In late September, the “Pebble Tapes” dropped like a bomb on the Pebble Partnership, blasting public relations shrapnel through the Canadian corporation that will draw blood for a long time.
As Pebble staggers through the smoke and fog of the Pebble Tape’s fallout, it’s engaging some tried and true corporate strategies for damage control. But they don’t seem to be working.
The first step in trying to quell the flames of outrage is to fire the fall guy, and in this case, that means throwing CEO Tom Collier under the bus. Collier apparently arranged the meeting with the undercover “investors” in the Pebble Tapes, and his arrogant boasting about political manipulation of U.S. Senators, his sleazy insinuations about rigging the permitting process and his desperate efforts to say anything to attract money to a dead end project certainly warrant his dismissal.
But from a public relations standpoint, Pebble’s simply trying to say “Look. We got rid of the problem. That was one bad apple. Everything is fine now.”
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that from day one, Pebble’s corporate philosophy has been to lie to Alaskans and to mislead our politicians and regulators so a few insiders could make a lot of money off stock options and sweetheart bonuses.
There’s no single “bad apple” here; the whole bushel is rotten.
Step two in Pebble’s damage control strategy is to bring in a trusted voice, someone familiar and respected who can soothe investors and reassure Alaskans that Pebble cares about truth, honesty and integrity.
So Pebble brought John Shively back into the fold. Mr. Shively has served in high-level positions in the NANA Native corporation and in state government – and he served in early leadership positions with Pebble – so he’s an obvious choice to try to shore-up the company’s craterred reputation.
But Mr. Shively famously lied and illegally destroyed documents to hide crimes while Chief of Staff to Governor Bill Sheffield. In a televised interview – when asked why he lied – Mr. Shively replied:
“Well, I don’t think I can have a good excuse for that. It was wrong, I knew it was wrong when I did it, when you lie there just isn’t a good excuse. So, I’m not going to try to justify it at this point, I just did it.”
Of course, we all make mistakes. And we all tell little white lies. But when you lie to hide criminal conduct, that’s kinda different. So, it’s tough to see how Mr. Shively can now lead Pebble into the flowery fields of virtue, honesty and trust.
And the final step in Pebble’s damage control plan is to get out in front of friendly audiences and start the uphill process of repairing the company’s credibility. In late September, Pebble sent Mark Hamilton to the Kenai/Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, a typically safe space for any oil, gas or mining company. But instead of softball questions from a largely pro-mining crowd, Hamilton got peppered with questions about Pebble’s honesty and integrity.
In the wake of the damning revelations in the Pebble Tapes, a local fisherman asked, how can Alaskans trust Pebble? His response? Mark Hamilton told Alaskans to “trust the process.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
As the Pebble Tapes reveal, Pebble has manipulated the permitting process at virtually every level – from its special insider access to the Governor of Alaska to lobby the President of the United States, to its bald-faced efforts to run out of office any politicians opposed to their project.
So, it’s hard to imagine a more tone deaf strategy to repair a company’s reputation than to tell Alaskans to trust a permitting process you’ve been caught openly and flagrantly manipulating for years.
The biggest question about Pebble’s damage control strategy, however, is this: Why is Ron Thiessen still on the Pebble Team? Thiessen heads up Northern Dynasty, the Canadian company that wholly owns the Pebble Partnership, and like Tom Collier, he made some outrageous statements on the Pebble Tapes. Most notably, he discussed the importance of using the Governor of Alaska as a conduit to the White House so Pebble could hide evidence of its efforts to rig the permitting process.
It will be hard for Pebble to recover from the devastating revelations in the Pebble Tapes, because they made it clear the rot and stench the tapes exposed run deep through the entire Pebble Partnership
But as long as people like Ron Thiessen remain in leadership positions, Pebble can never with a straight face tell Alaskans to “trust the process.”