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CON GAMES: T. Boone's Doggle

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A question for today's class: in the history of television advertising, has any private citizen ever ponyed up $50 million-plus for the greater good of the American people, with no strings attached?

The answer, of course, is no--not ever--maybe because it's just not the American way. There's always an angle to be had, most especially when we're talking about oil.

This just in: as the chief bottle-washer at both a radio talk show and blog called "Con Games," I consider it my particular duty in our unprecedented republic to keep a close eye out for the con, especially when it arrives right here in my adopted hometown of Aspen, where I keep my first, second, and third homes..

Thus T, Boone Pickens, the billionaire oil man who has now turned his attention to the Pickens Plan (pickensplan.com), an energy revamp that will accelerate our wing-flapping when it comes to wind--ramping it up to 20 percent or so starting with Sweetwater, Texas, and then points north--and cleverly deploying the freed-up capacity to replace imported oil with natural gas in the transportation sector. The goal, as he said in Aspen last week: to fix "our $700 billion problem"--the $700 billion in imported oil that we need per annum to keep the economy pumping like, well, like an oil well in Texas. The Pickens Plan includes spending $58 million of his own T. Boone coin on advertising to get the point across.

No doubt T. Boone Pickens is an honorable man--so are they all, all honorable men--and I'm more than delighted to welcome the likes of T. Boone, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, et al., as they suddenly trumpet the advertorial wonders of hybridization they once decried like hyenas. But I left the Paepcke Auditorium here in Aspen wondering if the oil man had not come to the Aspen Institute with a very different agenda in mind.

T. Boone Pickens, you see, may be doing the right and noble thing by the environment, but he ain't not doing it for nothing. His hedge fund has positions in natural gas and emerging technologies that are sure to set the billionaire's cash register a'ringin'. At the Aspen Institute, he admitted to this rather annoying conflict-of-interest only when Casey McConnell, a green friend in the audience, asked him about one of his companies in Canada.

T. Boone Pickens has used TV advertising in the pursuit of good before. The likes of me would be more inclined to sign on to his noble cause were it not for his inconvenient sponsorship of the Swift Boat television campaign which brought John Kerry down faster than Vice-Presidential quail shot to hell by Dick Cheney on cue. Just this year, Pickens offered $1 million semolians to anyone who could disprove anything in the Swift Boat campaign. When a certain former Presidential candidate and others fired back, T. Boone Pickens backed down.

So let's be charitable and even Christian long enough to say the billionaire's record when it comes to politics and television advertising is a bit on the spotty side. And let's embrace the obvious: if T. Boone Pickens is going to save the world, you can bet he's going to make a buck along the way.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. This is America and that's entertainment. But there is something overtly and obviously wrong with a campaign that positions him as the Wizard of Energy, a man morally incapable of doing anything that would keep his mug off of Mount Rushmore. The solution to the problemo is simple: full, complete, no frills, no-bull disclosure of all his investments in wind and natural gas and any technology sure to benefit from his $58 million on the air and on the stump.

If T. Boone Pickens can come clean, maybe there really is hope for the Pickens Plan. After all, the race for the future of energy goes to the swift.

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