Heartland Institute's Corporate Shilling Is Nothing New - Rolling Stone
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Heartland Institute’s Corporate Shilling Is Nothing New


The Heartland Institute is at the center of a scandal that’s damaging both climate deniers and climate scientists.

(Short version: Peter Gleick, a prominent climate scientist once awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant, used false pretenses to obtain internal Heartland Institute documents that he secretly distributed to journalists. These documents showed Heartland’s efforts to fund junk denialist science and spread that disinformation into public schools. But at least one of those documents may have been a fake, and questions about its authenticity led back to Gleick, who outted himself – and fessed up to a “serious lapse” of ethics in obtaining the documents – in this mea culpa.)

My intention here is not to wade into this current scandal. Everyone looks terrible.

My purpose here is to take a step back and look at the Heartland Institute and show that the documents Gleick obtained were hardly worth destroying his credibility to obtain.

Below, a a selection of unimpeachable documents – in the public domain as a result of the national tobacco settlement – that expose Heartland as front-group for hire by some of the world’s deadliest industries.


Back in the early 1990s, the tobacco industry was under fire for everything from advertising to children (think: Joe Camel) to its decades-long campaign to downplay the risks of smoking. The industry was even a fat target for special excise taxes that were to help fund Hillarycare.

In a 1993 “Five Year Plan” written by Thomas Borelli, the “manager of corporate scientific affairs” for tobacco giant Philip Morris, the company laid out its plan to “execute strategic communications on environmental and business issues.” Heartland was a key cog in the Philip Morris PR machine.

One bullet point described the company’s determination to:

Support the efforts of policy groups such as Heartland Institute … to conduct policy forums and issue papers on junk science and health care reform.


A year later, second-hand smoke (referred to as “ETS,” or environmental tobacco smoke, in internal company documents) was just being recognized as a serious danger – to both public health and the tobacco industry’s bottom line. 

This 1994 memo written by Borelli brags of influencing a Heartland book, Eco Sanity. 

The book challenges the underlying science that supports many of today’s environmental regulations. Our comments included the addition of a section on the use and interpretation of epidemiology. This section will support our position on the weakness of the EPA’s report on ETS [second hand smoke]… It will be used by the Heartland Institute to educate and inform policy makers around the country.


Another memo from 1994, this one authored by Roy Marden, PM’s manager of “industry affairs” and a board member of Heartland, describes the think tank as strategic ally not just on science but on tax policy.

Working with … The Heartland Insititute in the development of strategy and ally mobilization to preserve the deductability of tobacco advertising expenses.


A separate 1994 memo from Marden highlight’s Philip Morris’ “effort opposing the use of cigarette excises [taxes] to fund the President’s health care reform plan.” Again, Heartland is there in the tobacco industry’s moment of need:

Working with The Hearland Insitute in the planning of a health policy forum for state-level think tanks to develop a unified strategy and action plan… to promote health care positioning consistent with our interests to legislators, public opinion makers and the media. 


The corporate shillery of Heartland is most trasparent in this 1999 letter from Joeseph Bast, Heartland’s president (then and still) to Marden, soliciting cash from Philip Morris:

Because Heartland does many things that benefit Philip Morris’ bottom line, things that no other organization does, I hope you will consider boosting your general operating support this year to $30,000…. We rely heavily on companies like yours….

Heartland has devoted considerable attention to defending tobacco (and other industries) from what I view as being an unjust campaign of public demonization and legal harassment….

Particularly popular are two of my essays, titled “Five Lies about Tobacco” and “Joe Camel is Innocent.”

This list is hardly meant to be exhaustive. Indeed, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of public documents demonstrating Heartland’s intellectual bankruptcy – right there for the purusing in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library

Gleick’s career suicide was not only counterproductive — Heartland is ably playing the victim in this case, garnering sympathy while impugning the integrity of climate scientists and their work — it was completely unnecessary. 


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