GWU Issues Management

A blog established for the George Washington University School of Political Management's Issues Management course.

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Location: Washington, D.C., United States

A middle aged white guy, who likes to think, talk and, too infrequently, write about politics, religion and gadgets.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Welcome to the Spring 2007 Issues Management Course

I was pleased to meet you all last week and look forward to spending my Thursday evenings with you for the next few months. As noted in the syllabus, this blog is one of the graded elements in the course. But I truly want it to be an enjoyable exchange of views, not a heavy lift. Thus, the grade will reflect participation only, not the style or content of the comments offered. And, in the spirit of the blogosphere, I welcome provocative and flamboyant opinions. If you have strong feelings about a topic, let it rip.

Continuing our discussion from last Thursday, I thought we'd start with an exchange on the issue of global warming between the Union of Concerned Scientists and Exxon Mobil from last week. Click on their names to read the dueling press releases.

Or click below:

UCS Press Release
Exxon Mobil Press Release

I would like you comment in any way that moves you on the debate as conducted by these two organizations. You can offer your opinion as to which one did the better job of advancing their position. Or can just identify some of the techniques used that are either clever or demagogic or boneheaded. Or you can note the messages used, their persuasiveness, their validity, whatever. Or you can just rip one or the other organization.

Your post can be as long or as short as you want. Just let me hear from you.



Blogger Caitlin said...

While I agree with the position of the Union of Concerned Scientists I do not think they put out an effective press release. The press release was way too long and provided too much detail about the report. Also, the author uses vocabulary that would need to be "dumbed down" if the story were to be used in the mainstream media and UCS risks losing control of their message. Exxon put out a brief, effective press release demonstrating their transparency by inviting concerned citizens to find the information in question posted on their website. It is easily quotable for journalists and would enable them to control their message if this story hit the mainstream media.

6:09 PM  
Blogger rach a said...

The position of the UCS is one which brings a conspiracy-laden alarmist point-of-view.

It is often very "handy" to pick and choose various organizations that Exxon-Mobil has "funded", and then capitalize on that one organization's platform, which is always inherently supportive of UCS's argument.

A better approach might have been to cut down on the "push" adjectives (message driving adjectives) and mention the organizations that DO support the idea of global warming that ExxonMobil has supported, but for one reason or another .....(etc...)

The throw-in with the Bush Administration is a underhanded pitch best left for pee-wee league baseball.

8:48 PM  
Blogger rach a said...

Perfect Example RE: "...ExxonMobil also exerted unprecedented influence over U.S. policy on global warming, from successfully recommending the appointment of key personnel in the Bush administration to funding climate change deniers in Congress..."

Classic pee-wee league.

8:51 PM  
Blogger John said...

rach a... could you explain what you mean as a pee-wee league pitch when they mention the Bush administration appointee and the members of congress who are deniers?

To me, whether we agree with the position or not, it is a good tactic because the target audience of the UCS press release are outlets that will perpetuate the message -- likely groups that will respond to that sort of language...
I hope that makes some sense.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Dulce said...

The release of the Union of Concerned Scientists is longer than the Exxonmobil, it is more technical and not well organized. They mentioned many issues like rise doubts about causes of global warming, funded organizations and block federal policies, but not all issues are developed. Finally, the release ends with an explanation about what global warming is, and I believe that paragraph has no sense at all.

In contrast, the exxonmobil release rejected the accusations of UCS. The message is about one factor: transparency and accountability. For this reason the message is very clear. In this sense, the company stated that all information about its research and activities is made public by its website.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

While both the UCS and the Exxon press-releases had positive aspects, I have to say overall I was unimpressed with both of them. The UCS release besides being long and tedious to read tended to be very over the top. I thought that one mention of the tobacco-like nature of ExxonMobile was fine as it gave a good example of their "disinformation" in a way that most people could understand, but I felt that the repeated mentions detracted from what the true subject was -- ExxonMobile and not the tobacco industry. I did think that the closing of their press-release was good, as they were targeting not only the consumers and Congress, but also Exxon's own shareholders.

