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Energy and climate rallies – real or astroturf?

Energy rallies organized by coal and oil industry.

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Some analysts say they've seen all this before -- and add that it will likely continue in the near  future because it's effective.

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"What we're seeing here [with API's push] is an inherently deceptive campaign," says Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy, an independent watchdog group in Madison, Wis. "Why organize these rallies that appropriate the tactics and appearance of a shoestring grassroots organization? It's inherently deceptive because it pretends it is not a top-down effort when it's now clear that it is a very intensively funded top-down effort."

"This is not a community bake sale," Michael Crocker, a Washington, D.C.-based spokesman for Greenpeace told Bloomberg News of the API event in Houston. "This is a multimillion-dollar PR machine of the most powerful companies in the world, and there is a long history of this instrument, API, misleading the public about global warming."

Kevin Grandia, managing editor of DeSmogBlog.com, a site that attempts to expose energy industry front groups, was first to reveal the API memo.

"One great technique for amplifying a controversy or creating the impression of a major controversy is by manufacturing rallies or large events," he says. "But busing your employees over for a lunch would not be my definition of a citizen-driven rally -- especially when it's paid for by oil companies who have a very large interest in not seeing a trade bill or more costs put onto their product."

The technique of organizing rallies that appear to express broad public sentiment favoring corporate ends is hardly new.

In the 1930s, Mr. Grandia notes, corporate organizers crafted public demonstrations called "torches of liberty" rallies. Women marched through the streets of New York smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes, he says. "That whole thing was paid for by the tobacco industry. What we're seeing today is not a new tactic -- it's an old tactic that works just as well today."

But energy industry spokesmen say that environmentalists and critics are trying to have it both ways by arguing that corporate-level organizing of events somehow delegitimizes the events or views expressed at them.

"Groups that don't like opponents ideas describe these kinds of activities as contrived -- and yet if you look at say, Al Gore's group, they're doing same thing," says Cathy Landry, a spokeswoman for API.

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