Chicago Tribune, May 6, 2012
Global warming ad campaign featured notorious figures
By Ryan Haggerty and Liam Ford
For about a day last week, a billboard featuring a mug shot of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, loomed over the inbound Eisenhower Expressway in west suburban Maywood, posing a question to drivers cruising toward the city:
"I still believe in Global Warming," the electronic sign said in large red letters. "Do you?"
The ad, paid for by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based group, was to be the first in a series of billboards equating those who believe in global warming with infamous figures — including Fidel Castro and Charles Manson — who have allegedly expressed the same belief, according to the institute.
But the Unabomber billboard, which first appeared Thursday, lasted only 24 hours.
Facing a barrage of criticism from supporters and opponents, the institute canceled the campaign.
"We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland's friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment," the institute's president, Joseph Bast, said in a statement. "We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the 'realist' message on the climate."
The institute said future billboards might also have featured Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee, who was fatally shot by police in 2010 when he took hostages at the Discovery Channel's headquarters in Maryland.
The institute decided to feature these "rogues and villains" in its ads because "what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the 'mainstream' media, and liberal politicians say about global warming," according to its website.
Among critics of the Unabomber billboard was U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who threatened to cancel his speech at the institute's climate change conference later this month in Chicago if the group did not pull the ad.
Sensenbrenner plans to keep his commitment now that the campaign has been canceled and "wants to get back to focusing on the issues because we can win this debate without the name calling," his spokeswoman, Amanda Infield, said in an email.
Sensenbrenner opposed the ad because "this type of name calling did more to distract from the issues at hand than advance a positive dialogue," Infield said.
In announcing the Unabomber billboard Thursday, Bast said in a statement that "the leaders of the global warming movement have one thing in common: They are willing to use force and fraud to advance their fringe theory."
When the ad was canceled the next day, Bast defended it as an experiment that got people's attention.
"This billboard was deliberately provocative, an attempt to turn the tables on the climate alarmists by using their own tactics but with the opposite message," he said in another statement.
A spokesman for the institute, which says its mission "is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems," did not respond Saturday to a request for an interview with Bast.
The dispute over the billboard isn't the first time this year that institute has been embroiled in controversy stemming from the global warming debate.
Peter Gleick, a scientist and environmental activist who is president of the California-based Pacific Institute, admitted in February that he assumed a false identity to obtain and distribute internal documents from the institute about its efforts to influence the debate over the severity of climate change.
Copyright © 2012 Chicago Tribune.
This article originally appeared here.
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