Oil Institute Withdraws $5M Gift to Smithsonian

It’s not a coincidence that the corporate-puppet GOP is full of whiners, hypocrites, and thin-skinned pearl-clutchers who shriek with outrage and faint dead away whenever anyone criticizes them, however mildly. The rich and powerful, whether in politics or business, tend to be notoriously touchy and have feelings that are easily bruised. It isn’t enough that we be obedient, we must be cheerful about it. It isn’t enough that we be deferential or even obsequious, we must be appropriately appreciative of whatever small help they decide to dole out and never mind all the strings attached. At a minimum, any gift that comes from them represents their purchase of your speech – once you take their money, you’re not allowed to criticize them. That would be ungrateful. And tacky.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported that a 2006 exhibit on the Arctic at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History may have been altered for political reasons.

Some government scientists have complained that officials at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History took steps to downplay global warming in a 2006 exhibit on the Arctic to avoid a political backlash, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The museum’s director, Cristian Samper, ordered last-minute changes to the exhibit’s script to add “scientific uncertainty” about climate change, according to internal documents and correspondence.

Scientists at other agencies collaborating on the project expressed in e-mails their belief that Smithsonian officials acted to avoid criticism from congressional appropriators and global-warming skeptics in the Bush administration. But Samper said in an interview last week that “there was no political pressure — not from me, not from anyone.”

Well, maybe. But in the Age of Bush, when science is just another ideological football and all Administration agencies are expected to toe the party line or be punished, we’re entitled to be…skeptical. I mean, Samper’s a legitimate scientist, a biologist specializing in ecology. It’s not like he doesn’t know the oil industry’s studies are bogus.

Anyway, that report had been on the streets for only a few hours when the American Petroleum Institute, the most powerful oil lobby in the country, canceled a $5MIL contribution to the Smithsonian intended to help fund a “major exhibit hall” on oceanography with an insulting letter consisting of a single sentence and signed by API President and CEO Red Cavaney.

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that API is rescinding the Aug. 29, 2007, offer of financial support for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Ocean Initiative, effective immediately.

No explanation, no regrets, nothing.

Now, I’m sure you’ve noticed what’s whacked about this and are asking yourself, “Why would the API – a notorious and very active opponent of the global warming thesis and a group that has spent $$millions$$ paying scientists to attack it with highly questionable “studies” using dubious science – object if the Smithsonian toned down an exhibit to bring it more in line with the Institute’s anti-global-warming propaganda? That’s counter-intuitive.”

Indeed it is. I was immediately curious, of course. There had to be more here than met the eye. And there was.

Questioned about the cancellation, API spokeswoman Karen Matusic would only say, “Since API was first approached by the Smithsonian Institution seeking additional funding support, circumstances within the Smithsonian have changed, to say the least.” Changed? Changed how? Samper is still in charge. Oh, a couple of members of the Board of Regents were unhappy about the scientist’s complaints, but why would that bother API, which hadn’t been one of the funders of the Arctic exhibit? They were also questioning the appropriateness of API’s gift, though. Was that the reason?

The same question must have occurred to reporter James Grimaldi, who then did what a journalist is supposed to do and dug around a bit more. Turns out that what frosted Cavaney’s ass was a graf in an email, which, ironically, defended API’s gift.

The e-mail was sent by [Acting Director of the Natural History Museum Paul] Risser to Board of Regents Executive Committee Chairman Roger W. Sant, who led the regents in questioning the donation.

Risser wrote, “Because petroleum companies have not always been friends of the oceans, one logical conclusion would be to deny their participation in the Ocean Initiative. My view is different. It is based on courage and anticipation, on the belief that the Smithsonian has the strength to use understanding to change behavior like no other institution.”

(emphasis added)

Apparently that single phrase (bolded) was enough to send Cavaney into a hissy-fit over Risser’s lack of appreciation for how much oil companies have done for our oceans. It wasn’t enough that Risser was fighting to make sure they were included in the project. He was supposed to do it by defending the oil industry, not by dissing it. And certainly not by being honest about their actual role.

Exit the contribution.

Poor Red’s feelings were hurt and that was, naturally, far more important than any picayune good the exhibit hall might have done by adding to the public’s knowledge about the ocean’s ecology. After all, their contribution was never about the public good. No corporation ever donates money for the good of the nation. They were buying good PR and positive reputations as philanthropists for both Red and the API. They clearly weren’t getting what they paid for, so why pay?

Its a small story but indicative of the way the corporatocracy thinks: they’re NEVER actually “donating” money. They’re always buying something that’s worth more than they’re paying or they don’t do it.

And the “public good”? It can go suck eggs. This is business.

One Response to “Oil Institute Withdraws $5M Gift to Smithsonian”

  1. Laura says:

    Great article. Thanks. I especially liked your opening paragraph… Pretty soon we’ll all be saying, “Oh, excuse me sir,” for getting in the way when we’ve been run over by their cars.

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