Exposed: Phelim McAleer’s ‘FrackNation’ Deploys Tobacco Playbook in Response to Josh Fox’s ‘Gasland 2’

The fracking industry really doesn’t want you to see “Gasland 2,” which I can understand because it is in some respects even better than the Oscar-nominated “Gasland.” The industry has brought in anti-science film-maker Phelim McAleer to shadow director Josh Fox during Fox’s PR tour and to produce an industry informercial, “FrackNation.” McAleer has a long track record of trying to disrupt and disinform (see my 2009 post “A falsehood-pushing film-maker tries to shout down real journalists from asking Al Gore questions”), DeSmogBlog has been doing a great job of exposing this oil and gas industry PR campaign, so I’m reposting their latest 2-part series — JR.

By Steve Horn via DeSmogBlog

Big Oil has deployed the "Tobacco Playbook" once again, this time in response to the release of "Gasland 2."

It comes in the form of a documentary film titled, "FrackNation," whose co-directors' funding in the past came from Donors Capital and Donors Trust, referred to by Mothers Jones' Andy Kroll as "the dark-money ATM of the right" and a major source of funding for climate change denial. 

Both "Gasland 2" and "FrackNation" cover hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), the toxic horizontal drilling process via which unconventional oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins around the country and world. Co-produced and co-directed by Irish couple Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, "FrackNation" purports to be "funded by the 99 percent to combat the misrepresentations by the 1 percent of urban elites who want to tell rural Americans how to work and live."

McAleer and McElhinney also say they are independent journalists working independently of corporate funding. McAleer was referred to by the San Francisco Chronicle as "climate denial's Michael Moore" and both McAler and McElhinney are listed as "experts" by the climate change-denying Heartland Institute.

"FrackNation is an independent film and we want to remain independent of the Gas industry and be funded by ordinary people," it says on its KickStarter page that it used to raise $212,265 from 3,305 backers of the film between February-April 2012.

This isn't the first dip in the "doubt is our product" pond for McAleer and McElhinney. In the past, they co-directed and co-produced a pro-mining documentary titled "Mine Your Own Business" and a climate change denial documentary titled, "Not Evil, Just Wrong."

Both McAleer and McElhinney have made a living in recent years deploying the "Tobacco Playbook," mutating settled scientific debates on energy and climate catastrophe into false two-sided affairs, which corporate-funded news media take and run with as "he-said, she-said" stories. 

Filmmaker's History of Tobacco Playbook Deployment

"FrackNation" made its public debut in Jan. 2013, coinciding with the release of "Promised Land," a Hollywood drama starring Matt Damon. 

"It's time Hollywood celebrities and environmentalists were asked some difficult questions about their anti-fracking activities and ideologies. And that's what FrackNation does," McAleer said in a press release announcing the world premiere

McAleer and McElhinney are now singing a similar tune about "Gasland 2," as it approaches its July 8 HBO release date. 

"Mine Your Own Business"

Countering popular environmental struggles and luminaries is the modus operandi for McAleer and McElhinney, with a track record of doing so dating back to the mid-2000's. Their first public foray into the world of "marketing doubt" came with the release of their "Mine Your Own Business: The Dark Side of Environmentalism."  

Released in 2006, the film was produced in response to the anti-mining protests that popped up against Gabriel Resources proposed open-pit gold mines in Romania, slated to be the largest in Europe. McAleer said it was "the world's first anti-environmentalist documentary." 

One key funder: Gabriel Resources. This moved local Romanian citizen Eugen David to write that the film was pure propaganda. 

"Because the gold lies squarely under and around the village of Rosia Montana, Gabriel needs to move out the local population — roughly 2000 people all in all. But it's not only the people that will need to go," David wrote in Jan. 2007. "Gone also would be our mountains, pastures, rivers and our churches, cemeteries and school – our community with its social fabric and traditions."

The purpose of the film was obvious: complicate the narrative on the proposed mine through ad hominem attacks on environmentalists, rather than addressing environmental issues associated with the mine itself. David and fellow citizens living in the proposed mining area didn't buy the bluff. 

"After a first unannounced test screening in Bucharest, Gabriel Resources had to stop the film after 15 minutes because people were so revolted by what they saw," he further explained

"Mine Your Own Business," however, did have a loyal fan base: the right-wing echo chamber. 

Steve Milloy, a tobacco industry front man-turned-fossil fuel industry front man, wrote two favorable reviews for Fox News. The Salt Institute and Atlas Society (named after Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged") echoed Milloy's efforts.  

