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LETTERS to the Editor.

Flack Counterattack

As a veteran public relations counselor, I was delighted to be joined by my friend Steve Milloy of junkscience.com in being lauded in the article "Flack Attack" (Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, October issue) for our "ability to take those arguments out of the mouths of corporations and put them in the mouths of citizens who read their web pages and come away persuaded that there is a `green genocide agenda' that is `tangible, identifiable, and utterly relentless.'"

The only problem with the article is that it is eviscerated by a major flaw. I do not take any money from any corporation, association, or source other than the sale of a popular poster that the National Anxiety Center sells to fund the Center. It is paid for out of my own pocket and always has been since I founded it in 1990. Simply stated, I am no one's "flack."

The article, which presumably is meant to pass for a piece of journalism, is filled with errors and what you might call "spin." For example, I am not a member of the Public Relations Society of America, nor the International Association of Business Communicators. I am, however, a longtime member of the Society of Professional Journalists, something the authors ignored.

Moreover, the National Pest Control Association has never been a client of my firm, the Caruba Organization. As a professional writer on pest control topics, however, I have written for countless trade magazines, but never had, as the article asserts, a "biweekly column" in Earth Times. My writings as a business and science writer have appeared in many leading publications.

The reference to my paying to be listed in the Directory of Experts, Authors, and Spokespersons is typical of the misleading and erroneous "facts" put forth in the article. First of all, it's the Yearbook of Experts, Authorities, and Spokespersons, and among the others who purchase a listing in order to be accessible to the nation's press are the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Child Welfare League of America, and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Not exactly a bunch of "flacks," as the authors imply, and, presumably, the First Amendment still permits the freedom to express one's views, even if they don't like them.

That said, yes, I do earn my living as a public relations counselor (and advertise this on my three web sites!) and have done so since the 1970s. I have represented clients in the industries the authors apparently feel have no right to exist. Again, I refer you to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The article only confirms my intention to continue the work of the Center, so the authors should continue to visit anxietycenter.com along with the million or so others who have done so this year.

Alan Caruba, Founder, The National Anxiety Center Maplewood, New Jersey

The author's reply:

Alan Caruba's response to our article is interesting primarily as an example of the techniques that public relations practitioners use to spin the news. When they cannot attack the fundamental facts of a story that they dislike, they attack minor details in an attempt to distract attention from the real story. This is precisely what Caruba is doing. Our article is about the fact that people like Caruba and Steve Milloy use shrill, indefensible rhetoric (sprinkled with terms like "genocide" and "the big lie") to attack even the most moderate and cautious environmental and consumer groups.

Moreover, they avoid disclosure of their own affiliation with clients like the pesticide industry, whose interests they serve when they attack environmentalists.

Caruba is correct that we bungled the name of the Yearbook of Experts, Authorities, and Spokespersons. We never claimed that his appearance in the Yearbook proves in itself that he is a "flack."

It is disingenuous on the face of it for him to pose as the "National Anxiety Center" when the so-called center consists in its entirety of him and his rants. It would be more honest if he simply called it the "National Caruba Center."

As for the other points in Caruba's litany, they are either false or extremely trivial. Our information about some of his affiliations came from a story titled "Many P.R. Pros Are Also Journalists," which appeared in the September 1989 issue of O'Dwyer's P.R. Services Report, an industry trade publication. Caruba now informs us that his memberships in the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators have since lapsed. Instead of saying he "is" a member of these organizations, our article should have said "was." We have asked him when these affiliations ended, but he has declined to answer. His current membership status in these particular organizations does not alter the fact that he is a current and longtime public relations counselor and well known as such within the P.R. industry, which was the point that those details established. Caruba does not disclose his P.R. clients, so we have been forced to rely on the available public record. He has worked for the National Pest Control Association, on what he now claims was a "pro bono" basis.

As for Earth Times, Caruba in 1995 agreed to write a column for them and even issued an invitation in O'Dwyer's for other public relations counselors to pitch him with column ideas. He now says that he never actually wrote any columns. Fine. This is another trivial point and doesn't change anything fundamental about our article.

