How Do Bloggers Know When a Publicist is a Liar?

This morning I noticed an interesting piece at the Edelman Blog about Ryan Holiday’s Book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. I’ve not read the book. I know that he pulled a stunt with one of the journo sites earlier this month so I was curious as to what the content might be and when Edelman wrote this:

 Holiday begins by describing “a scam called trading up the chain. I can turn nothing into something by placing a story with a small blog that has very low standards, which then becomes a story for a larger blog and that in turn for a story by larger media outlets.” Holiday’s media landscape begins with small hyper-local websites that are understaffed and traffic-starved. He then moves the story on to the online versions of legacy media, sister sites such as Mainstreet.com, which update often but have less editorial oversight. Finally one gets to the national media. Holiday contends, “This takes less direct pushing and a lot more massaging…the smaller sites will submit your articles to news aggregator sites like Digg…mass media monitors the aggregators for story ideas and cover what is trending there.” He suggests reverse-engineering a story path; knowing that mediabistro and Gawker are heavily read by the “New York Media” set, you “craft your story for those sites.”

A lightbulb went on over my head. In fact it was accompanied by dinging sounds and colored lights. I realized (not for the first time) that Mom Bloggers in particular are targeted by trust me liars every day.

Most often it’s fairly benign with folks being duped into thinking that a product performs differently than it does. Recently the Corn Refiners had a group of Mom Bloggers believing that “Corn Sugar” (the new name for High Fructose Corn Syrup) is somehow good for you… or at least not bad. America’s waistline suggests otherwise but we don’t need to have that debate today. The Corn Refiners succeeded in making a small group of smart women look gullible and untrustworthy. When the two groups of people (bloggers and publicists) walked into that room one of them had a plan.

Yesterday quite a few parenting bloggers got the following email from the kids at O’Malley Hansen Communications:

Hi, [redacted]:

I am contacting you on behalf of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI).

I’d love to discuss an initiative/project we’d be thrilled to have you be a part of. Given your expertise and platform, we’re really confident you would be a perfect fit for an educational (yet entertaining) video project regarding modern farming practices and consumer concerns. I am happy to share more information/discuss your potential involvement further at your convenience.

Essentially, we’re seeking a “consumer representative” to ask experts questions about modern farming and GM crops/food. The video will not be scripted and we hope to simply create a discussion between you and a specific expert.

Please feel free to give me a call or let me know when a good time is to chat. This should be a really interesting project that has a significant impact. You will have an opportunity to represent thousands of consumers/moms with families to feed and ask important questions about farming, food supply, etc.

Specifically, we want you to ask questions regarding the nutrtional implications.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

314.xxx.xxxx

Modern farming! Why yes, who doesn’t have questions about that? It’s not like you drive past a red barn and see pigs rolling around in muck anymore. Farming has become industrial and our food looks different now than it did just a few years ago. Why? Well because folks like Monsanto make products like roundup to kill weeds. The problem with killing weeds is that it also kills plants you want to grow. The solution? Well, you can create new plants in a laboratory (which should NOT be confused with creating a hybrid) with altered RNA that will not be affected when toxins like RoundUp are sprayed over the fields.

Another cool things that scientists can do with crops is to sterilize them. These alterations in plants create Genetically Modified Organisms. Much has been written about GMOs. On the softer side of the news they tend to bankrupt farmers. You see the soy and corn they buy can’t produce seeds so the farmers are beholden to the scientists that create the seeds each year. This is not sustainable.

The Atlantic has a nice article about some of the dangers of genetically modified foods. If you don’t feel like reading it I’ll give you part of the punchline: cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and infertility.

So what does this have to do with  O’Malley Hansen Communications, The Center for Food Integrity and  Trust Me, I’m Lying?

Well, if I connect the dots appropriately I see that O’Malley Hansen Communications is inviting mom bloggers to be on camera asking scientists questions about farming on behalf of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI). Why wouldn’t they ask a FARMER about farming? Well, because farmers can’t answer questions about RNA and food safety and farmers are probably terrified of CFI because the members of CFI include giants like Monsanto that can make a farm disappear. Having a blogger ask the questions may look like an endorsement to the casual viewer. Mommy endorses GMOs! PR wins… health loses.

