Today, just ahead of Congress’s Big Oil disinformation hearings this Thursday, independent investigative climate journalist Amy Westervelt launches Rigged, a new web project and companion podcast focused on the history and functionality of disinformation. It's a rich archive of rare or never-seen disinformation material that Amy has dug up over years of research.
"I started Rigged because I realized I had hundreds of documents on my desk that weren't doing any good there, and that could be useful to other reporters working on stories about disinformation, ranging from climate denial and Covid hoaxers to the Big Lie around the election,” Westervelt explains. "There's a general sense out there that disinformation is a relatively new thing, and I think it's important for people to understand that it's more than a century old, that American corporations invented many of the techniques we're still seeing today, and that it was created largely to help American industry circumvent democracy when it needed to."
The website offers a rich archive of documents, many rarely or never-before seen, which Westervelt organizes and puts into context. Through her original reporting and writing, she demonstrates that disinformation is not only not a new phenomenon from Russia or Facebook, but it even predates Big Oil and Big Tobacco’s adoption of science denial.
Westervelt also introduces readers to some of the key figures in the rise of disinformation, like Standard Oil publicist Ivy Lee, the self-proclaimed "father of public relations" Edward Bernays, corporate exec-whisperer Earl Newsom, tobacco spinmaster Daniel Edelman, and many more.
A companion podcast, also called Rigged, will tell some of their stories in vivid detail. The first episode, “Fake Experts and Real Bacon,” explores how Beech-Nut food company publicist Edward Bernays convinced doctors to tell Americans that a heavier breakfast was healthier, thus giving birth to the “classic American breakfast” and sending bacon sales soaring. Rigged is available now on all podcast platforms.