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Does BP stand for Begging for Pennies?

August 23rd, 2010 · No Comments

Few people earn a living (or even make money) running a blog site — especially not one that focuses on issues of substance.  People do it for passion, love, ego, boredom, concern for public service … any number of reasons. And, in almost all cases, doing this costs money from indirect (opportunity costs) to direct (the computer, internet access, web hosting).    Advertising provides a route to help reduce those costs.  At times, however, one has to ask: at what cost?

When faced with astroturfing advertising, EcoGeek’s Hank Green decided to block the advertisingHank wrote an open letter to the coal industry:

I’m a little bit angry right now. For the last 12 hours, unknown to me, the U.S. coal lobby has been plastering EcoGeek with B.S. ads for their B.S. clean coal campaign. I’m not really a big fan of helping to spread their heifer droppings so I’ve blocked the campaign.

For several weeks, British Petroleum’s massive advertising campaign has included spots on this website. If you haven’t noticed, these ads have included lines like:

bp Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response: When tragedy strikes, people need help without hassles

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response: We will make this right

Since BP didn’t hide their logo and weren’t so directly deceptive, these advertisements weren’t blocked even as they are part of a massive BP greenwashing campaign that has (or seems to have) included attempting to hire and muzzle scientists, stymie efforts to measure accurately the flow of oil into the Gulf, massive use of dispersants that reduce the visibility of oil, stifling of media access (and coverage) of spill areas, disposal of dead animals to avoid photographs that could upset the public, and so on … It does lead to the conclusion that

BP seems to be working harder to protect its brand than to help the people of the Gulf Coast, argued Alabama Attorney General Troy King. He has filed suit against BP because “while BP is spending millions on print ads and airtime, it’s not spending what it should on claims.”

As reported by Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard, Congressman Henry Waxman has asked BP to detail its advertising … which could well include pennies being sent to this website.

Now those pennies come via Common Sense Media (CSM) which BP has required report on any blog posts that discuss the BP advertising campaign.

This website isn’t going to pull the BP advertising: the pennies from this campaign will help run this site even the BP greenwashing efforts seek to divert attention from how dangerous America’s oil addiction is and to reduce Americans’ concerns about the damage that BP has caused to the Gulf.

While CSM won’t be told to block BP advertising from this site, this site management expects to hear shortly from BP that the advertising will be pulled.

After all, after a relatively straight (and, to this author, mild) reporting of the BP advertising campaign at the Wonkroom, BP reportedly asked that all its advertising be pulled from all of the Center for American Progress websites. (Note, that the time of this post writing, BP’s advertising is still up at these web sites.) Unlike at this website, those advertisements likely represented $1000s rather that $0.01s in revenue and is directly related to the ability to pay salaries and keep the doors open.  Now, American Progress understood this sort of issue from the very beginning of its acceptance of advertising:

When I informed the ThinkProgress community in Aug. 2008 that we were introducing one paid advertising spot on our site, I stated: “Please rest assured that our advertisers will have absolutely no bearing on determining or influencing what we do or don’t write about.” The commitment, of course, cost us some advertising money from BP in the short-run. But the cost for maintaining our long-term credibility, our progressive identity, and your readership is well worth it.

BP’s direct linking of advertising revenue, in such an explicit manner, to editorial content is the sort of thing that should make anyone concerned with journalistic ethics blanch.  Would The Washington Post or New York Times accept an advertising contract that explicitly stated that the purchaser had the right to cancel the advertising if the newspaper wrote on the advertising campaign in a way that the advertiser didn’t like?  Write nicely about us and keep getting the funds … say something negative and say good-bye to revenue.

BP chose, via CSM, to be advertising on progressive sites, on sites (like this one) that focus on climate change and our need to end our fossil foolish addictions, and other sites that almost certainly were not sympathetic to BP’s seemingly criminal negligence — in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere — and not supportive of BP’s Basically Petroleum, Basically Permanently business model.  (See, for example, Seeking tools to express outrage and a call for justice: “Prosecute BP” and What I want, and don’t want, to see on my next trip to a major aquarium …)  With this in mind, one has to wonder about BP’s real intentions as to advertising at this (and other similar) sites: were BP’s pennies primarily intended as leverage to stifle criticism?

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, BBP backed-off their decision to cancel the CAP blog sites advertising (note the comment above about the ads still being on the site). Joe Romm has a good explanation of why, however, BP’s greenwashing advertisements won’t be seen at Climate Progress.

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Tags: advertising · Energy · greenwashing · journalism