Exxon's which was shorter and much more clear and easy to read was by no means perfect though. I was less than impressed with the opening line. "Deeply offensive" sounded to me more like a child talking than a company's response. I think that overall though their press-release was better written as it was clearer, stuck to one subject matter.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I believe that the release of the Union of Concerned Scientists, while a bit long, achieved its purpose. It was emotional and pointed and dramatic, but these are the characteristics that will appeal to activists, who lift from the release to propagate their message. Paralleling Exxon's activities to those of the tobacco industry give average people an idea of the severity of the situation since the tobacco industry is now an arch-villan of society. And I think the defensiveness and new tone of the Exxon release testifies to UCS's effectiveness. The Exxon release does not offer any information besides a denial and a reference to the website for support. It may be short and to the point, but it is not convincing after reading the support provided by the UCS.

10:05 AM  
Blogger rach a said...


I agree that using "influentials"/experts or name-dropping officials is a very valid strategic communications strategy because it provides credibility, however I feel that the UCS article only perpetuates supporters by feeding this junk, while it could have been written differently, in order to convince service or energy providers and consumers in the middle, who may not feel one way or another. From an opposing reader, I join in the opposition when I read this article, perpetuating my perception that the UCS is an alarmist and conspiracy-laden group, instead of truly reading on with sincerity and consideration. In other words, providing a timeline or context of the Administration's position would have strengthened their argument. As you know very well, people in high positions in office are often manipulated by writers in their mind's eye in order to justify that writer's praise or criticism.

That's what I meant by pee-wee league. A six-year-old could have justified an argument by name-dropping officials (who have multiple positions and arguments based on the timing and context of the Administration's work).

In contrast, an 8th grade level argument would have provided a comment or two about the context of their support or decline of the global warming position WITHOUT using inflammatory adjectives that "push" UCSs position. A reasonable writer with a strong enough argument against Exxon Mobil would have been able to accomplish a sound article without the peripheral adjectives.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Bethany said...

I felt that the UCS release was great in theory...what could be more powerful than comparing ExxonMobile to the tobacco companies? However, the release didn't live up to its potential. I agree that it was too long & technical. However, the biggest problem was that it was too general. If they are going to make "conspiracy-theory" accusations, they should have DETAILED evidence. They didn't.

The ExxonMobile release was ineffective as well. Name-calling is rarely an effective argument. They also failed to provide concrete evidence of their association with scientists.

Overall, the UCS had a good argument that was poorly delivered, and ExxonMobile had a weak argument. I'm not sure which is worse.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I understand the strong opinion offered by the UCS; however such a strong and LENGTHY attack against ExxonMobil almost lost me before I could even finish their redundant press release. I forgot whether I was reading an article on tobacco or global warming.

There is no foul in pointing out concerns and offering a spirited debate regarding ExxonMobil’s commitment to global warming - sans the tobacco and overly-stated claim that overall ExxonMobil leads a “cynical disinformation campaign on global warming."

While ExxonMobil is not exactly leading the charge against global warming, they are taking small steps. Their press release clearly invites skeptics to visit their website and to view for themselves Exxon’s credibility.

All in all – I found both press releases more comparable to a silly name calling game than a serious statement about the real matter on hand – global warming. Next time, UCS should encourage ExxonMobil to simply be more responsible. I would have enjoyed reading a statement that encouraged an open discussion that would have these two organizations working together for the cause, instead of each other because of the cause.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Bethany said...

