Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either when I read it. And there you have the jumping-off point for my column this week.
If you’re wondering why it’s so easy for the Republicans to convince so many average Americans that personal freedom equates with lower taxes for the rich and fewer environmental and safety regulations for corporations, you might consider how easy it has become to fool editors and reporters at the nation’s premier newspaper on some public policy issues.
On July 2 the New York Times ran an article about the sugar beverage industry’s planned pushback against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed banning of the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in regulated food establishments, including in movie theaters and sports arenas. The article detailed how the soft drink industry and its lobbying group, the American Beverage Association, are gearing up for a battle to make New Yorkers believe that the right to buy 64-ounce sodas is a cause akin to free speech or own guns.
And there it was, in a caption underneath a photo of two women of color chatting on a New York street corner: “Jessica Dos Santos, right, from New Jersey, collected petition signatures in Brooklyn for New Yorkers for Beverage Choice, a grassroots-style coalition created by the beverage industry.”
A “grassroots-style coalition created by the beverage industry”? Those of us who’ve bothered to pay attention to such matters know that the correct term for this sort of effort is astroturfing. This is a form of advocacy, usually undertaken by corporate or political front groups, organized specifically to make what are actually multi-million-dollar public relations campaigns seem as if they are spontaneous grassroots efforts undertaken by average citizens.
They often take innocuous sounding names to hide their true intent. Thus, New Yorkers for Beverage Choice makes it sound as if the organization is about protecting personal liberties instead of padding the bottom lines of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Similar astroturfing efforts have been used by Walmart (Working Families For Walmart), the timber industry (Save Our Species Alliance) and a slew of right-wing political groups using anodyne names to hide their true intent.
What was shocking about that New York Times photo caption is that the person writing it couldn’t figure out that something “created by the beverage industry” is by definition not “a grassroots-style coalition.”
You can read the rest of my column here.
You can read the Times article here.