The media must stop making ads for fossil fuel companies


Who is to blame for a lack of action on climate change?

“There is simply no reason to take drastic measures now.”

Oil companies, most obviously;

“Energy! Environment! Some say it’s either/or… I don’t buy it.

PR and ad agencies paid to hire chipper young adults urging viewers to become “energy voters”;

“Members…need to start focusing on the issues that affect Americans every day and the consequences of an overambitious and unrealistic climate agenda.”

Politicians who transport water for the fossil fuel industry.

All of this is easy to blame.

But without the complicity of corporate and mainstream media, no fossil fuel industry propaganda would fly. Outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journaland The Washington Post have been allies of the fossil fuel industry for decades, not only running their advertisements, but help create them.

Even now, when scientists say we have caused irreversible damage to our planet, these media giants and others will not give up fossil fuel money.

Creating “problem announcements” for major oil companies

When Mobil Oil and the Time teamed up to create the infomercial in the 1970s, their spin-docs freely admitted that the purpose of the partnership was to “influence influencers.” In fact, part of the original legal push for corporate personality in the United States stems from these early Mobil campaigns.

Mobil invented what he called “broadcast advertisingor “advocacy advertising” in the late 1960s and early 1970s to deal with image problems similar to those they face today – gas prices were high, profits were still higher and a tanker had just spilled a large amount of oil on the beautiful beaches of Santa Barbara, Calif. Access to trusted outlets such as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times— who has worked with Mobil to publish content that has helped the company establish a friendly and responsible reputation — has been instrumental in making Mobil a corporate “good guy.”

But in 1973, something unusual happened. Mobil’s public relations department created television versions of its print infomercials and two commercial stations—SCS and ABC— refused to air them, explaining that the spots were propaganda and that airing them would be unethical and could even violate FCC regulations. Mobil executives saw it as the potential end of a strategy that had helped them win over not only the public, but also journalists and policy makers. The company launched a major offensive, placing editorials in all major newspapers and sending flacks to all televisions and radio program alert the public to the urgency of protect corporate free speech rights. Mobil helped support the precursor to Citizens United (First National Bank of Boston vs. Bellotti), and fought hard for their right to continue to use the media as their personal corporate public relations machine.

They won, as you might have guessed, and the oil companies today are doing the even “corporate free speech” arguments to defend their right to mislead the public about climate change.

In the midst of catastrophic climate change, it still happens

Although there is now some momentum towards holding oil company polluters and their cronies accountable in the corporate media, most mainstream media continue to take the bait of industry. The Job is still in progress paid opinion pieces from the American Petroleum Institute, which API spokespersons amplify as if they were real articles, not just advertisements by another name. And when Russia began invading Ukraine, American Petroleum Industry President Mike Sommers and Sempra Energy CEO Dan Broulette took to social media and cable television to establishing the pro-fossil fuel narrativeWe need to ban Russian gas, we need to increase US oil and gas production, and Biden’s climate policies have raised prices at the pump.

Only a media system dependent on fossil fuel dollars would allow these dangerously destructive industries to control the narrative of the climate crisis in order to make even more money. Now that the bill for all those long and successful years of media complicity is coming to an end, as we face not only historic heat waves and floods, but also a US government that seems less prepared than ever to do in the face of the problem, and a Supreme Court that also appears to have consumed a regular media diet of climate delay, we can question the wisdom of the trusted media institutions that have chosen to take control, year after year, and ignored their responsibility to accurately inform the public when there was still time.

This breach of trust affects all subjects, not just the climate. Should we believe the coverage of wars sponsored by the arms industry? Should Big Pharma-funded Covid-19 reporting be trusted?

Refusal of oil-funded media

In this time of emergency, new publishers and organizations are springing up to create better and more trusted models of journalism. A growing group of freelance editors, publishers and journalists have come together to form a network led by Opt outa non-profit charitable organization that has launched a free iOS app (Android version coming soon) and a newsletter providing news, analysis and opinion from more than 150 financially independent media outlets that don’t cash Exxon or Chevron checks. We work to change mainstream media narratives on critical issues such as climate, democracy, human rights and labor by distributing news coverage by journalists who are paid by readers and subscribers , not by companies that “wash” their images through the mass media.


“As a network of rambling and uncompromising media organizations, including many nonprofit and reader-funded publications, we say to corporate and legacy news giants, if we don’t need to peddle fossil fuels to our audience, you don’t have to either,” said Alex Kotch, co-founder and executive director of the OptOut Media Foundation.

“Wake up. Do the right thing and eliminate fossil fuel propaganda from our media.

The following publications and news leaders from the OptOut Network endorse this article:

champagne sharks

Lady Magazine

Speech Blog


Joshua Frank, co-editor of CounterPunch


Michel Sainato, founder of The work report

OptOut Media Foundation


Power and pop culture

Rift magazine

Sam Sacks, host of Means the morning news

History ignored


spencer snyder

wrestling session

The David Feldman Show

The District Sentinel Information Cooperative

The lever

The rational national

Technology won’t save us

Finding True North

Welcome to the world of hell

Reporting by Amy Westervelt
Video production and editing by Spencer Snyder


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