This is exactly what happened to Rick Berman last June, as he attempted to woo Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Gas as the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Western Energy Alliance in Colorado Spring, Colo.
Representatives from a who’s-who list of energy companies were in attendance, including Anadarko Petroleum, Baker Hughes Inc., BP America, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Devon Energy Corporation, Halliburton, Pioneer Natural Resources, QEP Resources, and Saga Petroleum, among dozens of others.
But unbeknownst to Berman, one of the executives didn’t like what he heard. So he recorded it in secret and turned over the tape to The New York Times, which yesterday published an expose of Rick Berman’s pitch to the energy industry, along with a full transcript (pdf).
“That you have to play dirty to win … it just left a bad taste in my mouth,” the executive told the newspaper.
In other words, Rick Berman is too unethical even for Big Oil.
In his pitch to oil, coal, and natural gas companies, Berman described his tactics in detail. Most of them our readers have come to know over years of Berman-watching, but a few were new even to us.
Berman starts by differentiating between public opinion and public judgment. Opinion is simply an impression people have of something, but judgment is when they decide to take some kind of action, such as voting.
While public opinion will never be for Big Oil, Berman told energy execs, it can get public judgment, but to do so it has to go on the offense. How do unpopular corporations go on the offense? Berman outlined three ways:
- Reframing the issue.
- Repositioning the opposition.
- Taking away people’s moral authority.
To illustrate these tactics, Berman touted his smear campaign against HSUS:
“We represent a lot of agriculture interests who are being attacked by Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society of the United States is not connected to your local pet shelters … So repositioning them in the public’s mind by saying, “Hey, give to your local shelter, but don’t give to the Humane Society of the United States because they are not who they say they are,” is an attempt at repositioning.”Berman had other tidbits of advice, such as:
“Often times we’ll use children or animals. If you want a video to go viral, have kids or animals.”
“We like to use humor because humor doesn’t offend people and at the same time they get the message. If you want to have a really hard-hitting message, that’s fine. … But whenever possible I like to use humor to minimize or marginalize the people on the other side.”
“We have to achieve something that I call common knowledge … That comes from people hearing something enough times from enough different places, people repeating it to each other, that you reach a point where you have solidified your position.”One of Berman’s statements really caught our eye. A year ago we worked on a series of graphics revealing Berman’s Smear Campaign Tool Kit. These tools include out-of-context quotes, manipulated numbers, legal intimidation, sockpuppet theater, and phony op-eds.
One graphic we never published depicted Berman going after Mother Teresa. We didn’t post it because we thought it was too far-fetched. But we were wrong. It turns out Berman would be happy to go after Mother Teresa – assuming the price is right:
“In diminishing moral authority, sometimes in this case you have to be tougher because you are going after someone that’s got a crown on their head …If you were going to attack Mother Teresa, you better have a very unusual campaign.”
Big Green RadicalsAs we wrote about for a blog post in March, the $1 billion a year being spent on front groups that deny climate change has proven too much of a lure for Berman, who has now started going after environmental groups.
At the energy meeting in March, Berman’s vice president Jack Hubbard described their “Big Green Radicals” smear campaign against Sierra Club, NRDC, and Food and Water Watch.
“So we thought how are we doing to kick off this campaign? Take the typical Berman and Company model, in terms of undermining these folks credibility, and diminish their moral authority. … One of the first things we did was, we said, well, let’s make this a little personal. Let’s find out whether these people are practicing what they preach. So what we did was we conducted a whole bunch of intense opposition research digging into their board of directors, and we pulled all of the title information for all the vehicles that they own.”Hubbard went on to describe environmental groups as “very, very powerful in Washington” with “very, very large budgets.” This is laughable on the face of it. As Hubbard stated in his own presentation, Food and Water Watch’s entire annual budget is $12 million, and the Sierra Club’s is $79 million.
This is a pittance compared to the annual earnings of the corporations in the room. Last year Anadarko Petroleum had sales revenues of $14.87 billion, Halliburton had sales revenues of $29.4 billion, and BP had sales revenues of whopping $242.5 billion.
Hubbard discussed personal research that Berman and Co. had done against Rep. Jared Polis, who at the time was leading two ballot initiatives to limit fracking n Colorado, and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, whose NextGEN Climate PAC funds political campaigns to influence climate policy.
