Monsanto "intelligence center" targeted journalists and activists
Project Censored has published its top 10 underreported stories of 2020. Below we reproduce the section on Monsanto.
Missing patterns in corporate news: Project Censored’s top 10 underreported stories of 2020
By Paul Rosenberg
Cleveland Scene, Dec 30, 2020
[excerpt only: the other stories are here]
2. Monsanto "intelligence center" targeted journalists and activists
In its fight to avoid liability for causing cancer, the agricultural giant Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) created an "intelligence fusion center" to "monitor and discredit" journalists and activists, Sam Levin reported for The Guardian in August 2019.
"More than 18,000 people have filed suit against Monsanto, alleging that exposure to Roundup [weedkiller] caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and that Monsanto covered up the risks by manipulating scientific data and silencing critics," The Hill summarized. "The company has lost three high-profile cases in the past year, and Bayer is reportedly offering $8 billion to settle all outstanding claims."
"Monsanto adopted a multi-pronged strategy to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who investigated the company's weedkiller," The Guardian reported.
This took place while also targeting Neil Young (who released a 2015 record, The Monsanto Years), and creating a massive, multimillion dollar spying and disinformation campaign targeting journalists writing about it, as well as scientists and advocates exposing the risks its product posed. Creating a covert army of seemingly neutral allies to attack its critics was central to Monsanto's strategy.
The Guardian's report was based on internal documents (primarily from 2015 to 2017) released during trial. They showed that "Monsanto planned a series of 'actions' to attack a book authored by Gillam prior to its release, including writing 'talking points' for 'third parties' to criticize the book and directing 'industry and farmer customers' on how to post negative reviews."
In addition, Monsanto paid Google to skew search results promoting criticism of Gillam's work on Monsanto, and they discussed strategies for pressuring Reuters with the goal of getting her reassigned. The company "had a 'Carey Gillam Book' spreadsheet, with more than 20 actions dedicated to opposing her book before its publication." They also "wrote a lengthy report about singer Neil Young's anti-Monsanto advocacy, monitoring his impact on social media, and at one point considering 'legal action.'"
The entire pool of journalists covering the third trial was also targeted in a covert influence operation, Paul Thacker reported for The Huffington Post. A purported "freelancer for the BBC" schmoozed other reporters, trying to steer them toward writing stories critical of the plaintiffs suing Monsanto. Their curiosity aroused, they discovered that "her LinkedIn account said she worked for FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm that Monsanto and Bayer, Monsanto's parent company, had engaged for consulting," and she subsequently went into a digital disappearing act.
"FTI staff have previously attempted to obtain information under the guise of journalism," Thacker added. "In January, two FTI consultants working for Western Wire — a 'news and analysis' website backed by the oil and gas trade group Western Energy Alliance — attempted to question an attorney who represents communities suing Exxon over climate change."
Nor was FTI alone.
"Monsanto has also previously employed shadowy networks of consultants, PR firms, and front groups to spy on and influence reporters," Thacker wrote. "And all of it appears to be part of a pattern at the company of using a variety of tactics to intimidate, mislead and discredit journalists and critics."
"Monsanto officials were repeatedly worried about the release of documents on their financial relationships with scientists that could support the allegations they were 'covering up unflattering research," The Guardian noted.
At the same time, they tried to attack critics as "anti-science."
"The internal communications add fuel to the ongoing claims in court that Monsanto has 'bullied' critics and scientists and worked to conceal the dangers of glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide," it summed up.
"Monsanto's campaign to monitor and discredit journalists and other critics has received almost no corporate news coverage," Project Censored notes.
A rare exception was a June 2019, ABC News report which nonetheless "consistently emphasized the perspective of Monsanto and Bayer."