Years ago, Tony and Cheri quit their jobs, left their lives in the U.S. and risked their entire life savings to pursue their dream of operating a small hotel on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Their quaint, 18-room place, the Luna Blue Hotel, took some hits from the swine flu scare and state-side reports of central Mexico’s drug wars, but the couple vowed to hold on and get through it somehow. During that lean time, a representative of the powerhouse travel website Expedia approached the couple and offered to help them recover some of their lost business by listing their place on Expedia. The couple agreed it might be a good idea to list with the site, and signed on as an Expedia “partner.”
But almost immediately the relationship turned sour.
NBC’s upcoming feel-good holiday TV program, the “American Giving Awards” to be broadcast on December 8, is nothing more than a highly-orchestrated public relations stunt designed to rain good feelings upon JP Morgan Chase, one of the most reviled U.S. financial institutions and a major contributor to the collapse of the U.S. housing market. Chase was behind the creation of many of the problematic financial products like credit default swaps which almost brought down the global financial system in 2008. Chase has been fined hundreds of million dollars for lying to investors, perpetrating mortgage fraud and engaging in other illegal financial schemes. To further thumb it’s nose at consumers, Chase recently hired an executive to head up the company’s Foreclosure Victims Bureau who the Justice Department concluded helped enable mortgage fraud. To help repair its tarnished image, Chase created the “American Giving Awards,” using a PR company called Intersport, which boasts that it is an “innovator and leader in the creation of sports and entertainment-based marketing platforms” designed to benefit “global brands.” Actor Gary Sinise and singer Colby Caillat are two of the stars recruited to help draw attention to this televised PR stunt in which JP Morgan Chase gives away millions of dollars to charity.
In December, 2010, President Obama signed the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which required television broadcasters to turn down the volume on those annoyingly loud commercials that suddenly blast your ears out during your favorite TV shows. The new law ordered broadcasters to air commercials at the same average volume as the TV shows during which they appear. But now, almost two years later, TV commercials are still annoyingly loud. So what happened to the law?
Big food, candy and chemical companies are pouring tens of millions of dollars into fighting California’s Proposition 37, which would require foods be labeled as to whether they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetically-modified foods have their DNA artificially altered in a laboratory, for example Monsanto genetically engineered a type of sweet corn to make it also contain an insecticide. GMOs have been linked to allergies, organ toxicity and other ailments. The problem is, consumers are in the dark about whether the foods they buy contain GMOs because food producers have not been required to identify foods that contain them. Monsanto has paid over $4.3 million to fight Proposition 37, followed by DuPont, ($4 million), Pepsi ($2.1 million), Bayer ($2 million), Dow ($2 million), Coca Cola ($1.69 million), Nestle ($1.46 million) and ConAgra Foods ($1.1 million). Other companies working to defeat the disclosure law include familiar household companies that dominate the grocery stores, like Campbell’s Soup, General Mills, Bumble Bee (tuna), Hershey’s, Heinz, Kellogg, Kraft, Land O’Lakes (butter), McCormick (spices), Nestle (cocoa), Tree Top (apple juice), Smuckers (jam), and Welch’s (grape juice). The big food and chemical companies have hired former tobacco industry operatives to apply big Tobacco’s playbook to fight the initiative. Hiring out professional PR flacks to oppose the measure also distances the companies from the unpopular effort and helps shield their valuable brands from backlash. The “No” campaign is using the tobacco industry tactic of hiding behind a front group made to appear as though it is made up of small businesses, family farmers and the like, to give the public the impression that the anti-37 effort is a “grassroots” campaign by real people. Far from it. The “Yes on 37” campaign points out that many of the wealthy companies secretly bankrolling the fight against Prop. 37 are the same ones that for years assured Americans that cigarettes were safe, and DDT and Agent Orange were harmless.
How do corporations influence entire media markets? A 1995 Philip Morris (PM) document shows one way in which corporations work to influence the larger media to manipulate larger public opinion. The previously-secret document shows that PM hired a Denver-based public relations agency to implement an ambitious and comprehensive plan aimed at influencing Colorado media outlets and thus shift public opinion more in the company’s favor.
The document, titled “PM Media Action Network – Media Plan for Colorado,” was written by public relations firm Russell, Karsch & Hagen, based in Denver. It states:
“[We] will begin to reshape public opinion through the media…” and “…[W]e are confident we can continue to shift the media’s view, and, ultimately the view of the general public…toward issues affecting the industry.”
