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Gene Coyle: Michael Crichton's Deep Oil Lobbying

Michael Crichton's Deep Lobbying For Oil & Coal

by Gene Coyle
December 17, 2004

Global warming isn’t happening, but evil environmentalists are making it look as if it is. That’s the story in Michael Crichton’s new thriller, State of Fear, already a huge best seller.

Reviews in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times made me think of another book, Overload, by Arthur Hailey. Author of Airport, Hotel, and many others, Hailey was extremely popular in the 1970s, and his books were made into successful films.

A rumor about Hailey’s Overload is that a draft had been written by an electric utility PR person, and turned over to Hailey. Overload is not much of a book, though whether it is below the standard of his other books I can’t say, having read none of them. I have read Overload. The main villainous character was loosely based on a non-villainous friend of mine, a gifted organizer who was fighting utility rate increases on behalf of the weakest among us. The environmental organization cast as the bad guy was the Sequoia Club. Set in San Francisco, the book came out in 1978, a time when utilities were under tremendous pressure from the public. Consumers were militantly fighting rate increases and grassroots environmentalists were battling to stop nuclear plants and growth in energy sales. Hailey probably didn’t need money desperately enough to turn out a potboiler like Overload, but, hey, if somebody handed you a draft of a book to plug into a formula … what the hell.

Whatever its provenance, Overload played a lobbying role at the time – “deep lobbying”. In Who Owns The Sun, Dan Berman calls attention to William Greider’s concept of deep lobbying. Greider, in Who Will Tell The People, describes how the big time opinion game is played out.

Now we have Crichton’s State of Fear, turning up at just the moment that COP 10 (Tenth Session of the Conference of Parties), in Buenos Aires marks the tenth anniversary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Crichton, who in the past imagined live fossils, says that most of the book is a product of his own imagination. Which is not to say that the impetus for the book – and research behind it – could not be from friends in the fossil fuel biz – coal and oil corporations.

I’ve neither read a Crichton book nor seen a film – Jurassic Park or any other -- based on his imagination. Well written, I suppose those books were, but reviews of the new book posted on Amazon by Crichton’s fans are only lukewarm. Marketing, nevertheless, has it selling brilliantly.

Right wing think tanks supply canned editorials which newspapers run as if written locally. Corporate supplied clips appear as news on TV. Is an army of PR people turning research and drafts over to novel marketing machines? Whatever his intention, Crichton’s book is deep lobbying for coal and oil.


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