This is all very curious timing. Here in California we’ve put Prop 37 on the Ballot. Prop 37 would require packaged foods that contain GMOs to be labeled as such. KPCC has a list of folks who have donated money for and against Prop 37. There’s a bit of overlap between the two lists with Bimbo bakeries being the one with the largest overlap donation at $17,783.28. The CFI can’t help the con side without some level of disclosure so I’m sure that one has nothing to do with the other. I’m CERTAIN getting a news story placed about how GMOs are safe has nothing to do with the fact that Prop 37 has huge support here in California and no one is saying you can’t have GMOs, all they want is for consumers to know where they are.

Moms, what I’m telling you is that this isn’t a coincidence. Do NOT go on camera with a scientist to talk about food. Ask a farmer that doesn’t have a publicist. Promise them anonymity and get a real story. If you love your children (and I know you do) you won’t ignore the fact that $1,186,000 has been spent by The Council for Biotechnology Information, The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Dupont, and BASF Plant Science to prevent YOU THE CONSUMER from knowing when a Genetically Modified Organism is in your food.

If it didn’t matter would they spend the money?

Everyone knows that the moms matter. It’s an election year ladies, let’s stay smart and learn from Ryan Holiday about the publicists who are liars.

If you’d like to join the grass roots campaign to Label GMOs please go to CaRightToKnow.org and pledge your support. We need you. 

Facebook Comments

  • Leah Segedie

    Here’s my translation of that email:

    “Hi Mommy Blogger!I’d like to involve you in something
    EXTREMELY political and very unpopular. I’m hoping that your platform
    will lend some credibility to my pathetic attempt to create warm fuzzies
    with mommy bloggers and genetically modified foods. I really don’t
    think mommy bloggers are very intelligent and nor do any of the members
    of The Center for Food Integrity. This is why we are reaching out to
    your guys in attempt to involve you in the opposition campaign for
    labeling GMOs.  We want to put you in a room with an “expert” and have
    him indoctrinate you ON VIDEO with why genetically modified foods are
    wonderful for the environment and why you should feed them to your
    children every day of the week. And we think that if we do this, your
    followers will do the same. (At least we hope they will.)And if i
    talk to you on the phone, I will reassure you that this has NOTHING to
    do with the Labeling GMO movement. I have to lie. It’s my job. Our firm
    has decided to be completely NON-transparent in how we represent our
    client. At least for now. But I’m sure when this all comes to pass and
    you are ridiculed by the blogging community for participating, I’ll
    ignore all your emails and pretend you don’t exist.Hope we can
    set up a time to chat! I’d REALLY love to involve you with the
    opposition to the labeling GMO movement. We have in between $60-100
    million to spend from now till November to confuse people. And boy, do
    we love to do that! *snickers*Have a great week!”I do hope none of MY friends fall for this. Oh, please please please…
     

    • Ronald Vaughan

      What about publicists who announce “secret” celebrity marriages? And then refuse to give any details.

      Are they not liars? Of course they are!

  • I was approached once a few years back from a company, I think it was Coke, who wanted me to hype the benefits of soda as a convient and healthy choice for busy mothers. Seriously? Yeah, I want to work with companies who have budgets but . . . come on. 

  • I have only just begun looking at the dangers of GMOs and it turns my stomach… I honestly didn’t even realize just how sickening it is… 

  • “If it didn’t matter would they spend the money?”

    Exactly. Label the food and let us make our own decisions about whether or not to feed it to our families.

  • Mnmspecial

    It can be so easy to not see it coming. I’m glad you covered this to help educate bloggers on the dangers of jumping on offers especially with such high stakes like this.

  • interesting 

  • Andrea Kruse

    Ah, yes. But don’t think that small farming is dead. My husband’s family is still doing it. Family owned with our own market, etc. The truth is not only are those “round-up ready” plants like beets easy for big industry to use, but it hurts the smaller farmers and puts us out of business. We grow beets (not for sugar, the good ‘ole fashioned eating kind!) and might have to stop the tradition because only round-up ready seeds will be available. Why? Smaller farmers don’t buy in the quantities that corporate farms do. Seeds cater towards the big guys.

    Sad to hear that bloggers are being used. It is a tough field and many of us (small bloggers) are just trying to cover costs and supplement staying-at-home. 

    The bottom line is a relationship. Know the farmer who grows your food, not a faceless brand. Get to know your local food. As a blogger have a relationship with your contacts. Take the time to sift through all the offers and know who is pitching you.