In keeping with PM’s internal adversarial view of public health efforts to reduce smoking, Russel, Karsch planned to develop a “War Book” of “key issues and message points we believe will be effective in Colorado.”
A new Twitter hashtag has appeared: #RepublicanBooks. Suggested titles include, “Fifty Shades of Nay,” “The Agony Without the Ecstasy,” “Dog on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Animal Factory Farm,” “Crime and No Punishment,” and children’s books like “One Fish, Two Fish, Three for Me, None for You Fish.” Another new hashtag is trending, “DemocratBooks.” Some suggested titles there include, “Little Foreclosed Home on the Prarie,” “Community Organizing for Idiots,” “Sophie’s Mandate,” and “Who Moved my Government Cheese?”
Garbage workers around the world have a physically difficult, smelly job few people want, and typically don’t get much respect or recognition for their efforts, either. So the sanitation department in Hamburg, Germany decided to find a way to improve respect for their workers. With the help of a German advertising agency and a garbage worker who moonlights as an amateur photographer, they came up with a PR campaign that worked to turn Hamburg’s garbage collectors into celebrities. Sanitation workers converted a 290 gallon trash dumpster into a pinhole camera and hauled it around on their routes to places the workers had said they had always wanted to photograph. Dubbed the “TrashCam,” the container had a 0.3-inch pinhole in one side. The workers would open a flap over the pinhole and allow light to project onto a 39 inch by 31 inch piece of photographic paper inside the dumpster, creating a photo. Workers would expose the paper for anywhere from five to 70 minutes, and the photos were developed in a lab later that evening. The result was a series of striking black and white photos that won the sanitation workers a prestigious advertising industry award at the Cannes Lion advertising festival. The photos will be on exhibition starting June 23 at the Axel Springer Passage exhibition space in Hamburg. You can see the photo gallery here.
As corporations continue to flee the embattled American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC is struggling to stop the bleeding with a new a damage-control website called “IStandWithALEC.com,” that blames former Obama administrator Van Jones, George Soros and “Big Labor” for recent woes that have put the group on the hot seat. But as soon as ALEC put up its new site, the controversial group was met with yet another activist challenge: a hilarious, new competing one-page website with the very similar domain name, “IStandWithALEC.org,” that features pictures of Alec Baldwin and says, “I stand with Alec, not ALEC.” The site is filled with funny pictures of Alac Baldwin and statements contrasting how nice Alec Baldwin is and how mean ALEC is, like “Alec Baldwin created a scholarship for low income drama students…ALEC creates scholarships for corporations to funnel money to legislators,” and “Alec likes surfing the web naked,” but “ALEC wants you to pay 750% more for high-speed Internet.” The site asks visitors to “Join our efforts to stand up to front groups like ALEC!” The dueling websites make it clear that anti-ALEC activists aren’t cutting ALEC much slack these days, no matter what corporate PR strategy it tries to try and escape from its death spiral.
Supporters of the effort to get Rush Limbaugh off the airwaves in Missoula, Montana are celebrating another milestone this week: They’ve gotten fully thirty advertisers to pull their ads off Limbaugh’s show on KGVO radio in Missoula. To emphasize that Rush Limbaugh is a bully who is offensive to their community, RushOutOfMissoula.com this week features video of a March, 2012 interview with Michael J. Fox on CNN’s Piers Morgan Show that revisits Limbaugh’s 2006 attack on Fox after Fox made a political ad supporting Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill because of her stand supporting stem cell research. In the ad, Fox displays obvious symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as he twitches and moves awkwardly during the ad. Limbaugh characterized the ad as “shameless,” saying it was “purely an act.” He speculated that Fox was either acting or that he intentionally stopped taking his anti-Parkinson’s medicine prior to making the ad to emphasize the severity of his symptoms and elicit sympathy. The backlash against Limbaugh’s cruel and inappropriate statements about Fox eventually prompted Limbaugh to say he would “apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in his characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act, since people are telling me they have seen him this way on other interviews and in other television appearances.” RushOutOfMissoula.com supporters are moving forward in their efforts to pressure advertisers to leave the show, saying Limbaugh is a bully who exceeds the limits of community norms by vulgarly denigrating others for their political views.