Hubbard also showed off the Big Green Radicals Colorado page, presumably created for this meeting. And the tactics sound eerily similar to how Berman has gone after animal protection advocates:
“In the right hand column we dig into every group. We list their money. We list their funders. We list their radical positions. And then we have a section on every single activist. Their rap sheets, their criminal records that they have. We’re really making this personal. We’re trying to make it so they don’t have any credibility with the public, with the media, or with the legislators.”
‘Endless war’Berman went on to describe other tactics he has used against HSUS and other animal protection groups, urging the energy execs to deploy them against environmental groups.
One tactic deals with manipulating emotions. Berman devised the acronym FLAGS to stand for the five emotions he tries to manipulate: fear, love, anger, greed, and sympathy.
The two he said he works most with are fear and anger: “Fear and anger have to be part of this campaign … what you’ve got to do is get people fearful of what is on the table and then you’ve got to get people angry over the fact that they are being misled.”
Regarding budgets, Berman pulled out another tactic he has used against HSUS. “This is an endless war. What I like to do what I come up against some of these organizations … I look at their tax returns, and if they’ve got a pension plan, and it’s a well-funded pension plan, I know that these people are not going away.”
And again Berman emphasized the necessity of playing dirty:
“This offensive campaign that is designed to attack is not a positive campaign. I’ve had clients say to me, ‘Well you know, I don’t really want to attack, that’s not who we are.’ I say, ‘Well, you know, you can either win ugly or lose pretty.’ You know, you figure out where you want to be. But sometimes this is what you need.”
Going viralSince The New York Times expose broke yesterday, numerous other media outlets picked up the story, and it lit up social media. We are thrilled to see so much exposure of Berman’s dirty tricks to such a wide audience. Read more here:
Bloomberg News: Fracking Advocates Urged to Win Ugly by Discrediting Foes
A Humane Nation: Bootlegged Speech of Rick Berman Shows Deception and Dirty Tactics Off the Charts
PR Watch: Rick Berman Exposed in New Audio; Hear His Tactics against Environmentalists and Workers Rights
Huffington Post: Rick Berman Encouraged Energy Executives To Use These Nasty Tactics On Environmentalists
Climate Progress: Lobbyist Richard Berman To Oil And Gas Executives: Treat PR Campaigns As An ‘Endless War’
Climate Progress: Here’s How Oil Industry Members Reacted When Told To Use ‘Fear And Anger’ To Win Fracking Fight
DeSmogBlog: Oil and Gas Industry’s “Endless War” on Fracking Critics Revealed by Rick Berman
DeSmog Blog: Richard Berman: Tobacco to Fossil Fuels
CREW: AUDIO: Dr. Evil Tells Oil and Gas Industry to Use ‘Fear and Anger’ in Fracking Fight
Food and Water Watch: Frackers in Bed with Dr. Evil: Covers Pulled Off
The Hill: Oil industry advised to play dirty with greens
EcoWatch: Secret Tape Exposes Fracking Industry Playing Dirty
Democracy Now: Lobbyist Richard Berman Caught on Tape Urging Oil Execs to Dig Up Dirt on Environmentalists
Salon: “Win ugly or lose pretty”: Secret tape reveals Big Oil’s sleazy P.R. pep talk
Gawker: Leaked Big Oil Speech: Wage “Endless War” Against Fracking Opponents
Common Cause: Notorious Corporate Lobbyist Rick Berman Caught On Tape
Southern Beale: Rick Berman: He’s Baaaaaack!
Radio Or Not: Political Tricks & Musical Treats
Colorado Springs Independent: Energy lobbyist in Colorado Springs: ‘Win ugly or lose pretty’
Pennsylvania State Impact: Report: Veteran lobbyist tells industry to ‘win ugly or lose pretty’
Pittsburgh Business Times: New York Times: Consultant tells energy industry it can ‘win ugly or lose pretty’
FireDogLake: Richard Berman Secretly Recorded Telling Fossil Fuel Industry To Wage ‘Endless War’ On Critics
China Topix: Richard Berman’s Energy Industry Speech Advocating Underhanded Tactics Secretly Taped