    • Leah Segedie

      Andrea, btw…beet are one of my favorite thing to put in a salad. I’m sooooo glad you commented. Love to hear your perspective on this.

  • Wow.  I feel like I need a shower.  I hate being used.  Such a great piece – will share.

  • Jen

    Thank you. I was wondering if I’d get to feel enraged today, and now I know the anser — yes. THis is one of the best pieces of yours that I’ve read, Jessica. 

    • Jen

      Whoops; I actually DO know how to spell “answer.”  :/

  • Thank you for sharing this – we need to be so careful as bloggers who were giving our precious time and traffic to.  Scary that people know exactly how to manipulate the ‘system’ and this is a great example of it.  

  • Christina Simon

    I’m always astounded at the pitches I get for my blog that have nothing to do with what I write about (LA private schools) and that seem so suspect I delete them with the hope that other bloggers do the same. That Holiday strategy is so sleazy. 

  • Integrity doesn’t mean what it used to.

  • Stacie

    That’s horrible. I hope that if anyone does decide to participate, they know exactly what they are doing (believe it or not, I do know some people that are against GMO labelling). I think it’s disgusting that they would lie and twist the truth like that to trick people. :(
    Great post, thank you for helping keep people in the know.

  • TheJoshuaWilner

    Media Manipulator- that just feels slimy to me. I never want to be known as a manipulator, it is a kinder way of calling someone a liar.

    The issue I see here is a need for people to be accountable and to spend some time vetting what they see/read/hear. Call me a cynic, but I don’t have much hope.

    Too many people like to let others think for them.

  • Thank you for this!

  • So glad you are writing about this. I think everyone should see the movie “Food Inc.” It really opened up my eyes to what is going on with our food, and it is not good! I live in OK and have several friends who grew up in OK and AR on farms and they said Monsanto is taking over. Their parents fought as long as they could and finally either broke down and used their GMO seeds or sold their farms. Very sad for all of us. Shop your local farmers’ markets! 

    • I live in Oklahoma also. Chicken farms and corn crops are taking over aren’t they? I’m with you – self-grown or locally produced as much as possible!

  • That pitch was such B.S!  At first it looked somewhat noble, until I researched CFI and asked them who the “experts” were who bloggers would be interviewing (the answer was scientists who have developed and improved GMOs…shocker).  Thanks for this article & reaffirming my hunch that this was a bad idea!

  • Xfb17

    Interesting finding!

  • Thank you for your article. I totally agree. I only purchase heirloom seeds, but I am just a home gardener. I don’t want genetically produced anything on my families’ plate. Thanks again.

  • Harold Gardner

    This article feels a bit manipulative.  Are you aware of any evidence that GMO’s have injured anyone?  Can you cite peer reviewed research that gives evidence that GMO’s cause “cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and infertility.”  

    We have decided we want cheap, safe food and technical advances are the only way to make that happen.  Getting fruits and vegetables into children makes much more difference than any US food supply chain issues.

    • Michele L.

      Food supply chain issues are at the core of this problem.  In the past 50 years since these ‘technical advances’ have taken over, the US population has gotten sicker & fatter.  Our healthcare costs are out of control and bankrupting us.  The current food system has many hidden costs, the government has virtually NO control to shut down facilities who can’t or refuse to control salmonella or E. Coli contamination, and poor poeple have to choose fast food over healthy food (vegetables) because of government policy which keeps commodity foods (corn, soy & wheat) at superficially low prices.

      There are a handful of companies who control 90% of our food.  While they get rich, the rest of us pay for it through our taxes (farm subsidies), environmental clean-up, and high healthcare/insurance costs.

      I can’t speak for the safety of GMO’s, but I do know that they system currently in place is highly in favor of a few corporations, not the public interest, and that’s dangerous to our economy, our political system and the livelihood and future of US farming.

      So, who you you work for?  Cargill, Montanto, Dupont….???

      • Agreed, his comment reeks of “I am a Monsanto employee”

      • Amy

        Not that I don’t agree with some of the things you’ve said, but couldn’t help myself. I’m a butcher, well a full service meat processor (on a small scale) under USDA inspection.  Just wanted to try to reassure you that FSIS has a great deal of control over our facilities when it comes to pathogens and can (and does) shut us (as a whole, not us specifically) down and/or force us to continually improve our control of these pathogens.  It may not always appear that way through the wording of regulations but in practice it is a bit more complicated.

