The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
What do the deniers of climate change and apologists for big tobacco
have in common? Spokespeople sent into the media to sow doubt.
Director Robert Kenner ("Food, Inc.") and his cowriter Kim Roberts lay it all out for us in "Merchants of Doubt," a compendium of public deceptions based on the same-titled book by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. The story begins in the 1950s with the tobacco industry's strategy for staving off government regulation, then moves on through the decades. The film shows how public relations strategies devised to make the public doubt that cigarettes caused cancer were refined into a template that would be used by industries selling all sorts of materials and products, including food and food additives, pharmaceuticals, oil, coal, asbestos, and flame retardant chemicals used on furniture coverings. The latter is the focus of the movie's strongest section, which shows how the tobacco industry's obscuring tactics were applied to another industry's PR problems.
In the 1950s, when scientists first linked cigarettes to cancer, the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton created what turned out to be a winning strategy: augmenting the direct lies of tobacco industry executives and spokespeople with "third party" testimonies by people who seemed to have no dog in the hunt but were really wearing an invisible corporate leash. Scientists and pseudo-scientists hired by big tobacco were ushered into the public eye to sow doubt about the science, and plead for more studies, or more time to study the data before concluding that cigarettes were harmful. (There's a montage of tobacco industry shills repeating variations on "Cigarettes may not be hazardous.")
The movie compares this to three-card Monte dealers paying a "stranger" to stand near them, watch them with delight, then participate and "win" the game, so that bystanders would think it wasn't rigged, join in, and lose their money. The cigarette doubt-sowers succeeded with this approach a generation. Warning labels didn't appear on cigarette packages until 1966, and advertising was regulated slowly over the next few decades. The movie shows how the same strategy was applied by companies that made the chemicals used to treat furniture.