"Not Evil, Just Wrong"

In response to the proposed 2009 federal climate legislation and in the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen United Nations international climate summit, McAleer and McElhinney released the film, "Not Evil, Just Wrong." Akin to "FrackNation" with "Gasland 2" director Josh Fox, the film spends much time attacking former Vice President Al Gore in ad hominem fashion, with the film serving as a response Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."  

"It has no commercial distributor, but instead debuted on an October 18 webcast heavily promoted by social conservative organizations like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association, as well as local Tea Party groups," a Mother Jones article explained.

Paralleling "Mine Your Own Business," the film was met with great fanfare within the right-wing echo chamber despite lack of commercial distribution. 

"They’ve held pre-screenings for bloggers and brought the film to every major conservative conference of 2009, including the Values Voter Summit and Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit," one news media report explained. "At the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], McAleer and McElhinney spoke right before Rush Limbaugh."

Other Big Tobacco apologists-turned-Big Oil apologists also helped promote the film: Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and the Heritage Foundation, the Cornwall AllianceThe Washington ExaminerCollegians for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), the Fraser, and Right Online.      

McAler and McElhinney have brought the Tobacco Playbook to the big screen. The question remains: who's funding them?

Donors Trust, Donors Capital Funding McAleer, McElhinney

"Mine Your Own Business"

"Mine Your Own Business" was funded by Gabriel Resources, but Gabriel wasn't the only fundee. The other patron: Donors Trust/Donors Capital.

In the past, McElhinney and McAleer were formerly Fellows at the Moving Pictures Institute (MPI), founded by Thor Halvorssen. MPI, in turn, produced "Mine Your Own Business" and is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a right-wing echo chamber network for state policy that publishes PR "studies" to promote the corporate agenda.

Halvorssen also runs the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), which has taken $764,950 from Donors Trust and Donors Capital since 2005, according to a recent investigative story by Max Blumenthal. Blumenthal also explains MPI took more than $300,000 from Donors between 2005 and 2011. 

"Not Evil, Just Wrong"

"Not Evil, Just Wrong" also received funding from DonorsDeSmogBlog contributor and Guardian (UK) climate changer writer Graham Readfearn explained in a Feb. 2012 article that Donors funnelled $24,753 toward the film

This lends an explanation as to why "Not Evil, Just Wrong" was promoted by well-heeled climate change deniers in the mid-2010 Balanced Education for Everyone (BEE) campaign, calling for a "balanced" scientific teaching of the climate change "controversy." The BEE campaign parallels ones pushed for via an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill, by the Discovery Institute, and by the Heartland Institute

"Global warming alarmists want Americans to believe that humans are killing the planet," BEE's former website explained in promoting the film. "But Not Evil Just Wrong, a documentary by Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, proves that the real threats to America (and the rest of the world) are the flawed science and sky-is-falling rhetoric of Al Gore and his allies in environmental extremism."

BEE's campaign was run by the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), which in Oct. 2003 signed a partnership with Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an astroturf front group founded and funded by the Koch Brothers, key funders of the climate change denial machine. The two entitites at the time announced they would share leadership, senior staff and office space, a formal relationship they say ended in 2005

IWF – before it disbanded – was formerly headed by current AFP Board Member Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer from 2000-2005, who also sat on IWF's Board of Directors from 2005-2007. From 19982000, Pfotenhauer served as a lobbyist for Koch Industries, also serving as Senior Policy Advisor and spokesperson for the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign. 

Pfotenhauer was also the former Executive Vice President of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), established by Charles Koch and affiliate Richard Fink and propelled by $13 million in grants from Koch Family Foundations. After CSE split into FreedomWorks and AFP, she served as AFP's President and CEO. She now sits on the Board of Visitors of George Mason University and on the Board of Directors of the CATO Institute, two other key entitites that make up the Koch echo chamber.  

"Not Evil, Just Wrong" shared the same PR firm with BEE, Go Ahead PR, a sure sign that the film's release and the campaign were part of a well-coordinated campaign. 

And though McAleer and McElhinney say "FrackNation" was bankrolled via a grassroots KickStarter fundraising drive, a deeper dig into its books – as will be seen in part two of this investigation – calls that all into question. 

— by Steve Horn, reprinted from DeSmogBlog with permission

18 Responses to Exposed: Phelim McAleer’s ‘FrackNation’ Deploys Tobacco Playbook in Response to Josh Fox’s ‘Gasland 2’

  1. BillD says:

    Anyone called “an expert” by the Heartland Institute surely just an anti-science hack. It’s incredible that films such as these are believed.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    “One does not play games, or take chances, when essentially the whole of civilization and humanity MAY be in peril.”

