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Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Money from ExxonMobil – Who's Hoaxing Who?


ExxonMobil is not the kind of company that throws money away. There’s always a plan behind its largesse.

When the oil giant stepped into a small Brooklyn library’s crowd-funding campaign in a big way, suspicions immediately arose about the motives of both sides—including whether Mellow Pages should accept the donation, and even whether it was real—and a somewhat complicated view of life in 2014 ensued.

Mellow Pages is an independently-run library and reading room located in Brooklyn, NY; it focuses on providing limited-print fiction and poetry to the neighborhoods of Bushwick, East Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The story of how this unlikely pair found each other was told in a recent article in The Awl.

Mellow Pages, which was founded less than a year ago, has some 200 members who pay a small membership fee to help support its operation. Last fall the library held a $20,000 Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign aiming to raise rent and carrying costs for one year, but the campaign came up well short at about $5,200. Then in December ExxonMobil suddenly appeared with a “strange email.” The company offered to support Mellow Pages for 10 times the amount of funding raised by Indiegogo, according to the library’s founders.

The article continues: “That inconceivable bequest of $50,000 would fund the library’s rent for three years. And the best part: there were no strings attached. The offer was that the corporation would pay rent directly to the building’s landlord and nothing more.”

Was this a prank? Should Mellow Pages accept oil money? And there has to be a catch involved somewhere, right? The Lady or the Tiger? Door A or Door B? If it sounds too good to be true, it’s usually not true, right? The question was opened to the membership and the readership community; many recommended the library should take the money and run, while others said to just run because there are always strings attached to corporate money.

Last Wednesday, Mellow Pages said they wouldn’t be accepting the money, according to a report in International Business Times.

“The truth would be that we were afforded freedom at the cost of something else: ideas,” library co-founders Jacob Perkins and Matt Nelson wrote in a letter. “The amount of people within the community who want to figure out ways that this can be sidestepped or avoided is immense. We basically turn it inside-out by saying no.”

End of a weird encounter? Well no, it turns out that it gets even weirder: Exxon never offered the money.

"We have no record of any interaction whatsoever with this library," ExxonMobil spokesman Richard D. Keil was quoted in an email to IBT. "We first heard of this through media inquiries." He added, "The funding scenario the library describes in no way comports with the open and transparent way in which we make charitable and philanthropic donations."

Last Friday, the library finally fessed up: Perkins admitted the whole thing was a publicity stunt to a Brokelyn reporter, and "compared it to a rolling work of fiction that everyone was a part of."

It’s hard if not impossible to pull off a successful hoax when ExxonMobil is the target—after all, it is the expert at that sort of thing.

Image: Mellow Pages, from its website

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

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