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“Win ugly or lose pretty”: Secret tape reveals Big Oil's sleazy P.R. pep talk

Lobbyist Rick Berman told oil and gas companies they can win over the public by playing dirty


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Lindsay Abrams
October 31, 2014 7:47PM (UTC)

How do you take on a growing popular movement that's figured out the link between the fossil fuel industry and the destruction of our planet? According to a secret recording obtained by the New York Times, lobbyist Rick Berman told Big Oil to do what it does best: play dirty.

“Think of this as an endless war,” Berman, the man once dubbed "Dr. Evil" by "60 Minutes," told a roomful of gas and oil executives this past June in Colorado Springs. “You can either win ugly or lose pretty.”

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That we know all this is courtesy of one of Berman's audience members, who was so skeeved out by the proposed smear tactics that he went running to the liberal media. “It just left a bad taste in my mouth," the unnamed executive told the Times. Here, from the complete transcript of "Big Green Radicals: Exposing Environmental Groups," are some of the hot tips inspired from his history taking on healthcare, labor unions and the Humane Society while representing the soda industry, the food industry and alcohol manufacturers:

  • Big Oil can learn from the tactics Berman's used to attack Obamacare: His P.R. firm, Berman and Co., influenced public opinion in the absence of facts by taking out an ad in the New York Times telling people, "Hey, you ought to be concerned about the health care bill." They didn't bother to explain why. Berman calls this going on the offensive, and it's useful in a variety of situations: “I get up every morning and I try to figure out how to screw with the labor unions -- that’s my offense,” he said.
  • You don't have to win people over to your side. You just have to confuse them. Often, he explains, they'll encounter people who are "overwhelmed by the science and 'I don't know who to believe.' But, if you got enough on your side you get people into a position of paralysis about the issue ... you get in people's mind a tie. They don't know who is right .. .the tie basically insures the status quo."
  • Use children or animals to make ads go viral. You can never go wrong with children and animals.
  • Diminish moral authority. And in order to do so, don't be afraid to go in for the kill: "You have to be tougher," Berman explained, "because sometimes you're going after someone that's got a crown on their head ... if you were going to attack Mother Theresa, you better have a very unusual campaign."
  • Never, ever reveal the source of your funding. "I am religious about not allowing company names to ever get used," Berman said. "And I don't want companies to ever admit that because it does give the other side a way to diminish our message."

Lindsay Abrams

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