Just because your pipeline bursts open, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into an Arkansas neighborhood, does not mean you hate children. Or so said ExxonMobil this week after it went ballistic trying to cover up a satirical ad campaign that painted it as a corporate evildoer out to kill America’s kids.
The coalition’s tongue-in-cheek commercial is an attempt to draw attention to the more than $10 billion in subsidies that U.S. citizens pay annually to fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, even as they pollute our environment.
The spot above has been circulating online for several months, but attempts to get it national television airtime have been met with aggressive threats of legal action on the part of the oil giant.
This week in Arkansas—where Exxon is in the process of cleaning up its massive Mayflower oil spill—the coalition attempted to buy airtime for its commercial on several local news affiliates, including ABC and NBC. In response, Exxon sent those station managers a detailed missive about the “factual inaccuracies” of that parody and threatened them with a lawsuit if they chose to air it.
Critics say that by responding so vehemently, Exxon is simply shooting itself in the foot; answering a satire with legal action and a lengthy memo containing some (unintentionally funny) counterpoints, only served to further the ad’s message and compound ExxonMobil’s own bad press. Exxon’s response memo included the following responses:
- “Here at Exxon we hate your children.”—Factually incorrect and cannot be substantiated.
- “We all know the climate crisis will rip their world apart, we don’t care because it’s making us rich.”—Factually incorrect and cannot be substantiated.
- “Making a fortune, destroying your kids’ future. At Exxon that’s what we call good business”—Factually incorrect and cannot be substantiated.
According to a public statement by David Turnbull, campaigns director of Oil Change International, the company’s tactics are not at all surprising. “Exxon is and will always be a bully,” he said. “Instead of engaging their critics appropriately, Exxon uses its billions to hire high-priced lawyers to make scary-sounding but unsupported legal claims to suppress criticism.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that this isn’t the first time the oil company has obstructed the airing of the ad spot. Exxon previously got it yanked from airwaves in February, when the oil company threatened Comcast with a lawsuit if the station played the ad as scheduled during the president’s State of the Union address.
While Exxon is doing damage control to repair its reputation as a company that genuinely cares about people, its message would no doubt be more believable if it debated its critics rather than simply censoring them.
Do you think this commercial falls under satire, and should therefore be allowed to air, or is it defamatory? Let us know in the Comments.