I agree with Brooke. Both releases (but especially ExxonMobile's) were rather childish in their tone. I think it's rather sad actually. Both groups have valid arguments--they just didn't use them effectively in these press releases. I guess it just goes to show, the WAY you make a point is just as important (if not more so) than the point you're trying to make.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Despite my personal feelings on the issue, I found ExxonMobil’s release to be much more effective than the Union of Concerned Scientists’ release. ExxonMobil avoids the scientific debate surrounding the issue of climate change and uses the press release to tout the transparency of their scientific support. Additionally, ExxonMobil emphasizes the scientific research’s independence from the company. The message conveyed by ExxonMobil is clear and authoritative

ExxonMobil also demonstrates that they understand the necessity for acknowledging climate change. By addressing the issue and the need for research, ExxonMobil challenges the perception of those who expect the company to deny the existence of climate change.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Close the Fridge said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Melinda R said...

Although I never thought I'd side with Exxon over the Union of Concerned Scientists, they did provide a much better press release. Exxon's release was impartial, informative, with details that could be easily followed up on by the media or other concerned parties. The UCS release was much too long and contained language not suitable for the layperson. The biggest mistake I think they made, however, was taking such an angry and hostile tone towards Exxon. They would have done much better to lay out simple facts and not take such a drastic stance. The release makes them seem like a radical, emotional, and volatile group instead of a collection of respected and informed scientists. People don't listen to or respect alarmists, which makes the release almost competely ineffective. Again, I never thought I'd say it, but kudos to Exxon for not reacting in a like fashion (but I'll refrain from giving them kudos on much of anything else).

3:26 PM  
Blogger ChrisG. said...

I found both sides to be informative. Exxon's release seemed subtle to me while I felt UCS was shoving something in front of my face. I wonder though who funds the Union of Concerned Scientists becasue they seme so interested in who Exxon funds. I guess global warming or climate change or whatever they call it just isn't that important to me. As long as Exxon's stock price keeps going up, I'm happy. Someone needs to pay this tuition.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Justin P said...

I agree that the Exxon press release was well-written and effective. The press release illustrates that Exxon is – at the very least – open to the possibility of change. The press release seems designed to convey a sense of sincerity on the part of Exxon’s research efforts. The laundry list of studies funded by the company illustrates that Exxon is not ignoring the climate change debate, but I do have one issue with this kind of statement. The Exxon press release seems to suggest that recipients of Exxon’s grants are on the same side as those who are calling for major reforms, albeit in a more pragmatic way, but the UCS piece makes a distinction that was almost certainly a deliberate omission in the Exxon release; the company funds “contrarians.”

The UCS piece claims that, “ExxonMobil-funded organizations consist of an overlapping collection of individuals serving as staff, board members, and scientific advisors that publish and re-publish the works of a small group of climate change contrarians.” If true, then I feel the company’s press release should have more honestly stated the company’s continued doubts about the reality of climate change. The need for continued study can be interpreted as a stall tactic, but I do not feel that the company’s refusal to affirm the absolute reality of climate change necessarily diminishes the impact this release will have on public opinion, although it is certainly a poor rebuttal to the specific points raised by the UCS.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Brandt said...

The ExxonMobil release was more effective than UCS. This is a shame; because the UCS put together an effective report. The Concerned Scientists document everything in their report. I have a feeling that if you looked into the details of both thoroughly UCS would win. Almost nobody looks into details, so good job Exxon.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

For me, the ExxonMobil release walks the thin line between admitting that there is a huge problem with global warming and taking responsibility for their role in the issue. By linking the reduction of carbon emissions to “other important world priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health,” (of which they have limited dealings with,) ExxonMobil appears to be able to shift the focus off of their culpability for what is happening. Additionally, by explicitly listing all of the actions they are taking to reduce emissions, and my specifically citing their parteners in these efforts (Brookings, Stanford University, EPA,) the company can provide evidence to support their claim that they are doing their part in this process.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Melinda is right about UCS's approach being alarmist. I am pro-environment, I really am, but even I have a hard time not seeing Environmentalists as radical and wacky. This impression and reputation (whether deserved or not) obviously lends to their inability to be taken as serious or valid. No doubt their facts are on the money, but if it seems like they're howling at the moon, then what's the point? Exxon, on the other hand, managed to curtail nearly all of the accusations, without acctually addressing them head on. Brilliant!

