Tag Archives: dishonesty

Monsanto

Note: post has been updated to correct spelling of Monsanto. Mea culpa.

A lot–probably a majority–of American companies are good corporate citizens. We don’t hear much about them, because they aren’t newsworthy.

Monsanto, on the other hand, is very newsworthy.

Most media about Monsanto is focused on its herbicide Roundup, which has been shown to cause cancer if people are repeatedly exposed to it. (There have been several recent jury verdicts awarding breathtaking sums to afflicted users.) But Monsanto’s sins go well beyond the manufacture and sale of a dangerous product.

The company is especially vicious in its efforts to silence reporters and food safety activists whose coverage is less than glowing.

A non-profit food safety watchdog on Thursday revealed the lengths the agrochemical company Monsanto has gone to in order to keep the dangers of its products secret—monitoring journalists and attempting to discredit them, identifying a progressive musician and activist as a threat, and crafting a plan to counter the watchdog’s public information requests about the company.

Monsanto’s so-called “fusion center” targeted U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), which investigates safety and transparency issues within the U.S. food system. When USRTK filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests beginning in 2015 regarding Monsanto’s relationship’s with publicly-funded universities, the multinational corporation assembled a plan to counter the group’s findings, according to newly-released documents.

Journalists and critics of the company applauded USRTK’s release of the documents and said they only bolstered the case, long made by environmental and public health advocates, that Monsanto must be stopped from profiting off dangerous chemicals and covering up their harms.

The nonprofit had made Freedom of Information requests to universities in an effort to confirm accusations that Montsanto had paid for favorable research results. The 30 plus pages of internal documents that were released detailed the company’s plans to counter and discredit the organization.

In another article, a journalist who was targeted by Monsanto explained how the company goes about discrediting those who publish unflattering reports.

As a journalist who has covered corporate America for more than 30 years, very little shocks me about the propaganda tactics companies often deploy. I know the pressure companies can and do bring to bear when trying to effect positive coverage and limit reporting they deem negative about their business practices and products.

But when I recently received close to 50 pages of internal Monsanto communications about the company’s plans to target me and my reputation, I was shocked.

I knew the company did not like the fact that in my 21 years of reporting on the agrochemical industry – mostly for Reuters – I wrote stories that quoted skeptics as well as fans of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds. I knew the company didn’t like me reporting about growing unease in the scientific community regarding research that connected Monsanto herbicides to human and environmental health problems. And I knew the company did not welcome the 2017 release of my book, Whitewash – The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, which revealed the company’s actions to suppress and manipulate the science surrounding its herbicide business.

Monsanto’s efforts included engineering web placement of negative “information” about her–written by Monsanto– that would pop up at the top of internet searches, production of “third party talking points,” and payments to “readers” who would post negative reviews of her book.

The records were uncovered as part of court-ordered discovery in litigation brought by plaintiffs alleging their cancers were caused by exposure to Roundup. The documents  revealed years of company activities aimed at manipulating the scientific record about Roundup.

Companies like Monsanto not only pose a danger to thousands of people–they create a perception that no business enterprise can be trusted. That perception isn’t just bad for law-abiding enterprises–it’s bad for America’s economic health.

A functioning government  with a functioning Consumer Protection agency would shut Monsanto down.

If Dick Cheney Were Capable of Shame….

Darth Cheney has emerged again from whatever hole he occupies, to proclaim the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Bengazi “the worst disaster” he can recall, and to assert that it is evidence of the incompetence of the Obama Administration.

Leaving aside the fact that the Republicans in Congress engineered significant cuts to the budget for embassy security, despite warnings that the cuts would endanger American lives, it is hard to believe the chutzpah of a Bush Administration VP (“vice” in every sense of the word). This was the administration that ignored “Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S.” and saw the destruction of the Twin Towers.

This was also the administration in power when we sustained fifty plus attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad, thirteen of which were lethal. (And that’s excluding those in Baghdad). Those attacks in which American diplomats lost their lives occurred during Cheney’s “rein,” and before Barack Obama ever stepped into the Oval Office: Jan. 22, 2002, Calcutta, India; June 14, 2002, Karachi, Pakistan; Oct. 12, 2002, Denpasar, Bali; Feb. 28, 2003, Islamabad, Pakistan; May 12, 2003, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,July 30, 2004, Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Dec. 6, 2004, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; March 2, 2006, Karachi, Pakistan; Sept. 12, 2006, Damascus, Syria; Jan. 12, 2007, Athens, Greece; March 18, 2008, Sana’a, Yemen; July 9, 2008, Istanbul, Turkey; Sept. 17, 2008, Sana’a, Yemen.

I don’t recall Democrats conducting endless investigations and calling for impeachments as a result of those attacks.