The basic fact remains that Caruba has a lengthy history of wearing two hats, one as a public relations counselor for clients like the pesticide industry, the other as a "science writer" on "pest control topics." It is the inherent conflict of interest between these two roles that Caruba desperately wants to paper over.

We find it interesting to note that the "major flaw" he sees in our article is his claim that he does not receive corporate money for his National Anxiety Center. In fact, our article never made any claims whatsoever regarding its funding sources.

Caruba says he discloses his work as a public relations counselor on his web site for the National Anxiety Center. That's not exactly accurate. The home page does have a banner that reads "the power of public relations" but his biography, which appears further down, describes him simply as "a veteran business and science writer."

Caruba has failed to challenge any of the important points we made in our article. We certainly stand by it and its conclusions.

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber Center for Media and Democracy Madison, Wisconsin

After reading your article about the latest industry P.R. campaign against the environmental agenda, I visited Alan Caruba's web site.

I found the same old tired propaganda that keeps getting recirculated by the likes of Fred Singer and Rush Limbaugh. So I e-mailed Caruba and questioned him specifically on his claims about world oil supplies. He claims that world oil reserves are sufficient to last forty-five years and implies that the United States is becoming more dependent on oil imports due to excessive government regulation that has hampered the industry.

In response to my e-mail, Caruba said his information, "if memory serves me correctly, came from the U.S. Geological Agency [sic], but I will ask a friend of mine, an expert on U.S. reserves, just how much exists." Caruba obviously had done little research on his information before posting it for all to see.

The Web provides a whole new medium for these industry flacks to spread their misinformation. They already had access to millions through rightwing talk radio. The problem is they are providing the public with what they want to hear. Deep down we all want to believe we can go on driving our SUVs and the scientists will think of something to solve all our environmental problems.

Tom Fugate Moretown, Vermont

Second-rate Solutions

I was glad to see The Progressive finally write an editorial about the War on Drugs ("A Sane Drug Policy," October issue), since this is the most pressing domestic problem involving racism, destruction of the Constitution, and the prison-industrial complex.

You accurately describe all the myriad problems caused by our current drug policy. But then when it comes to solutions you pull your punches. You make the false assumption that there are only three possible choices--current policy, total legalization, and a public health approach.

But the moderate solution that you favor, possible decriminalization where feasible, doesn't deal with many of the problems you have outlined in the preceding paragraphs of the editorial. The main problem with the War on Drugs is that there is no regulation of these substances. This means that there are no controls over potency, purity, places of use, or age of use.

When there are no legal controls, violence comes into play to control the market, prices expand to cover the prohibition tax, and large amounts of money are directed to criminal enterprises. When these substances are illegal, lies dominate public pronouncements and so any possible health problems are overlooked by users and not discussed with doctors.

Decriminalization where feasible does not deal with most of these problems. Even if individual users are let off with a warning or citation, they still must buy their drugs from someone engaged in illegal activities, which gives the police the opportunity to continue to arrest people on possible trafficking charges, and the drugs are still as uncontrolled as they are now.

We are dealing with powerful market forces, and if we ignore these then we face serious consequences. We should have learned during the first Prohibition of the 1920s that when strong human urges--and there is an increasing body of evidence that the urge to alter one's consciousness is basic in humans--are repressed, they manifest themselves in more destructive ways, such as the use of stronger and more harmful drugs.

I can only believe that you offered the solution that you did because you thought it would be more politically palatable, something that I have never seen The Progressive do before. Is there something so frightening about illegal drugs that it causes even radicals to offer second-rate solutions instead of dealing with the actual scope of the problem? Unfortunately, the moderate alternative you recommend would do little to solve the problems of the War on Drugs.

Doug Kellogg Ashland, Oregon

The editors welcome correspondence from readers on all topics, but prefer to publish letters that comment directly on material previously published in The Progressive. All letters may be edited for clarity and conciseness. Letters may also be e-mailed to: godwin@ progressive.org. Please include your city and state.
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Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Words:1787
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