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I removed the BP greenwashing ads (again)

I’m very interested in your thoughts on the matter since you are the target audience for the ads that appear here.

Many readers were upset when they saw the BP greenwashing ads on Climate Progress over the weekend — I reprint one well-thought-out email below. Here’s the story of how they made it back onto CP.

CAPAF has an outside company, Common Sense Media, that rotates in different ads on the site — but I can object to any individual one. When the BP ads cropped up a few weeks ago, I got them pulled quickly.

When I was on some unexpected travel at the end of my vacation, BP (insanely) pulled its ads from my (big) sister site, ThinkProgress (see “BP Pulls Ads On ThinkProgress After Wonk Room Reports On Its Greenwashing Campaign.). TP reported, “BP has an agreement with Common Sense Media to be notified about blog postings that are critical of its advertising campaign, and BP reserves the right to pull ads if they are offended by the posts.”

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As an aside, that is (almost) amazing, that BP would be so stupid as to engage in advertising on progressive websites (which is what CSM does) and then retain the option to withdraw their advertising if they didn’t like what was written. That leaves the distinct impression that they are advertising not merely to spread their corporate message — but to influence the websites, which ain’t gonna happen, most especially not with TP. I say “almost” amazing because obviously, BP arguably has the most incompetent corporate leadership in the world when it comes to public relations (and drilling wells safely, for that matter).

When, as was almost inevitable, BP resumed the ads on TP, they were accidentally also resumed on CP. Since I was on travel, I didn’t realize this for about 24 hours.

There are basically two views on accepting these kind of ads. Faiz Shakir, who oversees TP, blogs:

This controversy provides an opportunity for me to better communicate our blog’s policy with respect to paid advertisers on our site. My view is that, in order to sustain our operation, ThinkProgress is happy to take money from those with whom we have policy or ideological disagreements, provided they understand that we will not soften or silence our progressive point-of-view. There are limits, of course, to ads that we will accept. For instance, we do not want ads that are degrading or offensive on our site. But for those advertisers who want to run messaging on our site that counters TP’s reporting, we trust readers will take both pieces of information and render their own judgments. Because we have an outside ad company servicing our ads, the editors and reporters on TP are not generally informed of who is purchasing ads on our site “” and it’s better left that way. Advertisers will not influence our content, and we will not produce content to lure advertisers.

I asked Shakir for a further comment:

The nature of the blogging beast these days is that you need financial resources to keep it running. In order to sustain ThinkProgress, I’m more than happy to take BP’s money and simultaneously expose their greenwashing campaign for what it is. If advertisers have any expectation that they’re going to alter our content, they’re dead wrong. And I think we’ve shown that over the last few days.

This view is basically the one that my father had for 30 years running a medium-sized newspaper in New York State, so I fully understand it. I take a slightly different view.

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As readers know, I don’t let commenters post long-debunked disinformation, since that forces me to waste time debunking it for the umpteenth time (a victory for disinformers) or, if I ignore it, then the many new people who come here every day would be exposed to undebunked disinformation (also, victory for disinformers).

BP is obviously a special case because:

  1. It is an extreme greenwasher (see “Should you believe anything BP says?” and links below).
  2. Its lies to the public, government, and itself have had catastrophic consequences (see The three causes of BP’s Titanic oil disaster: Recklessness, Arrogance, and Hubris).
  3. Even through this entire disaster, its key executives remained hard-core greenwashers (see Hayward remains proud but deluded: “I think BP’s response to this tragedy has been a model of good social corporate responsibility”).

The reason not to run their ads was well explained by one environmental expert who e-mailed me:

I’m really shocked and perplexed as to why you accepted advertising from BP about how they’re going to “make things right” in the Gulf. It seems to go completely against what you stand for, especially as the advertisement is essentially a greenwash — do you really think they are sincere? A huge oil company like BP is, as you of course know, primarily interested in profit. They have a PR problem, so they need to appear like they’re doing all they can to clean up their criminal spill.

But as you’ve posted on your site, they still lobby Congress against climate legislation, they’ve tried to restrict independent scientific inquiry into the damage the oil has done in the Gulf, etc. Why, then, let them advertise on your site? I’ve been so rankled by seeing the BP symbol on your site that I can longer regularly check it several times a day as I did. I’d appreciate some kind of explanation that I hope will restore my faith in CP as a feisty and independent blog defending sound science, policy and integrity in the U.S.

As explained above, it was only by accident that they got reintroduced to CP, and I got rid of them as fast as I was made aware of them. And I think that is the right thing for Climate Progress. Think Progress is a much bigger, general interest progressive blog, and so I fully understand and appreciate Shakir’s position.

What do you think?

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