It’s called “Astroturfing” — that is, create the appearance of a grassroots movement where none exists. Some public relations firms are expert at this because they believe fooling enough people enough of the time is good enough.
Last week, KVI AM 570, which has shifted back to conservative talk radio, featured a debate on the coal trains between a representative from Northwest Alliance for Jobs & Exports and an anti-coal-train activist.
The program appeared on John Carlson’s morning drive-time slot. No matter what else you might say about him, Carlson, former Seattle Times columnist and Republican candidate for governor, can mount a rational argument.
But Carslon was no unbiased moderator; clearly, his questions were harder on the anti-coal-train guest. Fair enough: Democracy is not always tidy and certainly not fair.
But a brighter light needs to be trained upon the Northwest Alliance, which is operated by the Seattle and Portland branches of the global public relations firm Edelman, hired to promote the pro-coal-train point of view.
Edelman is a seasoned Astroturfer.
In 2006, the firm was caught red-handed when the blog “Working Families for Wal-Mart” was found to be written by an Edelman employee. About the same time, a couple authoring the blog “Wal-Marting Across America,” which chronicled their cross-country travels in an RV and spending their nights in Wal-Mart parking lots, was found to have been underwritten by “Working Families.”
Another blog rebuffing Wal-Mart critics, under the name Paid Critics, a site exposing links between Wal-Mart critics and organized groups like unions, turned out to have been written by Edelman employees.
We doubt if Edelman caught the irony.
Creating one’s own reality represents a significant slice of our Gross National Product. The Alliance paid for people to stand in line at public hearings in Spokane and Seattle — placeholders for pro-coal supporters who didn’t want to get up as early, apparently, as the “environmentalists” they demonize.
The Alliance’s media blitz last fall wildly distorted the number of jobs that would be created by the coal trains, stretching their job-multiplier effect beyond credulity.
Meanwhile, their drumbeat “If we don’t bring them, someone else will” is an anthem for a race to the bottom.
As we await the draft Environmental Impact Statement, which may be issued as early as late spring, Mayor Mike McGinn’s commission studying the economic impacts of the trains on Seattle — up to 18 passing through a day — is scheduled to be completed by March 30.
“Follow the money” is the professional cynic’s advice for figuring things out. Too often, it is too true.
In the coal-train debate, the trail leads back to Edelman.