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Revealed: How Syngenta Investigated the Press and Shaped the News About its Controversial Weed-Killer Atrazine

A new investigation shows the global chemical company spent millions spinning news coverage and tracking journalists as concern grew over potential health risks of atrazine.

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DDC reportedly has also co-chaired an astroturfing “roundtable” with the  U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is funded by the biggest global corporations in the world (WHWG has also spearheaded PR campaigns for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce). DDC has also worked on astroturf campaigns in the cyber-world against lawyers who represent injured Americans and in support of so-called “tort reform” that would limit the rights of Americans harmed or killed through corporate neglect or greed.

WHWG’s proposal to Syngenta on atrazine also included Quinn Thomas Public Affairs, which was specifically touted for its success in “engaging” lawyers who represent American consumers and in fighting public interest groups through “aggressive third party activity.” WHWG said Quinn Thomas' tactics had succesfully slowed or reversed “activist momentum.”

"Third party activity" means using seemingly independent third parties that do not appear to be acting in concert with or at the behest of the corporation in a dispute. Aggressive, here, is undefined.

In documents uncovered through the Illinois state suit against Syngenta, a  dossier on HuffPo reporter Danielle Ivory (PDF) has surfaced. Ivory had contacted Syngenta on March 2nd.

The March 4, 2010 dossier was prepared quickly by “Maverick Strategies” partner Bret Jacobsen as a memo to Quinn Thomas, who was working with WHWG, part of Syngenta CP's six-month old, expanded PR efforts.

From late 2009 through 2010, according to spreadsheets discovered in the litigation, WHWG's operations resulted in payments of over $1.2 million by Syngenta for "message management" and "campaign management." Its total to date is unknown.

Assessing a Reporter's "Motives"

As stated in the dossier, Quinn Thomas had sought an investigation into Ivory's history for "the purpose of assessing her motivations regarding her coverage of [a]trazine."

The dossier lists Ivory's work history as including a stint with Bill Moyers at the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy (which is distinct from the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy), and a job at National Public Radio’s award winning Weekend Edition. It also noted her writing for Democracy Now!, Alternet,Truthout, and HuffPo.

The dossier calls these respected organizations a "who's who of anti-employer employers."

Furthermore, wrote Jacobson, "[Ivory] has successfully used journalism to pressure an insurance company to reverse its decision not to cover a 12-year-old boy's prosthetic arm."

Aside from the purportedly unsavory nature of Ivory's past employers and her use of journalism to benefit a disabled child, he claimed the primary driver behind Ivory's atrazine reporting was egotism.

Noting that Democracy Now!host Amy Goodman had credited Ivory as the reporter who "broke the story on the EPA's [a]trazine cover-up," Jacobson concluded that Ivory's "professional reputation and ego are tied to the effectiveness of the attack on the chemical."

Democracy Now!: An "Anti-Employer Employer?"

Goodman had hosted Ivory to discuss her report, "EPA Fails to Inform Public about Weed Killer in Drinking Water.” Ivory had examined data from the monitoring of 150 watersheds between 2003 and 2008. That data filed with the EPA was hidden from public eyes until demands for compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disgorged it.

The water testing data indicated that the Bush Administration’s EPA had been aware of high atrazine levels in American's drinking water and had not disclosed that to the public.

Atrazine spikes in water were hidden.The Bush Administration had also entered into an agreement with Syngenta to test for atrazine in water supplies. Accordingly, Syngenta was aware that periodic spikes of atrazine concentration in water systems were occurring periodically throughout the nation. Dozens of these spikes were well over 3 ppb.

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