In 1970 President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and during his presidency saw the Clean Water Act (1972) and the Clean Air Act (1970) become laws.
How has environmental protection lost support so dramatically?
There has been a concerted effort of corporate PR designed to spread misinformation and blacken the reputations of environmental organizations and leaders. In fact, the PR techniques used to discredit those who seek to rein in corporate bad behavior have become the backbone of the PR industry.
In order to recognize and fight these techniques, it is important that we know what they are. I'm going to lay them out with the help of a highly recommended book, "Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Environmental PR Campaign" by Nicky Hager and Bob Burton and my first-hand experience with the GMO-Chem company actions in Hawai'i, ground zero for GMO-Chem experimentation.
Technique #1: Position your critics as misguided or "unscientific". In Secrets and Lies, the logging company issued press releases claiming the environmentalists were mistaken and that they were not clearcutting. In fact, the environmentalists never said they were. But the impression was left that the environmentalists didn't know what they were talking about and everything they said was thus suspect.
The GMO-Chem companies do the same. They call pro-GMO labeling activists "unscientific". Their PR employees troll through blogs and newspaper stories posting this line.
Technique #2: Out and Out Lie. The NYC Sierra Club calls a Monsanto shill out on his statement that "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tested all the GMOs on the market to determine whether they are toxic or allergenic.
In fact, the FDA relies on testing by the manufacturers themselves. While they may ask questions (so it's not entirely just a rubber stamp), there is no government testing in the United States.This is the GMO-Chem companies most pernicious and oft-repeated lie that GMOs have been tested and found safe by the U.S. government.
Particularly in the case of Monsanto, which must give permission to outside organizations that wish to do testing, there is no, or little, private US testing that is not under Monsanto's thumb. Moreover, most of the testing in the US is short-term, rather than lifetime and multigenerational testing on lab animals.
In Secrets and Lies, a helicopter hired by the corporation picked up a log, diverted from its path and used it to batter one of the activists' tree platforms. An activist preparing to climb the tree was terrorized. But this is the company line:
...his observations from the helicopter indicated that the area surrounding the platform tree was clear of person. But much stranger than this, the report shows that Hawker's decision is based on a version of events which contradicts everything else in the investigation: 'The helicopter was then used to deny persons access to the platform by removing the rope ladder leading to the platform with a log slung underneath the helicopter...all they tried to do was pull the rope up and away...Climate Change Deniers use the big lie also. The immensely rich Koch Brothers who deal in oil and coal have funded many fake denier groups.
There was no rope ladder and the investigation had already proved without a doubt that the objective was to destroy the platform.
Which brings us to Technique #3: Create fake groups to sell your talking points and misinformation.
No sector is immune to this. When Christian groups began efforts to protect the environment, the oil industry fought back by creating their own "religious" group. According to People for the American Way,
To counter the rise of the faith-based environmentalist Evangelical Climate Initiative, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance emerged. The ISA, propped up by business interests including Exxon Mobil, has peddled misleading and false claims to make the case that climate change is a myth. In 2007, the ISA was renamed the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and became more belligerent and zealous in its anti-environmental activities.Keith Hammond writing in Mother Jones lists some more fake organizations. He says,
It's not easy being green -- the brown opposition is well-funded and sneaky, with fake populist tactics that make it hard to spot the wolf in sheep's clothing. To learn more about the astroturf groups who are lobbying against the Kyoto global warming treaty, we contacted the Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research (CLEAR).Technique #4: Position environmentalists as "fringe", "radical" and "extreme". GMO activists on Maui who are wholly peaceful were maligned by a Monsanto planted article accusing them of torching Monsanto equipment. The assertion was a complete fabrication. The article was picked up by a right-wing blog and the untrue assertion repeated.
GMO PR representatives write letters to the editor wherein they tell us how much they are in fear of activists.
Technique #5: Blacken the personal reputations of environmental leaders. Searle funded STATS shill, Jon Entine, wrote an entire article filled with unsubstantiated accusations against GMO activist, Walter Ritte. Walter Ritte is a long time Hawaiian activist who is respected for his role in reclaiming the island of Kaho'olawe from military bombing. In the article Jon Entine mixes up Ritte's activist causes with his unsuccessful run for Office of Hawaiian Affairs. This article is a textbook example of this PR technique in action. It not only uses Destroying Personal Reputations but it is done through a corporate-sponsored Front Group.
Technique #6: Buy Politicians. Babes Against Biotech has compiled a list of donations made by GMO-Chem companies to Hawai'i politicians. Only 10 Hawai'i legislators turned down GMO-Chem money.
So now that you have these corporate PR tactics firmly in mind, keep your eyes open for these techniques in action. Name 'em and shame 'em to fight back.
UPDATED to reflect that Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act and it became law over his veto.
9:59 PM PT: A...uh...persistent commenter has reminded me that I neglected a Corporate PR Technique:
Technique #7: Internet trolling. By repetitively posting off-topic and/or inflamatory comments a "troll" can derail a discussion and turn off others to the post. More info can be found in the article, Anatomy of a Troll.