Steve Coll reports from inside the ExxonMobil Death Star
ExxonMobil and American Power
by Steve Coll
Penguin Press HC, The
$36.00 List Price
ExxonMobil, the worlds’s biggest and most profitable corporation, is used to being viewed as the bad guy. Every time recession-strapped Americans face new spikes in the cost of gas, the oil giant’s profits ratchet up even more. In 2008, record-high gasoline prices were the direct driver of ExxonMobil’s forty-five billion dollars in profit, the largest total in corporate history.
The company also occupies an outsize role in the nation’s politics—as you’d expect would be the case for any firm booking profits in the mid-eleven-figure range. Since 1998, ExxonMobil has pumped $9.4 million into congressional and presidential campaigns—87 percent of that to Republicans—and spent $169 million on lobbying Washington. The company was responsible for soaking Alaskan sea otters with spilled crude, its former CEO was hunting buddies with Dick Cheney, and it has paid scientists to intentionally spread uncertainty about global warming. Its sleek white corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas, are known to employees as the “Death Star.”
But beyond the contours of the company’s public record—its profits and political contributions, the names of its officials and lobbyists, its sales and stock values—investigators have long found it very difficult to quantify what exactly ExxonMobil does: how the company makes decisions, the details of its many foreign drilling operations, its internal policies and politics, its long-term strategies, and the behind-the-scenes moves it makes to fulfill them.
That’s by design. As two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll writes in Private Empire, the company