    •  Cheap, safe, safe food has been happening since time began. Technical advances do not make it happen. References? Plenty:

      The Politics of Food

      Monday 17 January 2011
      Standing Toe to Toe with the Apologists for Industrial Farming Tonight
      I am going to talk in a broad way about the politics of food and to
      examine the assumptions made by the apologists for industrial
      agriculture. I think it’s important when we come…

      http://www.westonaprice.org/farm-a-ranch/the-politics-of-food

  • I’ve been amazed at how much money the top GMO producers are offering.  I had one pitch last year from a soybean company (they partner with Monsanto) who didn’t want me to use their brand name at all, just to talk about how good soy protein is for your health.  I turned it down of course, but wow they offered good money.  ALWAYS do your research before accepting something from a PR person.

  • The entire GMO topic completely freaks me out. Thank you for writing about this, I haven’t been asked to participate but I have heard that the emails are going around the mom blogging world!

  • greenandcleanmom

    Jessica, I really enjoyed this article and how you just put it all out there and connected the dots. It is easy to get a PR pitch or even a blogger friend working with a a company or network that asks you for a favor and it all sounds good so you say yes. Except that yes probably needs to be evaluated and over the last year I’ve had to really stop and think more about what I say yes to because of the deceptive emails. It is hard to know who to trust and not trust. 

  • Kia

    Sneaky, sneaky CFI. Thanks for whistle-blowing this before some bloggers got in a bind.

  • RayProck

    Jessica

    I would love to offer your readers to contact me either on Twitter @rayprock or through my blog at http://www.raylindairy.com my family has a dairy in central CA. Meeting other parents and those who eat the food from my farm is something I really like doing.

  • Wow. Good for you for blowing the whistle. But REMEMBER, this also illustrates how INFLUENTIAL the Mom voice is. We have power. Thank you for reminding us to use it for good. 

  • Amy

    I’m a farmer and a mom. I’m not afraid to be asked questions on camera and give my honest answers in front of anyone and everyone who will listen. :-) But, it isn’t my answers that we farmers want to know or need to hear. We’re growing food for you.  You are our customer. We truly want to hear from you (the public at large, generally speaking).  I want to know what questions you have so I can make my food even better.  I want happy customers.  How can I get that (on a large scale) without this type open forum? We farmers are few. We need help getting this type of feedback.

  • RayProck

    Awesome to see you two connect Amy is a no.B.S. straight shooter that I respect a lot.

  • CommonGround Kansas

    Hi Jessica, 

    As farmers and moms, we understand how important it is that we grow safe, healthy food. Just like any other mom, we want to feel confident in what we’re feeding our families. 

    It’s perfectly normal to have questions about food and farming, especially since the majority of Americans are several generations removed from agriculture. There are so many hot topics in the media and it can be overwhelming to decipher what’s credible or not. 

    We definitely support your idea of asking a farmer about your food questions. Our volunteers are here for exactly that purpose. We’ll share with you how we grow crops and raise livestock on our farms and ranches. Most importantly, we’re open minded: We won’t tell you how or what to eat. Instead, we’ll have a conversation with you and provide a friendly resource to help you make informed decisions about what you put on the table for your family. 

    As volunteers, we are free to share our own stories — completely unscripted. We have a great library of food facts, including information on GMOs, at http://findourcommonground.com/. 

    Please let us know if you ever want to visit with a farm mom about how we raise food. We’ll be glad to share how we do it on our farms. 

    All the best, 
    The volunteers of CommonGround Kansas

    • I read your FAQ on GMO foods and I understand that you’re allegedly a group of women who work in agriculture. 

      Equating a hybrid to a GMO is simply dishonest. 

      I’m sorry, but I simply don’t trust “The volunteers of CommonGround Kansas”… who happen to have a domain registered by proxy. 

      • CommonGround Kansas

        Thanks for checking out the website and sharing your opinions. We are very lucky to live in a nation where we can form our own ideas and be open about how we feel. The same goes for being able to make decisions about the food we eat. How fortunate that we can choose what we feel is best for our families! 

