On Friday we were nice to Politico, so for balance, today we’re pointing out one of their flaws — running disinformation ads for tobacco, chemical, and fossil fuel industry interests.
Now to be fair, this has absolutely nothing to do with the reporters at the outlet, who though not perfect, are clearly not heavily influenced by the advertisers (as much as some may be inclined to preserve their access to
lying Republican sources) and regularly produce high-value content, with original reporting, plenty of scoops, and some solid expert analysis in stories and across a variety of daily newsletters. Their journalism is valuable, which is why they can charge, depending on the organization and number of log-ins, about a thousand dollars a month for subscriptions to PoliticoPRO content. (And we pay it! As do plenty of other organizations and companies!)
With a subscription cost that includes a comma, it’s a pricey product. But the reporters make it worth the cost. That’s what makes it so incredibly frustrating that the business side of the outlet injects misleading advertising from some of the worst corporate actors in the world alongside the reporting we’re already paying top dollar to receive.
For example, Politico’s Morning Energy has been called out before for being sponsored by ExxonMobil, but that hasn’t stopped them. March 1st’s PROMorning Energy was “presented by ExxonMobil,” whose mid-newsletter text told readers they’re “committed to playing a leading role in the energy transition” by “advancing climate solutions, including carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and advanced biofuels. And, by 2050, we aim to achieve net-zero emissions (Scope 1 and 2) from our operated assets…” (Screenshot)
Why, by that, you’d think ExxonMobil was a clean energy company founded to address the climate crisis, not one of the primary reasons we’re in the crisis in the first place!
What’s interesting, though, is that other equally evil advertisers are employing the exact same rhetorical strategy in other Politico newsletters.
Take Politico Playbook, “the unofficial guide to official Washington,” per their tagline, capturing their inside-the-beltway brand. It’s been sponsored recently by the chemical and plastic lobby, bearing “A message from ACC and America’s Plastic Makers: Through bold action, we can solve great problems. That's why America’s Plastic Makers® created '5 Actions for Sustainable Change' – a comprehensive national strategy that would move the United States toward a sustainable, circular economy in which plastics are made to be remade. Learn more.”
Their “learn more” link is to their propaganda page, because it’s not like they were going to link to the Rolling Stone feature on how plastic recycling is mostly just another industrial disinformation campaign attempting to shield polluters from accountability.
But take the ad at its word, and you’d get the impression that they’re eco-warriors saving us from the industry producing the plastic choking our oceans, lands and lungs, and not that industry causing those problems it’s claiming to solve and profiting off all the while.
And that’s not even the most brazen example of how the PR industry serves profits of death in a Politico newsletter! Because they’re renting out their readers to none other than the Biggest Bad of Big Bads, Big Tobacco!
Politico Influence, their newsletter covering the lobbying and professional influence industry, was sponsored last week by tobacco giant Altria.
And just like how the plastic industry wants you to think they’re about solving the plastic problem, and ExxonMobil wants you to think they’re “playing a leading role in the energy transition,” Altria offers the reassuring message that they’re “moving beyond smoking” (apparently they’ve hired
Beyond Petroleum BP’s old PR team) and the tobacco giant is now “leading the way in moving adult smokers away from cigarettes.” Oh how lovely!
Instead of profiting off of getting people addicted to nicotine delivered in cigarettes, they’re “taking action to transition millions toward less harmful choices” by “investing in a diverse mix of businesses to broaden options beyond traditional, combustible cigarettes.”
And what does that all-of-the-above-esque sentence mean? Why, vaping, of course! Instead of selling dirty old cigarettes, they’re going “from tobacco company to tobacco harm reduction company,” by feeding (off) people’s nicotine addiction digitally with sleek cool nicotine delivery systems that are charged instead of rolled, so that means they’re, like, totally safe and stuff! You can trust the people who said cigarettes were totally safe when they say that, it’s not like they would lie to you for money, again, right?
Seriously though, the lesson here isn’t that anything’s particularly wrong with Politico’s reporting, which is supported by the hefty subscription costs so it needn’t rely on ads, and so good that we wouldn’t be surprised to see Politico reporters could do a story on how their publication’s ads illustrate how the PR industry is propping up some the dirty and deadliest industry actors on the planet, all in the same exact way. (Not to mention their “defense” ads, or Facebook’s!)
What these interchangeable advertisements accidentally showcase is that whether it’s nicotine addictions, plastics or pollution, there’s only one way left to sell death and destruction: by pretending you’re protecting people from the very threat you pose and profit off.
Almost like a petrostate authoritarian defending his decision to invade a country led by a popular Jewish president by claiming that really he’s going to “denazify” the country.
But that might be Putin too fine a point on it…