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gained the distinction of putting forth the most bald-faced lies of any candidate ever while running for office. In March, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow devoted a entire 14 minute-long segment to Romney’s remarkable string of lies in which she acknowledged that expectations are low for politician’s honesty in general, but said that to win the presidency, “You have to not be a liar.” Maddow said, “The degree to which Mr. Romney lies all the time about all sorts of stuff and doesn’t care when he gets caught, is maybe the single most notable thing about his campaign.” Maddow documented a long list of statements Romney has made during his campaign that are contradicted by easily-verfiable facts, like his claims that the economy has gotten worse since Obama took over the presidency, or that he never called for a national health care law. Now a perennial politician, Romney has been a public figure for so many years, that there is a clear record of things he has said and positions he’s taken on issues, which makes it relatively easy to document whether what he says now about his past positions is true or not. Romney has dished out frank lies on a huge number of topics in this campaign alone: his record on gay rights, Obama’s trade and tax policies, the tax rate he himself pays, his job creation record, his record on abortion rights, his record as governor of Massachusetts, and many other issues. His string of lies is historic, even in the annals of particularly dirty U.S. politics.
Citizens of Missoula, Montana continue to make headway in their effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the air in that town. Dave Chrismon, head of the grassroots effort and website RushOutOfMissoula.com, reports that seven more businesses have pulled their ads from Limbaugh’s show in the last week, for a total of 27 businesses that have abandoned the show since the group’s effort started in mid-April, 2012. “We’re shaking this bully’s tree!” Chrismon crowed. Remaining advertisers can be seen at this link on RushOutOfMissoula.com, which is tracking advertisers on the show. Local businesses still advertising on Limbuagh’s show include Adair Jewelers, whose owner, Jim Adair, claims he is being “blackmailed” by supporters of RushOutOfMissoula.com and who says the group wants to “take all talk radio off the air.” KGVO, the station that broadcasts Limbaugh in Missoula, has featured Adair on its talk shows as a way to try and defend the station’s keeping Limbaugh on the air amid the firestorm of disapproval of the show. Nationwide businesses that have quit Limbaugh’s show include Home Depot, Sam’s Club, ProActiv, Constant Contact and Legal Zoom. Some of the national businesses that continue to advertise on the show include Allegiant Airlines, Curves (the health club for women), Habitat for Humanity, Max Muscle, Dish Network, Fram Oil Filters, LifeLock and Match.Com.
If your local TV news broadcasts are all starting to sound the same from channel to channel, it’s because they are. A sneaky form of media consolidation is happening all over the country called “covert consolidation” in which different local TV newscasts use the exact same stories, the same video, same scripts and the same viewpoints, but do it under different “brands.” Covert consolidation occurs when a number of TV stations in the same area are owned by a single corporate entity. Broadcasters between the multiple stations will share their news operations to save money. Covert consolidation not only circumvents Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules regarding ownership of stations, it also eliminates independent local journalism and the competition and diversity between stations that are the basis of a healthy democracy. Covert consolidation has been documented in 83 of the nation’s 210 news communities throughout the U.S. as TV stations across the country quietly merge newsrooms to cut costs — all at a time when broadcasters are already making record profits. Covert consolidation is also a factor blocking minorities and women from owning and operating TV stations. Big media companies are using loopholes and backroom deals to get around FCC rules prohibiting media consolidation. To draw attention to the problem of covert consolidation, FreePress.org has created an interactive map showing which stations across the U.S. are consolidated, and the severity of the consolidation. FreePress also offers a free “Change the Channels” tool kit (pdf) people can download to document and record media consolidation in their areas, and instructions for exposing covert consolidation in your own local community.
Main source: FreePress/SaveTheNews.org, May 29, 2012
Activists opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad posted a startling YouTube video of the aftermath of the Syrian government’s May 25, 2012 massacre of 51 children and nearly as many adults. In the video, a man picks up the bodies of the dead and mangled children one at a time. As he shows them to the camera, a voice says “These are children, for God’s sake! Hey, World, look at Assad’s crimes! God is greater than you, you arrogant murderer!” English subtitles translate voices in the video that urge the international community to intervene to save the Syrian people. United Nations officials report Syrian government artillery and tank fire killed more than 90 people total in the district of Houla in the central province of Homs, which has been under almost constant attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for months. Syria’s state-run news agency blamed the massacre on non-specific “armed terrorists.” The Syrian government restricts journalists from entering the country, and since several journalists attempting to cover what has been happening in Syria have lost their lives, amateur videos like this one posted on YouTube are the outside world’s main source of information about what is happening inside Syria. WARNING: The video is graphic.