  3. rollin says:

    I look out at the solar farms going up in may local. Where are the noise, the pollution, the constant trucks and trains running back and forth to the site? They just sit there and make electricity.
    I doubt if we will ever see a headline ” solar panels vent radiation onto nearby town”. Or “solar panels particulates killing local residents”.
    PSE&G is converting old industrial sites (brown zones) to solar farms. How can all those industrialist/mining people take this lying down? Or maybe they just lie.

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Yes, but who “proposes a transition concept that excludes these draconian reduction”?

    And are these really that draconian – it will probably help to spur a new economy – a cleaner economy. Just as it happened in Sweden after they introduced a CO2 tax.

  5. James Richard Tyrer says:

    Should we also consider the source of funding for Gasland 1 & 2 as well as the misinformation which they contain. The most egregious, or notorious, example is the man lighting his kitchen faucet on fire. As we now know, this has nothing to do with fracking and may have nothing to do with a natural gas well.

    You also might want to reconsider the blanket statement about fracking being a toxic drilling process considering the availability of totally non-toxic fracking fluids. Halliburton has announced one with all ingredients sourced from the food industry.

  6. David says:

    Donors Capital and Donors Trust also fund fake religious groups like the Cornwall Alliance. That connect “Environmentalism” to Satan and One World Governments. -Beware the Green Dragon bla bla bla
    On Russia Today:
    Cornwall Alliance funding:

  7. catman306 says:

    Are they, or anyone else, actually using this new ‘local food industry’ fracking fluid? How much is Halliburton shipping?

  8. prokaryotes says:

    Don’t mess with Texas water, frackers warned

    Eagle Ford in Texas is one of the fastest-growing shale oil and gas plays in the United States, but it is also in one of the driest parts of the country.

    Following a severe drought in 2011, concerns are mounting that oil and gas extraction is competing with irrigation for scarce water supplies.

    Drilling and fracturing rock formations to release oil and gas uses enormous quantities of water: 4 to 5 million gallons of water for every well in the Eagle Ford, according to most estimates, equivalent to about 15 acre-feet per well.

    Most of the water used is fresh and drawn from aquifers that are also needed to support farming and local drinking supplies. Frackers prefer fresh water because it is less corrosive. Saline water or waste water are expensive to clean up and use

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Morons will believe what they want to believe, and what their Rightwing MSM Thought Controllers tell them to believe. Why do you think that the Right is so determined to destroy public education?

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Don’t worry. Down in the Stygian depths of the Rightwing propaganda Cloaca Maxima, you can be certain that well-paid goons are concocting ‘solar panel syndrome’ to go with ‘wind turbine syndrome’ one of these most banal, and preposterous inventions of pseudo-science since phrenology. And that it will be pushed by the Rightwing MSM with the same loyalty to power that characterised their efforts to destroy wing power.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’ve ‘tyred’ of you, already.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    But Mr Tyrer, above, assures us that Dick Cheney pours it over his cornflakes.

  13. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    I think George Carlin summed it up best “They want us smart enough to opperate the machines and fill in the forms, but dumb enough not to realise how badly we are being screwed”

    May not be word perfect but close

  14. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Must be time for a ‘tank revolution’ over there, that is for collecting rain water, not the military variety. Tanks come in every shape and size to fit just about every space, ME

  15. Sparky says:

    I’m employed in the Eagle Ford Shale as an industrial electrician. I work next to pump jacks and fracking crews every day on many different well heads where the air is thick with Hydrogen Sulfide. 104 degrees/12 hour days/6 days a week. A Fatality a day on the narrow farm roads. All resources from water to food to housing to electricity and datacom are in demand here. But jobs are plentiful and the wages are much higher on average than anywhere in the U.S. which is why I ended up here instead of starving in St Louis. I’ve seen this debate from both sides now and there is no HF opposition here and Austin is so far away that it’s not likely to change. Texas is Pro Energy and the spinach farms will probably reach some compromise, meaning they sell their water for more than they sell their spinach. The tap water is barely drinkable. When I sweat I reek of chlorine. After living here for a year I think there is as good a chance to build a time machine to return to 1850 and conspire to end the Industrial Revolution than to prevent every drop of oil from being sucked from Eagle Ford shale. No political solution will ever stop the energy companies.

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    They hate birds, and I need a new keyboard.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Gaia will stop them, soon.