The Water Environment Federation (WEF), the sewage sludge industry trade group that invented the Orwellian PR euphemism "biosolids" for toxic sludge in 1991, is now "rebranding" sewage treatment plants as "water resource recovery facilities." The PR spin conveniently glosses over the toxic sewage sludge removed from the water and then heated and dumped on land for crops and grazing as "fertilizer" or misleadingly called "compost." The toxins in sludge can then bioaccumulate in the meat and dairy we eat and be taken up by the food plants that feed us.
The Public Relations Society of America, the trade group for the American public relations industry, and Jack O'Dwyer, who has specialized in reporting on the PR industry for over 40 years, are at war, and the battle is getting heated -- and harmful for PRSA.
Why should people care about this obscure fight? Because the conflict is a microcosm of the battle against the unethical and harmful PR trends that are hurting this country.
Synagro Technologies is the latest big corporation trying to ditch a scandal-ridden past by re-branding itself. In an August 10, 2011 press release, the company announced it is launching a new website as part of a "rebranding initiative." The press release says the initiative "is a reflection of the enhanced and growing service and solution offerings that have resulted from organic growth and recent acquisitions." Of course, the press release fails to mention the back-to-back scandals that have plagued Synagro since 2008 as well as earlier controversies.
Synagro is in the business of marketing sewage sludge as "compost," or, as the company's new, PR-approved website puts it, "Transforming natural waste challenges into sustainable, planet-friendly solutions." The company is a subsidiary of the Carlyle Group, the largest private equity firm in the world. Carlyle is also a sizeable part of the military-industrial complex with ties to numerous national politicians, including former British Prime Minister John Major, Alice Albright (daughter of former Secretary of State Madelyn Albright), and both George W. and George H.W. Bush.
Almost two years ago, former health insurance PR executive Wendell Potter published his tell-all book, Deadly Spin, about the deceptive media campaigns and PR trickery the health insurance industry uses to beat back meaningful health care reform in the U.S. Potter pointed out the striking similarities between the insurers' tactics and those the tobacco industry applied for decades to delay regulation and confuse people about the health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke. These manipulative PR tactics held off meaningful tobacco regulation for over 40 years, and also proved highly successful for the insurance industry, which used the same strategies to defeat true health care reform. Now Al Gore is pointing out that the energy, steel and utility industries are applying those same, tricky and time-worn PR strategies to confuse people about global warming and delay efforts to address it.
It's our responsibility as journalists to let the public know who is paid by what corporation, or if they're representing the government. Otherwise, it's unforgivable. The media is our lens on the world. And it is absolutely critical we trust the media. Because, ultimately, when people are terrorized, when people are targeted, when people are marginalized, that does not make any of us safer.
- Amy Goodman, interview in "Programming the Nation?" documentary
On July 11, Chesapeake Energy, the second largest methane gas corporation in the United States, announced its "bold new plan": a "Declaration of Energy Independence" for America's energy future. ("Natural gas" is the public relations term the industry uses for methane gas, because it sounds so much more appealing than the real name.)
The plan is double-pronged and will no doubt lead to increased levels of fracking, the process drilling companies use to extract methane gas in areas like the Marcellus Shale and other shale deposits throughout the country. Fracking is a dirty process, as indicated by the Center for Media and Democracy's ongoing look into the state-by-state and federal legislative push for domestic gas drilling.
The American Legislative Exchange Council's Annual Meetings and Task Force Summits are held in some of the nation's top travel destinations, at swanky hotels where state legislators and corporate executives enjoy lavish accommodations and exclusive excursions.
Ridge, now 65 years-old, has worn multiple hats throughout his extensive political career.
Among them: first-ever head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Bush Administration from 2003-2005, former Governor of Pennsylvania from 1995-2001, and former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from from 1983-1995.
I turned 43 a couple of weeks after I joined CIGNA in 1993. One of the birthday gifts from my new colleagues was a framed, three-word quote by E. B. White: "Be obscure clearly."
We laughed and laughed. It was an inside joke -- and a perfect present for an HMO PR guy who more than a few times had to be obscure when responding to media inquiries. Reporters always wanted more information than I dared give them, but I had to give them something. Hence the need to follow White's sage advice.
That quote, by the way, was in Elements of Style, the classic 1959 book on writing that White co-authored with William Strunk, Jr. White was not actually recommending obscure writing. He was just saying that if for some reason you felt you could not tell the whole truth, if there was no choice but to be obscure, at least use the active voice and proper grammar while doing it.