If there was ever any doubt that Dick Cheney is a small, twisted, evil man, his willingness to use baldfaced lies in the service of partisan politics, and his eagerness to use the deaths of American diplomats to score cheap points would erase it.

But really, was there any doubt?

Selling Cars and Candidates

When I was in college, I worked one summer for a friend of my father; he owned a Cadillac-Rambler agency (no kidding!), and I was billed as the first female used-car salesman (not “salesperson” back then) in Anderson, Indiana. I soon learned that if I wanted to sell a car, I needed to find out what the buyer wanted and emphasize those features–if someone came in wanting a red car, I talked about what a great shade of red this one had; if they wanted a V-8 engine, I talked about that.

A pretty elementary lesson in marketing.

Unfortunately, that’s the one lesson political candidates at all levels have really learned well.

We like to think of the democratic system as one where candidates and parties offer us competing visions and philosophies, and we choose between them. But all too often, that isn’t what happens. Instead, candidates hide or minimize agendas that they think (usually correctly) voters won’t “buy.” They become stealth candidates of a sort. So we have a Richard Mourdock, a man who won his primary promising to be intransigent, suddenly talking about co-operation and bipartisanship. You have Mike Pence, who has spent his entire time in Congress fighting for far-right culture issues, suddenly voicing concern about  jobs and economic development, and another culture-warrior, Scott Schneider, running ads touting his bona fides as a “family man, and small businessman” who serves the public in the Indiana legislature.

It’s enough to make me sympathize with the folks on the far right who are always complaining that their Republican candidates won’t run a full-throated conservative campaign. That complaint assumes that a campaign run forthrightly on Right issues–defunding Planned Parenthood, passing a “personhood” amendment to outlaw not just abortion but also most birth control, anti-GLBT measures and of course starving government until it’s small enough to drown in Grover Norquist’s bathtub–would be a winner.

Candidates who aren’t entirely delusional recognize that these positions do not reflect the will of the larger electorate, no matter how fervently they are embraced by the True Believers. So they lie. They try to re-invent themselves. They tell us what they think we want to hear. And if they have enough money and good advertising consultants, they often win.

Because selling that car is more important than admitting that it’s maroon, not red. Being elected–achieving some measure of power–trumps running a campaign based upon telling voters the truth.

It’s interesting that so many of these profoundly dishonest campaigns are run by candidates who talk incessantly about the importance of religion, and who want us to know how godly and pious they are. I guess they missed that part about “bearing false witness.”

They’d make great car salesmen.

Bad Monkey

I’m writing this before the November 2d elections, knowing that it won’t see print until the election results are known. The timing won’t keep me from making a prediction: voters will reward sleazy tactics, outright liars and buffoons of all political persuasions.

That’s because the election season that will (mercifully) be over when you read this has been dominated by two parties—not Republicans and Democrats, but those I’ll dub “denialists” and “enablers.”

Denialists have a variety of motives, but essentially, they are fleeing the complexity and ambiguity of modern life. They span a spectrum from the outright delusional—the so-called “birthers” who have convinced themselves that President Obama was born in Kenya, and the one in five Americans who believe he’s a secret Muslim—to the various groups of creationists, climate change deniers and others who are suspicious of science and empirical evidence and looking for any opportunity to reject findings that do not confirm their own beliefs or serve their own interests. They include the revisionists who cling to carefully selected and edited versions of America’s history and constitution.

There have always been denialists on the fringes of American political life. What is different today is that they are being enabled by the emergence of a media landscape in which the time-honored function of genuine journalism—truth-telling—has been pushed aside in favor of what sells, and telling people what they want to hear is a sure winner.  The fact that paying talking heads to spout uninformed—occasionally deranged—opinions is so much less expensive than paying journalists to do actual reporting is just icing on the cake.

In this intellectually dishonest, morally distasteful environment, can we really be surprised that candidates of both parties have participated in a content-free, ugly exchange of untruths and half-truths?

In the run-up to November 2d, it has been impossible to avoid the hammering of negative, misleading ads. I am supposed to be outraged over the “government takeover” of Medicare (and too stupid to know that Medicare is a government program). I am supposed to believe that a candidate for prosecutor who once represented a defendant accused of child molestation is thereby disqualified for office (and to ignore the profoundly unethical conduct of a candidate who would make such a charge). Presumably, I am supposed to listen to the out-of-context charges and counter-charges, the grainy photographs and gloomy atmospherics and make my candidate selection based purely on my emotional response.

No wonder Jon Stewart held a rally for sanity. If the antics of this electoral season are any indication, it’s in short supply.

Actually, it was Stewart who came up with the best description of our current politics. In an interview, Terry Gross of NPR asked him about his focus on politicians and the media, and who was most culpable. Stewart said “Politicians are politicians. If you go to the zoo and monkeys are throwing feces, well—that’s what monkeys do. But you’d like to have the zoo-keeper there saying ‘Bad Monkey.’”