The oil industry spends millions each year to shape its image and shift the public debate in its favor. But amid growing concern over climate change — and over the industry’s clout in Washington — it can sometimes find itself losing control of its message pretty quickly.
That’s what happened earlier this month, when the American Petroleum Institute (API), a powerful Washington-based lobbying organization for oil and gas companies, put out a call for volunteers to appear in an upcoming commercial about domestic energy production — and got more than it bargained for. The ad campaign, scheduled to launch January 1 on CNN and coordinated by the high-priced Edelman PR firm, uses ordinary-looking people, dubbed “Energy Citizens,” to insert a pro-oil and gas message into the 2012 elections.
But one respondent to the casting call, Connor Gibson, turned out not to be quite what the industry was looking for. Unbeknownst to the organizers, Gibson was an activist with the environmental group
Greenpeace, and was surreptitiously recording the proceedings — recordings that Greenpeace provided exclusively to Yahoo News.
Before intentionally blowing his cover, Gibson also recorded the organizers themselves saying things they might have preferred to keep private.