Public Relations

Big Soda Uses Philanthropy to Silence Opposition, Neutralize Soda Taxes

Pepsi productsAs evidence mounts linking sugar consumption to increasing rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, the soda industry is fighting back, in part by ramping up philanthropy and developing partnerships. After the Philadelphia City Council introduced a measure to add a two-cent tax on soda, the soda industry's lobbying group, the American Beverage Association created the "Foundation for a Healthy America," a new front group that donated $10 million to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia -- to expand its obesity program. The soda tax would have raised about $20 million for obesity prevention programs plus even more money for the city's general fund. Despite this, the soda tax proposal fizzled and Philadelphia's City Council declined to revisit the issue. In a similar move, Coca Cola funded a North Carolina School of Public Health campaign against childhood obesity. The slogan? "Everything in moderation." Even the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a report titled (pdf) "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future," which contains an odd "personal perspective" written by Pepsi CEO, Indra Nooyi, that reads like a press release. Nooyi boasts about Pepsi's partnership with the YMCA, promotes the company's "responsible advertising" and a self-regulatory project in which the company apparently monitors its own advertising to children under 12.

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The Front Group Hall of Shame Gets a New Inductee

Insurance moneyToday will go down in the public relations history books as the day health insurers and their allies began a coordinated campaign to ensure that the health care reform law is implemented in ways that will benefit them way more than the rest of us. Today is the day they plan to launch their brand new front group -- drum roll, please -- the Choice and Competition Coalition (CCC). But first, a bit of context.

In a chapter of my book, Deadly Spin, entitled "The Playbook," I explain the remarkable track record that big corporations and their lobbyists have in getting the American public to buy the bill of goods they're selling. They bring out the Playbook, I note, for a single objective: to influence public policy by manipulating public opinion.

The Playbook comprises a set of activities that have long worked beautifully for industries fighting proposed new laws, regulations or taxes that are designed to make them behave in more socially responsible ways.

Insurers' Cost of Doing Business Costs Us Dearly

Wendell Potter, CMD's insurance industry insiderSince you likely don't pay as much attention to the behavior of insurance companies as I do, you probably are not aware that CIGNA, my last employer, was fined $600,000 by the North Carolina Department of Insurance earlier this week for, among other things, not charging its customers correctly.

It was the second largest fine ever levied by the state's regulators, the largest being a $1.8 million fine in 2003 against Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina for underpaying claims for emergency care. The news about the CIGNA fine was picked up by a few media outlets in the state, but not many, and it got almost no press coverage outside of the state. In addition to the fine CIGNA has been ordered to pay, the company will have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars in refunds to North Carolina employers whom regulators say were charged too much over a three-year period.

Attacking the Messenger: Smearing "Gasland" Producer Josh Fox

Josh FoxGasland, a documentary film that exposes the dangers accompanying methane gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region, has been mercilessly attacked by Big Oil since the film was released during the summer of 2010. The attacks have only escalated both in intensity and volume as the film has grown in popularity and acclaim, reaching their peak when it was announced that the film was a candidate for Best Documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards.

While most of the spin has centered around factual misinformation about fracking, utilizing the prototypical Big Oil, Big Lies playbook tactic, Big Oil has now raised the stakes. In lieu of lying about how "environmentally friendly" the fracking process is, they have shifted to the propagandist's last resort: shooting the messenger.

The Looming Assault on UW-Madison

Op-Ed by Steve Horn, Madison, Wisconsin -- This is a story about Scott Walker and Biddy Martin's efforts to dismantle the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To complete the corporatization of the public's university is an important piece of what is happening both in Madison and nationwide. This story must be told before it is too late to save the university that belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and while democratic momentum is still on our side at the University, in Madison, and in the state of Wisconsin. Although seemingly specific to the UW, this is a case study about the future of public college education nationwide.

EPA's Oil Dispersant Ignorance Again on Display

Back in July, 2010 PRWatch noted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ignorance about the potential for ecological damage from BP dumping millions of gallons of oil dispersants into the Gulf to try to limit damage from the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout. Yesterday, scientists released a report that re-confirmed the EPA's voluntary ignorance.

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"Gasland" Up for Best Feature Documentary At Oscars

Oscar statueGasland, the documentary produced and directed by Josh Fox, is up for an Oscar for Best Documentary in the Feature Category.

The film put the harms associated with natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in the national limelight and begat a propaganda campaign by Energy in Depth (EID). EID, for those who have not heard of it, is a pro-oil-and-gas drilling industry front group formed by the American Petroleum Institute.

Like their "Debunking Gasland" campaign, thoroughly debunked by Kevin Grandia of DeSmogBlog as an absurd misinformation campaign, EID is at it again, this time in the form of an idiotic smear campaign.

"Clean Natural Gas?" Not So Fast.

Acquiring "clean natural gas" and "getting off of foreign oil" are pitched as reasons to continue natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. And yet, beyond all the problems associated with fracking, Pro Publica's Abrahm Lustgarten revealed in a January 25, 2011 article that "clean natural gas" isn't all that clean after all. Lustgarten writes,

The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil. But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency … is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change … Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future …The EPA now reports that emissions from conventional hydraulic fracturing are 35 times higher than the agency had previously estimated. It also reports that emissions from the type of hydraulic fracturing being used in the nation’s bountiful new shale gas reserves, like the Marcellus, are almost 9,000 times higher than it had previously calculated …"

Environmental groups say we should be certain of the factual data about emissions and environmental effects of shale gas drilling before making major policy decisions that push the nation into dependence on methane gas obtained through drilling.

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Wendell Potter's Book Tour Visits Snowbound Madison

On Monday, January 17, over one hundred brave souls trudged through several inches of Wisconsin snow to see Wendell Potter, Center for Media and Democracy's (CMD) Senior Fellow on Health Care, visit Madison's Goodman Community Center as part of his cross-country tour signing Deadly Spin: An insurance company insider speaks out on how corporate PR is killing health care and deceiving A

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