look at the demise of salmon from Europe to New England to the Pacific Northwest, we know one thing is 100% true: wild salmon need healthy coastal habitat. Period.
Here’s what just one recent study by scientific experts said about Alaska salmon habitat:
“Despite Alaska’s reputation as a sparsely populated wilderness, the expanding footprint of human development is now a significant disturbance process influencing many salmon-bearing watersheds.”
And that’s how DCI sows doubt. Salmon science is complicated, and DCI exploits that complexity by taking one piece of the larger story (oceans), amplifying it, and distracting us from the issue we can do something about: preventing more salmon habitat impacts.
There’s another insidious way these corporations create doubt – through deception and confusion. Want a perfect example? Check out the image to the right, showing the stickers they put out after the Stand for Salmon team printed and circulated our original salmon-shaped stickers. Pretty similar, huh? That’s no accident. And this deception has actually lead some of our supporters to mistakenly try to make donations to the corporations.
Doubt, of course, is just half of the strategy. It creates the uncertainly that opens the door for the second part of DCI’s marketing scheme: fear. President Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt famously told us years ago the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” because he knew – just like the slick PR folks at DCI – that fear is a primal force. It’s baked into our animal DNA.
And the corporations have a giant, massively-funded megaphone to blast-out their message of fear. You cannot turn on a TV or a radio or the internet these days without a barrage of fear engulfing you around Ballot Measure 1 – it will shut-down fishing across the state, you won’t be able to build a dock, it will destroy our economy.
The Alaska Oil & Gas Association – the trade group representing some of the most profitable oil and gas corporations in the world – has gone so far as to say “the initiative will make it virtually impossible to permit new projects.”
Our response? Baloney.
I’m surprised they haven’t said it will kill the Easter Bunny too.
The only problem with the arguments coming from DCI and its corporate clients are that they’re patently false. Read the initiative and decide for yourself.
DCI and its corporate clients think the status quo is just fine to protect our wild salmon, because business-as-usual means higher profits and bigger CEO salaries. We strongly disagree. We think Alaska must learn from the habitat mistakes made elsewhere, or we’re doomed to repeat them.
In the end, the vote on Ballot Measure 1 will come down to whether Alaskans trust big corporations to protect our wild salmon, or whether we trust everyday Alaskans, working on a shoestring budget, to do it.
When we look around at how Big Oil and Big Mining and Big Tobacco and the Big Banks have gamed our system time and again, the answer to every Alaskan should be a no-brainer.
Paid for by Cook Inletkeeper. Top 3 donors to Inletkeeper Action Fund are: David McCargo, Anchorage, Alaska; Peter Mjos, Anchorage, Alaska; John and Rika Mouw, Homer, Alaska.