        The folks who built the national website did a great deal of research to gather facts from reputable, research-based sources. We revisited the FAQ section you’re referring to and noticed that it doesn’t actually allege that a hybrid and a GMO are the same thing. The statement … “Farmers and gardeners have been creating plant hybrids for as long as they’ve been growing plants. Biotechnology simply serves as a more technologically advanced method.” … is simply a way to help folks understand that science has been working to improve plants in different ways for a very long time. 

        That being said, it’s still OK to be skeptical. We definitely encourage folks to do their homework and seek out data from sources you can trust. 
        As volunteers, we don’t maintain the national website, so we’re not totally sure why the domain is registered by proxy. We understand your concern in trusting a domain registered as such. However, you’ll see that our program is funded by checkoff dollars from America’s corn and soybean farmers. That means that farmers just like us contribute a portion of the money we receive for selling our crops. This money funds the program, but we do not receive any compensation for giving our time to talk to folks via social media and in person. There’s not a corporation behind the program. Just real farmers. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that we have organic farmers on our team of volunteers. If you’re interested, we would be happy to connect you with those ladies. It’s totally OK if you don’t feel comfortable bringing questions to CommonGround volunteers, but we definitely encourage folks like yourself to seek out a farmer in your area to whom you can direct questions. That’s what we’re all about — creating dialogue between farmers and folks off the farm. Whether that’s with us or other farmers, it doesn’t matter. We just want to get folks talking about food and farming. 

        Thanks for taking the time to visit the site. We wish you the best in your blogging efforts. We’re always here if you have questions. 

        Sincerely, 
        The volunteers of CommonGround Kansas

  • texanmama

    I’m probably a pessimist but I feel like… anytime I’m contacted by an organization or group to do something for them, it’s not because they’re trying to act out of the goodness of their hearts or because they want to be good citizens. 10 times out of 10, it is because they will profit or benefit in some substantial way by me doing the work for them.

    If I’d been contacted by this group (I was not but I do get solicitations from groups pretty regularly) I would assume that they wanted me to do the work for them under the guise of it being my own opinion. I’m not trying to be a smart-ass, but are there mom bloggers out there who really fall for this from companies? Are there really people with a decent size readership who take companies on their word right out of the box?

    If there are, shame on them. Unfortunately, the days of internet ethics are fading fast. Scratch that – the days of professional ethics (internet or otherwise) are fading fast. I guess some mom bloggers are too trusting. But I appreciate your reminder that we need to be aware of this kind of threat to our reputation.

  • Interesting post. I guess my first though on this is, great! I look at it as a chance for the moms to ask questions directly from the source. I often try to pick the brains of my non farming friends because I know that I have a bias and that others see things differently than I do. I know that the only way to understand the other points of view is to ask! 
    As a farmer, I am not afraid of CFI or Monsanto for that matter. I will admit that I don’t fully understand GMO’s. My focus on our farm has always been the cows, more than the crops. However, if I had the choice between asking another farmer about GMOs or one of the scientists that has worked on creating GMO’s, I choose the scientist. Who better to get the information from than the source? 

    • A scientist who ha no stake in things either way might be useful?

      • But that scientist isn’t going to be as knowledgeable about GMO’s as the ones who have actually worked on the project. I also don’t believe that a scientist would out and out lie about what they are doing. They can answer the questions you ask with the facts and you can come up with your own conclusions from there.

        • I believe that people show bias when their bank accounts are involved.

          • A bias is one thing, we all have them, I don’t believe that bias= lies. The proposed discussion from CFI doesn’t mean that these scientists are going to lie to the bloggers. It’s the start of a conversation and it’s one of the most important conversations for all of us to be having. Many groups from both sides are working hard to get the conversations going, that’s what I see this as. These bloggers can ask the questions they want answers to, they can seek knowledge from people who know. I am really grateful for conversations like the CFI/Mommy blogger convo, because it will inspire other conversations such as the one you and I are having. The more conversations  we have the better we all understand each other and our food. 

            I see that my original comment is still flagged for review. Any chance you can unflag it? 

        • As an aside… Do you have family in WI? I know Gottlieb isn’t a super uncommon last name but I am related by marriage to some of the Gottlieb family :) 

          • Married name. No clue. ;)

          • Darn, if you were related to would be married into the family of one of the most amazing cabinet makers! 

  • Fantastic post! Hopefully, we can spark change to make people be honest about their intentions and our food.