Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: Industry "front groups" aggressively put consumers at risk through stealth PR

Monday, April 07, 2008

Industry "front groups" aggressively put consumers at risk through stealth PR

What do DUI Legislation, Skin Cancer Prevention, and Teachers Unions have in common? Sarah Longwell is fighting against all three!!!

On yesterday's diary, I refuted the April 3rd Anchorage Daily News Compass article on the "evils" of House Bill 19, the Ignition Interlock Bill going through the Alaska Legislature. The article was written by Sarah Longwell, "the managing director of the American Beverage Institute in Washington, D.C., an association of restaurants committed to the responsible serving of adult beverages".

I found that Sarah has been busy with her quest to support the alcohol industry in Tennessee, Pennsylvania and even against DUI checkpoints in California. (Supposedly "roving" checks are more effective because they catch more drunk drivers, while checkpoints are a waste of money because they cause people to drink less because folks know they are there. This is a bad thing, how???)

Interestingly enough, all of these articles have come out in the last 10 days. Like I said, busy, busy, busy...

When I started to look deeper, I was surprised to see that Sarah wears a number of different hats.

She's also publishing articles on behalf of the Indoor Tanning Association claiming there is no proven danger of cancer by tanning and that, in fact, we are just seeing an increase in cancer screenings.

From ABC News:
"While our campaign will be controversial, it's time people learned the truth about sun exposure," Longwell said. "Not only is moderate tanning completely safe, more and more it's becoming just what the doctor ordered."

They regularly (and very conveniently) use the term "melanoma" rather than "cancer" because the direct link between over-exposure to sunlight and that type of fast-growing cancer is still debated among academics...however, not so much with other cancers:
...a recent case-control study of 966 patients (Kennedy, 2003) studying the effect of painful sunburns and lifetime sun exposure on the incidence of several types of skin cancer concluded that lifetime sun exposure is predominantly linked to an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma and to a lesser degree with two common types of basal cell carcinoma.
(While those are much less likely to be fatal, I don't think sporting that healthy glow is worth having my nose cut off down the road.)

Those are just the articles published within this last month.

If we look back a little farther, we'll find her as a point person for the anti-union "The Center for Union Facts, "The Center of Consumer Freedom" the anti-minimum wage and anti-union "Employment Policies Institute," regular panelist for "America's Future Foundation" podcasts, an organization that actively searches for young, conservative voices.

That's a lot of expertise for a girl who got a BA in Political Science from Kenyon College in 2002, eh?

Sarah actually works for the notorious Rick Berman of "Berman & Company".
Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman, represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. Berman & Co. lobbies for companies such as Cracker Barrel, Hooters, International House of Pancakes, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday's, Uno's Restaurants, and Wendy's. It also operates a network of several front groups, web sites, and think tanks that work to keep wages low for restaurants and to block legislation on food safety, secondhand cigarette smoke, and drunk driving.

Here is a 60-Minute fluff piece on Berman from last year (his nickname is "Dr. Evil).

I found it interesting that 60 Minutes didn't mention specifically some of the misinformation he's put out.
- Despite solid research and the position of the National Cancer Institute, Berman has claimed, “[There is a] lack of evidence that second-hand smoke causes cancer.”

- The research director for Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) told a reporter that government statistics confirm that “the drunk driving problem in this country has been reduced to a small hard core of repeat offenders,” yet according to a news report, the majority of arrests are first-timers.

- The Center for Union Facts’ website features a searchable database of the ‘facts’ it proclaims “union leaders don’t want you to know.” The Center claims to have 12.5 million of these facts, but much of the data presented on its website range from misleading to downright false.

Berman has been a part of several scandals, one included ties to Newt Gingrich:
- Berman was linked to the ethics scandal that nearly toppled former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. In 1993, on the same day Berman testified against tougher drunk driving regulations, he donated $25,000 to fund a college course taught by Gingrich at Kennesaw State College. Berman enclosed the check with a handwritten a note: “Newt, thanks again for the help on today's committee hearing.”

Another involves questionable connections betweens Berman's lobbying finances and his non-profits, according to Mark Matthews, reporter for KGO, the ABC TV affiliate in San Francisco:
Berman wouldn't talk with us about how his non-profits are connected financially to his lobbying business, and his research director (David Martosko) didn't tell us. 'I don't know the firms that send the Center for Consumer Freedom money. I don't want to know. It's not my business to know.' ... The most recent available tax records for the Center for Consumer Freedom show in 2004 Berman and Co. took in a million-and-a-half dollars from the Center for Consumer Freedom. ... Representative Pete Stark of Fremont, calls Berman's operation an abuse."

They've had internet domain names stripped for trying to hijack internet traffic:
A trade association representing chain restaurants and taverns has surrendered the domain names of two sites designed to hijack web traffic away from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the pro-nutrition advocacy group. The trade association, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), had registered cspinot.com, where it attacked CSPI and it's web site, cspinet.org. CCF had also purchased smartmouth.org, a domain name almost identical to that of Smart-Mouth.org, where CSPI provides information for children about nutrition and food marketing.

Berman proudly touts his favorite strategy for defeating his opponents: “The fact is that [activists] drive consumer behavior on meat, alcohol, fat, sugar, tobacco and caffeine ... Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger ... [We've] got to attack their credibility as spokespersons.”

I hope that I've successfully done the same to both their credibility and their messages.


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