10:05 AM  
Blogger Bradley said...

Regardless of whether the information in either press release was indeed factual, I found the ExxonMobil press release to be more effective. ExxonMobil's release included more seemingly factual and concrete information and in general the document was more organized than UCS'. Opening with the comparison of ExxonMobil's tactics to those of "big tobacco didn't seem entirely relevant and distracted from other more salient issues that were mentioned later in the release. Specifically, rebutted scientist Sallie Baliunas, and Patrick Michaels' book.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Brian C. said...

Global Warming is a very intense, heated (no pun intended), political issue. While I am happy to see somewhat of a start to a different approach by Exxon I will believe it when I see it. To me, the UCS hit it dead on. While they may have exaggerated to beat their point and probably were harsher than needed to be, I would agree with their comparison with the tobacco companies. Let’s be serious – just like the tobacco folks want you to believe they don’t want people to smoke anymore, do you think Exxon wants us to use less oil? If they truly believed in this both of their businesses would tank.

While I am sure Exxon would like to see many of their initiates work (as long as it was profitable) we are unfortunately still a long ways away. In the interim they have to sound like they care, the entire world has more or less recognized this is a major issue (even Bush!) so they don't really have a choice.

Both blow a lot of smoke, and both pull out language to bring them to their sides, but at the end of the day UCS nailed it dead on.

1:53 PM  
Blogger lindsay a said...

Neither press release is great. The UCS one is much too long, and the Exxon release probably isn't long enough to counter the UCS one. Both seem to try to pack as much detail as possible into the statement. While it is good that they are attempting to get across everything they want to say, I think it is at the expense of the reader who is going to get lost in all the detail.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Danny said...

Although the UCS release did nothing to change my mind on the subject, I can see how it could be effective at getting others fired up about their cause. If that is their intention than it would work quite well. But the Exxon-Mobil release was just better all around. They kind of get themselves off the hook by showing what steps they're taking to deal with the problem. It seemed that Exxon-Mobil was taking the high ground by not attacking back and going after the UCS. But when all is said and done, I think both releases are successful in achieving their goals.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Elan said...

I have bad news: I think I disagree with a good number of the posts that have been made thus far and the comments that were made in class. I think both statements (that of UCS and ExxonMobile) are fairly well written and fairly convincing.

As a good, old-fashioned tree-hugging liberal, I’m not worried about personally being persuaded by the ExxonMobile statement. They can claim anything they want, and I’m still not going to trust the wealthy, multinational oil corporation. (The fact that I can look outside my window at this moment on a January afternoon and see people playing soccer and football in shorts because of the 55+ degree weather leaves me further disinclined to be agreeable to ExxonMobile’s position.) If not for the context provided for the back-and-forth between these two groups by Professor Black, our class discussion, and the statement from UCS, however, I could easily see the ExxonMobile statement being more than convincing.

The primary criticism of the statements was that they were too wordy, too long, and too heavy with technically jargon. I never noticed such, because I skimmed them both – which is exactly what most readers likely do. I skipped the technical jargon, picked up on ExxonMobile’s claims about doing good things and trying to help the world, and was satisfied. The folks that will take the time and energy to carefully read the entire statement are the folks with a distinct knowledge or interest in the subject, in which case they will likely understand the jargon and not mind the length.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

My very late reply to this post, since just about everything else has already been pointed out here or in class... The first line of ExxonMobil's press release is interesting and I think they probably spent a lot of time crafting it: "ExxonMobil's position on climate change continues to be misunderstood by some individuals and groups." They are trying to imply that this has been their position all along, and they were miscast as the big, bad oil company. I think the company certainly has changed it's public stance and its actions, but I also think they know it looks a lot better to be perceived has really having been that way all along, rather than just finally bowing to public pressure.

2:03 PM  

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