It began with the tobacco industry when scientific evidence began to mount that cigarettes cause lung cancer. A 1969 memo included this statement from an executive at the Brown & Williamson tobacco company: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.” In one example among many of how to create doubt, a Philip Morris tobacco executive told a congressional committee: “Anything can be considered harmful. Applesauce is harmful if you get too much of it.”
The tobacco model was subsequently mimicked by other industries. As Peter Sparber, a veteran tobacco lobbyist said, “If you can ‘do tobacco,’ you can do just about anything in public relations.” It was as if they were all working from the same playbook, employing such tactics as: deny the problem, minimize the problem, call for more evidence, shift the blame, cherry-pick the data, shoot the messenger, attack alternatives, hire industry friendly scientists, create front groups.
Documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner encountered this last strategy while shooting his 2008 film Food, Inc.. He has said that he “kept bumping into groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom that were doing everything in their power to keep us from knowing what’s in our food.” Kenner has called them “Orwellian” because such front groups sound like neutral nonprofit think tanks in search of scientific truth but are, in fact, funded by the for-profit industries associated with the problems they investigate.