The tobacco campaign worked for decades -- bringing billions more in profits after the dangers of the product were known. Now that strategy serves as a model for other corporations that push products that injure, kill, scam, cheat or otherwise hurt people and worry that the government might try to do something about them.
In 2008 Chris Mooney wrote at The American Prospect about companies using the tobacco industry's model in, "The Manufacture of Uncertainty," reviewing the book "Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health" by David Michaels. Mooney wrote:
"The sabotage of science is now a routine part of American politics. The same corporate strategy of bombarding the courts and regulatory agencies with a barrage of dubious scientific information has been tried on innumerable occasions -- and it has nearly always worked, at least for a time. Tobacco. Asbestos. Lead. Vinyl chloride. Chromium. Formaldehyde. Arsenic. Atrazine. Benzene. Beryllium. Mercury. Vioxx. And on and on. In battles over regulating these and many other dangerous substances, money has bought science, and then science -- or, more precisely, artificially exaggerated uncertainty about scientific findings -- has greatly delayed action to protect public and worker safety. And in many cases, people have died.
"Tobacco companies perfected the ruse, which was later copycatted by other polluting or health-endangering industries. One tobacco executive was even dumb enough to write it down in 1969. 'Doubt is our product,' reads the infamous memo, 'since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.'"
A Wider Conspiracy?
This may be a wider corporate conspiracy that involves more than just one company. The massive campaign to block carbon regulation by turning Americans against their own government was not just an effort by Exxon. Meteor Blades explains at DailyKos, in "Former DOJ attorney beat Big Tobacco, wants probe of Exxon and others who buried climate change info":
"One of Exxon and other fossil fuel companies' efforts included helping to establish the Global Climate Coalition in 1989 shortly after the first meeting of the U.N.-created Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Among GCC's efforts was a tendentious video it provided to journalists at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in which it claimed, among other things, that more CO2 in the atmosphere would boost crop yields. So, something to cheer rather than worry about.
"Until 1997, according to SourceWatch, GCC operated out of the offices of the National Association of Manufacturers. Among its members besides Exxon: the American Forest & Paper Association, American Petroleum Institute, Chevron, Ford, General Motors, Shell Oil, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The organization was disbanded in 2002, although neither Exxon nor other former members gave up their propaganda war against climate science."
That organization was disbanded, but the funding of these anti-government, science-denial front groups continues.
Demands Grow For An Investigation
Last week, representatives Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier, who serve on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, requested a Department of Justice investigation into Exxon.
"'In this case, Exxon scientists knew about fossil fuels causing global warming and Exxon took internal actions based on its knowledge of climate change,' Lieu and DeSaulnier wrote. 'Yet Exxon funded and publicly engaged in a campaign to deceive the American people about the known risks of fossil fuels in causing climate change.'
"'If these allegations against Exxon are true then Exxon's actions were immoral,' they added. 'We request the DOJ to investigate whether ExxonMobil's actions were also illegal.'"
On Friday presidential candidate Martin O'Malley joined in, tweeting "We held tobacco companies responsible for lying about cancer. Let's do the same for oil companies & climate change." The tweet linked to a New Republic report on the Lieu/DeSaulnier letter.
Climate Progress wrote Tuesday that Sharon Eubanks, a "former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who prosecuted and won the massive racketeering case against Big Tobacco thinks the agency should consider investigating Big Oil for similar claims: engaging in a cover-up to mislead the public about the risks of its product."
"Sharon Eubanks, who now works for the firm Bordas & Bordas, told ThinkProgress that ExxonMobil and other members of the fossil fuel industry could be held liable for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) if it's discovered that the companies worked together to suppress knowledge about the reality of human-caused climate change. She said that, considering recent revelations regarding ExxonMobil, the DOJ should consider launching an investigation into big fossil fuel companies.