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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 02:09

Heartland Institute’s Unabomber Billboard Bombs

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For most of its twenty-eight year existence, the Heartland Institute has been about as white bread as you'd imagine a free-market-über-alles organization could be. With workmanlike efficiency, and ample financial support from right-wing foundations and corporations, Heartland has doled out loads of misinformation and disinformation about climate change; pooh-poohed the dangers of second-hand smoke; supported the privatization of public services; and, opposes anything remotely involving government regulation.

In its pre-conference promotional efforts for its recently concluded (and sparsely attended) "7th International Conference on Climate Change" -- held in late-May at the Hilton Chicago Hotel - a promo plan to use billboards around the Chicago area linking Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, Charles Manson, a mass murderer, and Fidel Castro, to those that believe in man-made causes of global warming, was concocted by Heartland's public relations-communications department, or at least was approved by it.

If successful, Team Heartland planned to post billboards using images of Osama bin Laden, and James J. Lee, the gunman who died following the September 2010 hostage situation at the Discovery Communications building in Maryland, and tie them to climate change scientists.

In an early-May press release, Heartland's co-founder and president, Joseph Bast, pointed out that the "provocative billboard [which went up along the Eisenhower Expressway in Maywood, Ill., and featured a mug shot of Kaczynski with the words "I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?""] was always intended to be an experiment. And after just 24 hours the results are in: It got people's attention."

In fact, the Kaczynski billboard got so much attention, including outrage from some of Heartland supporters and donors, that the Institute was forced to dump the Kaczynski billboard, and put the kybosh on the rest of its promo scheme.

As The New York Times Rachel Nuwer put it: Shortly after it appeared, "the digital billboard was gone. It seems that the ad campaign, sponsored by the conservative Heartland Institute, had bombed."

(Heartland recently announced that this year's climate change conference would be its last for the foreseeable future due to financial problems.)

Forced by ‘climate alarmists' to be ‘deliberately provocative'

According to Heartland's Joseph Bast, Heartland "fill[s] a unique niche in the free-market movement as the only think tank that directly markets free-market ideas to the nation's legislators and opinion leaders."

In this case, the organization used such a "deliberately provocative," vehicle for promoting its conference in order "to turn the tables on the climate alarmists by using their own tactics but with the opposite message. We found it interesting that the ad seemed to evoke reactions more passionate than when leading alarmists compare climate realists to Nazis or declare they are imposing on our children a mass death sentence. We leave it to others to determine why that is so."

Bast maintained that his tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization "has spent millions of dollars contributing to the real debate over climate change, and $200 for a one-day digital billboard. In return, we've been subjected to the most uncivil name-calling and disparagement you can possibly imagine from climate alarmists. The other side of the climate debate seems to be playing by different rules. This experiment produced further proof of that."

"Of course, not all global warming alarmists are murderers or tyrants," the Heartland Institute said in a press release from May 3. "The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."

Bast did recognize that the ad not only struck many as wildly heavy-handed, but some Heartland supporters were also "angered and disappointed."

According to Heartland spokesperson Jim Lakely, the billboard was aimed "people who aren't otherwise following the global-warming debate. Heartland is not usually in the provocation business, which is a common tactic of the global-warming alarmists," Lakely told LiveScience. "The reaction to this billboard has been interesting."

Lakely is the director of communications at Heartland and the author of its "Somewhat Reasonable" blog. One of Lakely's recent posts was somewhat reasonably headlined "Heartland's Climate Conference the Antidote to Enviro-Fascist Madness of Pentti Linkola."

"This is only the latest in a long history of truly heinous actions by the Heartland Institute," said Michael Mann, the Pennsylvania State University climate scientist. "The only thing I can think of here is that they are acting out of true desperation," Mann told LiveScience.

Coalition organizes Heartland corporate disinvestment campaign

The New York Times' Rachel Nuwer reported in mid-May that Forecast the Facts, an organization trying to convince corporations to stop giving money to Heartland (similar to the disinvestment campaign waged by activists against the American Legislative Exchange Council), was trying to amp up its efforts, by "advertis[ing] in the exact same spot in an ironic format mimicking the Heartland ad."

According to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, Heartland "is a member of ... ALEC as of 2010-2011" and participates in ALEC's Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force, Education Task Force, Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force Financial Services Subcommittee, and Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force.

SourceWatch points out that "James Taylor, managing editor of the Heartland publication Environment & Climate News, spoke at the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force meeting at the 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting, [and that] Heartland was also an Exhibitor at ALEC's 2011 Annual Meeting. Heartland has also functioned as a publisher [ distributor] and promoter of ALEC's model legislation."

The Times reported that Forecast the Facts' billboard "would have presented the Pfizer pharmaceutical company's logo alongside similarly imposing red letters reading: ‘We still support Climate Deniers. Do you?' Just below, Pfizer's 2010 donation to the Heartland Institute, which a document circulated this spring put at $130,000, would be shown in small white print."

"But it was not to be - at least not in that billboard location, managed by the Clear Channel Chicago global media and entertainment company. ‘We are not an arbiter of positions in any way,' said Jim Cullinan, a Clear Channel spokesman. ‘But there's also legal issues about fair use of images and what we can and can't do with them.'

"There's a big difference between a public image of the Unabomber and a specific trademark in terms of legality," he said.

Pfizer spokeswoman, Sharon Castillo said that the company does "not agree with Heartland Institute's position on climate change."

Forecast the Facts is part of a coalition that includes 350.org, Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, and Sum of Us. "Over the last two months," Matthew Cardinale reported for the Global Information Network, "the coalition has been successful in convincing some eleven companies to withdraw their support for Heartland Institute, including Allied World Assurance, the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, BB&T, Diageo, Eli Lilly, General Motors, PepsiCo, RenaissanceRe, State Farm, USAA and XL Group.

According to Cardinale, "The coalition plans to continue targeting corporations such as Comcast, Microsoft and Pfizer, which continue to support the Heartland Institute."