Among the Heritage Foundation's many chores is tracking the movement of foreign money into projects that could harm the American economy. By a quirk in the viewing habits of the conservative think tank's staff, a tip to their investigative blog led to the discovery that Matt Damon's anti-fracking, stop-drilling movie, "Promised Land," was funded by the oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.
As a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Emirate didn't want more competition and lower prices because of America's vast, newly accessible shale oil and natural gas reserves.
A sharp-eyed Heritage analyst saw a "Promised Land" trailer on Al Jazeera's TV channel that listed a "produced in association with" credit for Image Media Abu Dhabi. Who's that? The question went to Lachlan Markay, investigative reporter for Heritage's Center for Media and Public Policy.
I asked Markay what he did with it. He told me, "I identified the company as a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media, which was easy, but confirming that it was indeed a financier of Damon's overwrought movie (Damon was both star and a scriptwriter) required some sleuthing."
Participant Media, said Markey, is the company that developed the film fund that backed the movie and its director, Gus Van Sant. PM hired top independent international entertainment PR firm, DDA Public Relations in Los Angeles, to run preproduction financing and publicity for Van Sant's project. Once that connection was clear, Markay contacted a DDA representative who confirmed that Abu Dhabi Media is a financier. Markay made his finds into a superb Heritage blog story.
The cost of "Promised Land" has not been disclosed, but its meager total earnings of $7.1 million and audience rank of 18th as of this week led several critics to characterize it as a "bomb." But this is clearly a cause-based movie, not a truly commercial enterprise -- the desired profit is changed hearts and minds.
AD Media is wholly owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, created with capital of about $25 million by "Law No 13 of 2007 issued by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in his capacity as Ruler of Abu Dhabi," according to a government news release. The law also gave AD Media control of eight existing outlets, including two TV stations, a newspaper, Emirates FM, Holy Quran Radio and three magazines, giving the royal family means to produce whatever content it wants. That clearly involves blocking future American energy development.
Big Green also has its own organization for such international meddling. Originally a project of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Funders Network on Trade and Globalization allowed offshore family foundations to join domestic anti-industry efforts. British billionaire Sir Jimmy Goldsmith's JMG Foundation, the French American Charitable Trust and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund were among the founding members. Now reorganized as EDGE Funders Alliance, standing for Engaged Donors for Global Equity, they fund economy-trashing activists globally.
But this time, it was Big Middle East Oil. Thanks to this serendipitous glimpse into the guts of "Promised Land," I went exploring in Al Jazeera TV archives and found them infested with no-new-energy-for-North-America propaganda -- short clips and major documentaries against energy development by the United States and Canada. I found major emphasis on getting President Obama to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported synthetic crude oil from the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada. Al Jazeera TV evidently became part of a 2008 anti-industry "Tar Sands Campaign" operated by Michael Northrop, program director with Rockefeller Brothers Fund, posting scurrilously abusive presentations against the energy project.
The lessons here are obvious: Follow the money, and consider the source.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.