The Mobil Oil Flack Who Brought Us False Equivalence, Advertorials, and Corporate Free Speech

Herb Schmertz invented the advertorial, which became a major tool for spreading climate doubt and confusion.

by | Feb 11, 2020


In episodes four and five of Drilled, we tell the story of Herb Schmertz, former VP of Public Affairs for Mobil Oil. Schmertz brought many new PR tactics to the oil industry; he invented the advertorial, bullied journalists into false equivalence (what he called “creative confrontation”), and pushed for the first big corporate personhood case—long before Citizens United—back in the 1970s. He also coined the term “affinity of purpose” marketing to describe Mobil’s longtime funding of Masterpiece Theatre and various other PBS programming, which helped to establish Mobil as “the thinking man’s oil company.”

Collected below are examples of the advertorials Schmertz distributed (in numerous interviews he refers to them as “pamphlets” and to The New York Times as an excellent distribution system for the company’s pamphlets), as well as some of the documents we referred to in the episode (speeches Schmertz gave, transcripts of interviews with him, and a Mobil doc explaining its advertorial strategy and the success of it). You can also listen to the episodes wherever you get your podcasts, or via the embedded players below.

Documents:

Advertorials

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Amy Westervelt is the editor-in-chief of Drilled News, creator and host of the Drilled podcast, and founder of the Critical Frequency podcast network, named AdWeek's Podcast Network of the Year in 2019. An award-winning print and audio journalist, Amy has contributed to The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, as well as KQED, The California Report, Capital Public Radio, and many other outlets. She is the 2015 winner of the Rachel Carson award for "women greening journalism," and a 2016 winner of an Edward R. Murrow award for her series on the impacts of the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada. In 2019, the Drilled podcast won the Online News Association's "Excellence in Audio Storytelling" award.