The Republican front group Compass Colorado is running billboards across the state that link President Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The boards show a photo of President Obama alongside photos of Ahmadinejad and, varyingly, three lesser-known Colorado Democratic Congressional candidates: Representatives Joe Mikloski, Sal Pace and Congressman Ed Perlmutter. Above the photos, text says “Higher gas prices YES! U.S. Energy Independence NO!” The boards fail to mention that the U.S. does not buy any oil from Iran. By using their photos and names next to that of President Obama, Compass Colorado is unwittingly giving the three lesser-known candidates a free boost to their name recognition. Compass Colorado is run by Tyler Q. Houlton, who worked as communications director for former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo gained fame for his February 4, 2010 speech at the National Tea Party Movement Convention in which he said Barack Obama became president because of “people who could not even spell the word ’vote’ or say it in English.” Tancredo then proposed making people take “a civics literacy test” as a prerequisite to voting. Houlton also worked for Rep. Scott McInnis’ failed campaign for governor of Colorado. McInnis’ campaign tanked after journalists revealed McInnis had plagiarized an extensive essay about water law that a nonprofit group had paid him to write. McInnis blamed the plagiarism on an elderly research assistant and refunded the $300,000 to the organization that paid him. Compass Colorado does not reveal its funders.
Main source: Colorado Pols, May 12, 2012
The grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the airwaves in Missoula, Montana reports that as of this week 18 advertisers have pulled their ads off Limbaugh’s local broadcast on KVGO Radio — six more than last week’s total. Dave Chrismon, organizer of RushOutOfMissoula.com, also discovered some advertisers held the mistaken belief that because they purchased packages of ads from KGVO, they had no control over where there ads are placed. This turned out to be untrue. An anonymous KGVO employee told Chrismon the radio station’s computer system can easily keep any business’s ads, or any nonprofit organization’s public service announcements, off Limbaugh’s show while still running them on other shows. Business owners just need to ask KGVO to keep their ads off Limbaugh’s show. On another front, KGVO went into full attack mode last week over what it calls the “Hush Rush” campaign. On Monday, April 30, the station featured a local business owner and Rush supporter on its “Talk Back” program who called RushOutOfMissoula participants “blackmailers” for voicing their opinion about where he should place his ads. The show stimulated a flood of “dittoheads” (Rush Limbaugh supporters) to call the show and verbally abuse business owners who asked that their ads be removed from Limbaugh’s program — but many of those businesses still advertise on KGVO.
The tobacco industry’s front group, “Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending,” is spending millions to run a 30-second TV ad opposing Proposition 29, a ballot measure to increase in the state’s cigarette tax. The ad features an unlikely ally: a female, African-American doctor named LaDonna Porter, M.D. Prop. 29 would increase California’s 87-cent per pack cigarette tax by an additional $1.00 to fund cancer research, smoking reduction programs and enforcement of tobacco-related laws. In the ad, Porter, stands in an examination room wearing a white lab coat and says she’s against smoking, but she finds Proposition 29 flawed. “Not one penny” of the funds generated by the measure will go towards new funding for cancer treatment, Porter says, and she raises the specter that the money could be spent out of state. The ad is consistent with the tobacco industry’s longtime strategy of getting doctors to endorse their products and back their favored policies. Still, it has generated outrage. The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council in Oakland, California sent a scathing open letter to Dr. Porter expressing shock and outrage that she is working for Big Tobacco. It’s not the first time Dr. Porter has worked for Big Tobacco. In 2006, as LaDonna White, she starred in a tobacco industry-backed ad opposing Proposition 86, yet another measure to increase taxes on cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Dr. Porter has also lent her credibility to the pharmaceutical industry to fight an initiative that would have put a dent in drug companies’ profits.
Members of a British Parliament committee have declared 81 year old media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, unfit to lead a major international company. A bipartisan House of Commons parliamentary committee reached the conclusion after issuing a detailed, 125 page report on May 1, 2012, about a phone hacking scandal involving Murdoch’s UK newspaper, the News of the World. The report accuses Rupert Murdoch, his son James and their media company News International, of purposely misleading the government’s investigative committee, intentionally covering up the truth about their paper’s phone hacking scandal and failing to conduct a proper internal investigation of the matter. The MPs wrote that the Murdochs’ “instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions. In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors — including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch — should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.” The MPs found James Murdoch’s “lack of curiosity” and “wilful ignorance” about the scandal “astonishing.” Page 70 of the report states, “We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”