Paul Thacker, one of the best reporters on political and media corruption, published a three-fer with HuffPost. He nailed a major beltway public relations firm, agricultural behemoth Monsanto and Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel, who it turns out is effectively a Monsanto asset. Ketchum PR, which is best known for spit shining the jackboots of dictators worldwide, was the case office behind the covert Post-Haspel operation.
It kind of makes you wonder just how much garbage published by the media is manufactured in the basements of Washington lobbying and PR firms. (For another example of how a D.C. PR firm planted fake news, read my story here about a New York Times puff piece about Leopoldo Lopez, a crooked Venezuelan opposition leader beloved by most of the U.S. media. The PR firm that planted the puff piece was paid by Lopez’s mother.)
Here’s a lightly edited excerpt from Thacker’s story:
Agricultural giant Monsanto has spent much of the last decade attempting to polish its public image amid campaigns to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and horrifying stories about how the company treats anyone who might get in its way.
In 2013, it enlisted Ketchum PR to help. To reboot the national dialogue, Ketchum created a campaign called GMO Answers, and used social media and third-party scientists to offer a counternarrative to allay concern about Monsanto’s products. HuffPost has acquired 130 pages of internal documents from an anonymous source that detail the campaign and its tactics for enhancing Monsanto’s public image ― tactics that include developing close relationships with one writer in particular that seem to have paid off for the company. (Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018.)
At the time Ketchum launched GMO Answers, Tamar Haspel was a blogger and health writer who had written several pieces supportive of the GMO industry on HuffPost and other sites. Haspel posted a piece enthusiastically promoting the new campaign and was one of the first people to submit a question to the GMO Answers website.
Later that year, Haspel, an oyster farmer living on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, got a new gig writing a food column for The Washington Post. In her column, she has regularly promoted genetically modified foods and downplayed the dangers of chemicals, even quoting from Ketchum and the third-party scientists that agrichemical companies promote to offer a contrary take. Those companies have in turn amplified Haspel’s work and raised her profile.
Behind the scenes, Ketchum’s documents show a reporter eager to collaborate with the firm and promote its new campaign ― and Ketchum happy to foster that relationship.