Why brown spin keeps beating green spin
Photo: Sinan CeylanOne of the perennial complaints of the green community is that the Beltway — the ecosystem of politicians, staffers, lobbyists, NGOs, and media that influence federal policy in D.C. — is dominated by what I guess you’d call the brown community: fossil-fuel lobbyists, conservative think tanks, and politicians who, for financial or ideological (or both) reasons, support fossil fuels and oppose clean-air and clean-energy regulations.
The green community has its environmental NGOs and lobbyists. There are groups like the American Wind Energy Assocation and Solar Energy Industries Assocation to lobby for various bits of the clean-energy industry. But there is no central, strong voice speaking for clean energy, much less one that’s allied with those on the clean-air side. The browns are better coordinated and funded, but they’re also, in my experience, just better at the game.
Which brings me to a little-noticed press release last week: The law firm Bracewell & Giuliani is opening a “Policy Resolution Group (PRG), a separate business unit within the firm devoted to government relations and strategic communications.” The PRG will offer its clients advice and services related to “Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, Political Analysis, Strategic Communications, and Legal Representation.”
Like everyone who reports on energy, I know Frank Maisano, who runs the “strategic communications” shop at B&G. Maisano has been doing communications for polluters and global-warming skeptics for many years, and he is, for a running-dog lackey of The Man (no offense, Frank!), pretty amazing. If you’re a reporter and you need a quote or facts on EPA rules or transmission permitting or gas fracking, you call Frank. He’ll respond quickly, hook you up with someone who knows the stuff, and do it all with courtesy and good cheer. (There’s a reason every single green story ever quotes either him or his colleagues Jeff “EPA administrator in waiting” Holmstead and Scott Segal.) He sends out a weekly email that sums up what’s going on in the energy world, subscribed to by Beltway energy insiders of all stripes. He writes op-eds.
It’s not quite traditional lobbying, not quite PR, not quite advocacy, it’s something else: Maisano and his crew have flourished by making themselves genuinely useful to people in D.C. They do not produce ranty, overt agitprop or release PR statements full of predictable ideological bromides. Instead, the pro-polluter spin is embedded in helpful information. Lots of young, harried reporters who have never worked outside D.C. don’t even know it’s spin; that’s all they’ve heard their whole careers. But even those who know they’re being spun keep coming back. It’s like little droplets of poison in Kool-Aid — insidious but, let’s face it, kind of brilliant. It looks like B&G recognizes how well it’s working and is expanding and formalizing the model.
Ever since I encountered Frank and crew, I’ve wondered: Why is there no counterpart on the green side? There are think tanks, of course, but they don’t have the political communications savvy. There are NGOs and advocacy groups, but they tend to be predictable and obvious in their spin — you call them when you want your enviro quote for the fourth paragraph, but not for real help. I assume there are lobbyists and lawyers doing their thing, but they don’t seem to have much of an outward-facing presence.
I’ve said before (here and here) that part of the success of the right wing is that it manages to get its talking points delivered directly, as news, while leftie or enviro spin is inevitably delivered as talking points: “enviros say X.” It shows the audience that greens are trying to spin them, but doesn’t show the same about browns.
Part of that is how the information is delivered to journalists, i.e., the methods that Maisano and crew have developed (and are continuing to develop). I just don’t see anyone on the green side who seems to be learning from this.
I could be wrong, of course — I’m not as close to the beat as some others. Maybe there’s an outfit on the green side doing equally useful work. If so, please tell me in comments. If not, well, how about someone take some of that famous Soros money and go build it?