Astro Turf Wars (2010)

Posted: April 23, 2011 in -
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“How corporate America is faking a grassroots revolution.”

From the film’s website.

Synopsis (Short)

From the Tea Parties to the healthcare and climate wars, America’s conservative citizens have revolted against the Obama agenda. But are these grassroots actions in fact examples of `astroturfing’? – The practice of manufacturing citizens groups for the purpose of delivering corporate messages. Curious to find out, Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham went undercover to investigate. What he found was astroturfing on a scale greater than he could have imagined, threatening not only the heath of American democracy, but that of its citizens and the planet as a whole.


In summer 2009, something stirred in America. After Barack Obama and a Democratic congress swept to power promising a new era of hope and change, out of nowhere a citizens protest movement emerged that threatened to derail their agenda. Was this uprising the epitome of grassroots democracy? Or was it, as some said, an example of `astroturfing’? That is, the creation of fake grassroots (ie. Astroturf: get it?) groups, designed to put corporate messages in the mouths of seemingly independent citizens. Fascinated by this concept of astroturfing and curious to find out if these accusations were true, Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham hopped on a plane to investigate. Going undercover as a curious onlooker, his month-long journey took him over 5000 miles, 6 states and right to the heart of the `American Dream’. His three areas of investigation were: Healthcare: After filming a passionate healthcare town hall meeting in rural Virginia, Taki sought out former health insurance PR man turned high profile whistle-blower Wendell Potter. Potter uses his own experiences of astroturfing to reveal its extensive use in the current campaign. Climate Change: From a senate briefing by renowned sceptic Dr Fred Singer to infiltrating a series of oil-funded Astroturf groups, Taki investigates (with insight from PR man and author of `Climate Cover Up’ Jim Hoggan) how the energy industry too is using front groups and `independent’ experts to defeat the cap and trade bill and deny the science of global warming. The Tea Party Movement: From the `Tea Party Express’ in Louisville to the first ever national tea party in Washington D.C., Taki examines this phenomenon and finds that its roots are not so natural after all. A visit to NYU professor and corporate propaganda expert Mark Crispin Miller provides an enlightening view on some of the fervent patriotic and anti-socialism themes of the movement. As the journey unfolds it becomes apparent that behind much of the uprising is the so-called Free Market Movement and in particular two groups called Americans For Prosperity and Freedomworks. As the investigation turns to whether it is mere ideology or corporate investment driving these groups, Taki uncovers the most startling and unnerving evidence yet of the scale on which this practice of astroturfing is taking place. (Astro)Turf Wars is both a journey through a unique moment in American history and thoroughly researched piece of investigative journalism. Through an examination of astroturfing and disinformation, we see how citizen democracy has been captured by powerful corporate interests. Moreover, the film sets out to expose and thereby render ineffectual this deceptive practice that threatens not only the heath of American democracy, but that of its citizens and the planet as a whole.

Key Participants

Taki Oldham Acting as investigative journalist, narrator and central character, Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham’s journey to uncover the truth about `astroturfing’ forms the central narrative of the story. In order to infiltrate the highly guarded world of public relations front groups, Taki went undercover as a free-market loving Australian university student, creating a fake blog and a fake study grant as part of his cover. Wendell Potter A former head of corporate communications at insurance giants Humana and Cigna. After retiring in 2008 Wendell Potter has turned whistle blower over the use of astroturfing and other misleading tactics used by his industry. He has since testified before congress and become a regular media contributor. Time magazine called him “the ideal whistleblower”. His book Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out On How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans is due out in November 2010. Jim Hoggan President of the Canadian PR firm James Hoggan & Associates, publisher of the Desmog Blog and author of Climate Cover Up (2009). For a number of years he has tracked the PR campaign on behalf of polluting industries to deny and delay action on global warming. He is both in awe of and horrified by what he calls the largest and most insidious PR campaign ever carried out. Mark Crispin Miller A professor of Media, Culture and Communication at NYU and author of numerous books. Miller is a leading expert on modern corporate propaganda and its use by the public relations industry. Miller is now at work on The Marlboro Man: An American Success Story, to be published by Yale University Press in 2011. Americans For Prosperity From their Hands Off My Healthcare campaign to their Hot Air Tour opposing climate legislation and their seminal role establishing the Tea Party Movement, nobody been more active than the 1+ million member “free market” citizens group Americans For Prosperity in opposing the Democrat agenda. But who is funding their multi million dollar campaigns?

Other Persons & Groups Featured

Dr Fred Singer ­ A leading climate sceptic with ties to the tobacco and oil industries Leighton Steward ­ A former oil executive fronting the astroturf group CO2 is green. Energy Citizens ­ An astroturf group set up by the American Petroleum Institute Tea Party Express ­ A tea party group created by political consultancy firm Russo Marsh and Rogers. Friends Of America ­ An astroturf effort by coal giant Massey Energy Fox News / Glenn Beck ­ Populist muckrakers Freedomworks ­ A free-market group prominent in the Tea Party movement Dr Brenda Ekwurzel ­ Climate scientist with the Union Of Concerned Scientists

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