1.GMO advocate's "dirty little... secrets" - Jonathan Matthews
2.Money Funny - Sheldon Rampton
3.The battle of the activist groups - Lene Johansen
Now here's a funny thing. A little while back Prof David Miller who heads SpinWatch - an organisation which challenges government and corporate propaganda - raised concerns over a Reuters piece that failed to make it clear that Florence Wambugu was a professional GM lobbyist and that her "African" GM sorghum project was heavily backed by a subsidiary of the American GM giant DuPont.
As a result of the concerns Miller raised, Reuters republished the article to make clear that the views described were those of a "GMO advocate" who "promotes biotechnology" and that an American GM corporation was involved in the project. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6007
Reuters corrections were not to the taste of the journalist Lene Johansen, it seems (see below). Johansen, who's written a number of pieces on biotech for the St Louis Business Journal, used her website to accuse those reporting the story of failing to "run the expose on Center for Media & Democracy (CMD) as well. CMD runs SpinWatch. Check out CMD's dirty little funding secrets at ActivistCash.com."
But CMD - the publishers of PR Watch - don't run or fund SpinWatch. As for ActivistCash.com, it's the product of the febrile imagination of Washington booze, baccy and biotech lobbyist, Rick Berman, who takes money from Monsanto amongst many others.
Berman & Co's "kill the messenger" PR campaigns are nothing if not lurid. This is the firm that declared that the charity of the British and Irish churches - Christian Aid - was a "far-left leaning" group of "flakes" that "flat-out lies about GE foods" while hiding "behind a religious facade"!!!
Johansen suggests on her website that biotech news is in reality driven by "activists from various factions". But it gets a bit more disturbing when the journalists reporting that news turn out to have undisclosed interests and affiliations. In Johansen's case, if you scrutinise the source page for her website, you'll see that in addition to such predictable key words for a science writer as "byline, journalist, columnist... bio technology, gene," and "nano", it also contains "eudoxa... hayek, ayn rand, individualism, libertarian, capitalism, capitalist, dynamist, dynamism." You get the picture.
Now, what makes us think that when Johansen turns out pieces as a science writer for the likes of the St Louis Business Journal, she fails to expose her own enthusiasm for and affiliations to right wing ideologies and corporate-funded GM-supporting think tanks?
Funnily enough, Johansen seems to have considered plying her wares for Reuters. On her website she writes, "the choice I made between the St. Louis Business Journal and Reuters last November was indeed the best choice." Given Reuters apparent willingness to point out when the information in their pieces is coming from a "GMO advocate" who "promotes biotechnology", she may well be right to have opted instead for Monsanto's home town business rag. "Lene Johansen, far right GMO advocate" would make a more honest but less reassuring byline for readers than "LJ, science writer", although it might alert them to the fact that they were dealing with someone who seems incapable of factual accuracy!
Oh, and just so all affiliations are on the table, Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch is a contributing editor to SpinWatch (perhaps that's the dirty little secret Johansen failed to spot?), though Johansen shouldn't conclude from that that we therefore fund either SpinWatch or the Center for Media and Democracy!
Sheldon Rampton, 07/10/2006
We got an email from Eveline Lubbers today, asking, "Could you please let us know when the money will come?"
Eveline works with a Europe-based group called SpinWatch, whose activities there are broadly similar to the work that we do in the United States at the Center for Media and Democracy. SpinWatch monitors the European PR industry, corporate lobbying, front groups, government spin, propaganda and other tactics used by powerful groups to manipulate media, public policy debate and public opinion.
Eveline's joke about having us send money came after she came across a blog posting by Lene Johansen, who also writes for a couple of conservative, corporate-funded think tanks including Tech Central Station. Johansen said that CMD "runs SpinWatch" and urged people to "check out CMD's dirty little funding secrets at ActivistCash.com."
For the record, CMD does not run SpinWatch, and we won't be sending Eveline a check, much as we think she deserves one...
As for CMD's "dirty little funding secrets," they're not secrets. As we have reported in the past, ActivistCash.com is run by Rick Berman, a Washington lobbyist for the tobacco, booze and restaurant industries. Not only is he a hypocrite who claims to "expose" other people's funding while steadfastly refusing to name his own corporate funders, he's lazy and sloppy with his facts. His supposedly "secret" information about our funding, for example, was taken from our own website, which lists the foundations that have given us money since CMD's inception in 1993, along with our IRS Form 990. If we were trying to keep our funding secret, we wouldn't provide a link to this information on every page of our website, now would we?
Even with our help, though, ActivistCash couldn't get the facts right. As we have noted on SourceWatch, their supposed profiles of activist groups are riddled with errors. We reviewed what they wrote about us and were mostly impressed by the number of demonstrably false claims that they managed to sandwich into a fairly brief profile.
Lene Johansen, the blogger who thinks she "outed" our secret funding, has also posted something about the fact that scientists think the human brain is still evolving. It would be nice if her own brain could evolve a little faster.
3.The battle of the activist groups
Biotechnology news is driven by activists from various factions. So far, the anti-biotechnology lobby has been on the offense, but the anti-hunger groups are getting more traction as media sources. So, deep ecology activist group SpinWatch caught Reuters in using a source from a anti-hunger group, and Reuter's ran a correction. When independent* blog Scoop ran the story, they forgot to run the expose on Center for Media & Democracy (CMD) as well. CMD runs SpinWatch. Check out CMD's dirty little funding secrets at ActivistCash.com.
Reuters should probably have mentioned that Florence Wambugu now works for an organization that are fighting for acceptance of biotechnology crops in Africa. That does not make her any less of a biotechnology expert. She has an extensive research record in plant biotechnology from U.S. and African research institutions of high repute [high repute? In the US she was with Monsanto!]. So next time "independent media" run an expose of sloppy media routines, they might want to be fair and balanced enough to mention where SpinWatch get their funding from.
And for the record: For anti-hunger groups like Africa Harvest, the battle over biotechnology is about feeding starving people. The stakes are higher than academic battles of activist groups in Washington, DC.
*code-word for left wing activist media