Thursday, May 18, 2006

Supersized Astroturf

Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting story about the PR campaign that's being run by food companies against Fast Food Nation, the film being shown at Cannes and based on Eric Schlosser's book of that name:

[McDonald's] is also funding TCS Daily, an arm of the Washington lobbying and public-relations firm DCI Group, that is making more pointed attacks against Mr. Schlosser and his work. Last week, TCS Daily launched a Web site called Fast Talk Nation that called his theories "rhetoric" and argued that he wants to decriminalize marijuana, based on excerpts from one of his other books, "Reefer Madness," about sex, drugs and cheap labor in the American black market.

Last Friday, TCS Daily abruptly closed the Fast Talk Nation site two days after its launch. James Glassman, who says he "hosts" the TCS Daily site, says he closed the Fast Talk Nation site because he wanted to pool his resources with the broader industry's Best Food Nation site.

Mr. Schlosser says he supports some lighter sentences for marijuana possession but opposes legalization. "What bothers me is the use of third parties to attack me when the people who are paying for it aren't standing up and taking credit for it," he says of the sudden surge of criticism against him.

McDonald's is one of a handful of companies that funded TCS Daily. Anna Rozenich, a McDonald's spokeswoman, said the chain was not involved in the creation of Fast Talk Nation or the decision to take it down, and that it isn't using third parties to attack Mr. Schlosser and his co-author, Mr. Wilson. "We certainly on some points disagree with their opinions but, all in all, we appreciate feedback," Ms. Rozenich says.

TCS Daily is the current version of Tech Central Station, an outfit which has always sought the aura of upstart libertarian blogging (such as in occasional contributor, Glenn Reynolds) but as the story makes clear, is in fact tightly connected to Washington lobbyists. Glassman, co-author of Dow 36000, has his day job at the American Enterprise Institute, where his bio describes TCS as an "online opinion journal." Are we really expected to believe that anything TCS now publishes about the film is not influenced by the food industry even with the more blatant lobbying now hived off to a separate -- industry funded -- website?

Note also the trick of attacking Schlosser on what should be his strong point -- child and teenage health -- using opaquely funded third parties who exploit carefully selected elements of his career. It doesn't get much more Rovian than that.

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