"Fast Food Nation" mega-selling author Eric Schlosser must be doing
something right. He's under vicious attack from food industry
lobbyists and front groups mimicking his book title in their website
smearing him. Fleishman-Hillard's Becky Johnson and her fellow
flustered food flacks risk publicizing Schlosser's writings in their
over-the-top efforts to condemn him.
The industrial food lobby is freaking-out over "Chew On This", his
new book aimed at youngsters, and the fact that his "Fast Food
Nation" is being made into a major Hollywood movie with the same
title. Best Food Nation is the food industry's sound-alike website
funded by the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Meat
Institute, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Council of
Chain Restaurants, and 14 other food lobbies. The website highlights
anti-Schlosser rants by industry-funded front groups including
Heartland Institute and the American Council on Science and Health.
The attack on Schlosser by industry-funded front groups was evident
in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported that "the food and
restaurant industry has launched a counterattack that includes ..
protests at some book signings" and that at a Lincoln Park bookstore,
a Virginia-based group called the Center for Individual Freedom"
passed out flyers. The Center receives corporate funding for its
work, but does not reveal which corporations.
The Chicago Sun Times reported that "when he gave a talk to a Los
Angeles school, the Young Americans for Freedom handed out
information implying he was anti-immigrant, he said. On Thursday,
Chicago-based Heartland Institute distributed a news release saying
Schlosser was: 'tricking young people . . . to lead them away from
capitalism into his failed socialist ideology.' "
The corporate food industry's coordinated attack on Schlosser flies
in the face of much conventional advice about "crisis management" and
how to discredit critics. Funding front groups such as the Heartland
Institute to harrass an author as respected and popular as Schlosser
is likely to create a controversy that will simply give him a bigger
stage. But the corporate food industry is not known for its subtlety;
just ask Oprah Winfrey who was the first victim of the food
disparagement laws lobbied onto the books in Texas.
Oprah's prescient show of April 16, 1996, sounded the alarm on mad
cow risks in the United States. Rather than heed the warning of her
guest Howard Lyman to stop the feeding of cows to cows, the practice
was allowed to continue and Oprah was sued into silence on the issue
of mad cow risks by milionaire beef feedlot owners. Maybe Mr.
Schlosser will eventually find himself at the wrong end of a Texas
food disparagement lawsuit like Oprah, as the biggest food
corporations in America desperately try to shut him up. One of the
lessons of the Oprah trial, of course, is that Oprah's guest Howard
Lyman was right -- feeding cows to cows has spread mad cow disease
across North America with US cases confirmed now in the states of
Washington, Alabama and, ironically, Texas.
Let's hope the mainstream corporate media responds with
more courage and integrity to the attacks on journalist Eric
Schlosser than they did to the outrageous food disparagement lawsuit
against Oprah. Ultimately Oprah won her lawsuit, after spending
millions of dollars and years of her life defending herself, but the
lawsuit succeeded in intimidating news producers and editors and
limiting the coverage of the issue that launched the suit, mad cow
risks in America. Even though Oprah talked tough as she walked
victorious from an Amarillo, Texas, courthouse claiming that "free
speech rocks," she has never re-visited the subject of mad cow
disease in America on her program, and her lawyers have even bottled
up the April 16, 1996, program itself so that the historic video
footage is not easlily available.
Maybe the corporate food bullies behind "Best Food Nation" have been
so emboldened by the success of their hammer-handed attack on Oprah,
and the way it cowed the media into dropping coverage of mad cow
risks in America, that the PR braintrust at Fleishman-Hillard and
others advising Big Food are thinking that a similar approach will
demonize Schlosser and tar him with bad press and publicity. Much
depends on how the mainstream media respond to their food
advertisers' bullying attempts to silence and smear the author of
"Fast Food Nation" and "Chew On This".
John Stauber is executive director for the Center for Media and Democracy.
© 2006 Center for Media and Democracy