imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Calendar Publish RSS
Features
latest news
best of news
syndication
commentary


KILLRADIO

VozMob

ABCF LA

A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List

LAAMN List




IMC Network:

Original Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

Richard Berman

by AD Friday, Jul. 08, 2005 at 11:28 AM

Richard Berman claims to help the average consumer. In fact, he works for corporate America.

food issues became the organization's [Center for Consumer Freedom] focus, and the center's been bankrolled by hefty contributions from the food and restaurant industries...He openly describes the group as a "nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies, and consumers." ...[Center supports, among others] meat giants (Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms), soft-drink manufacturers (Coca-Cola), and fast food chains (White Castle, Outback Steakhouse)... [his] audacity with which he's straddled his dual roles as consumer "advocate" and industry lobbyist.

THE FACTS

By Greg Sargent

Berman's Battle

Richard Berman claims to help the average consumer. In fact, he works for corporate America.

By Greg Sargent

Web Exclusive: 01.03.05

Print Friendly | Email Article

Last spring, when the anti-fast-food documentary Super Size Me began opening in American theaters, an opinion writer named Richard Berman swung into action. He cranked out a scathing op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times that blasted the film for "serving up a flawed premise: that we're powerless to stop Big Food from turning us into a nation of fatties."

When legendary TV chef Julia Child died a few months later, Berman saw another opportunity. He wrote a piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that used her death as an occasion to debunk the idea that soft drinks are linked to diabetes.

And last month, when a Cleveland hospital garnered national attention for trying to evict its in-house McDonald's, Berman was invited on CNN to critique the move. "I don't see anything wrong with giving people choices," he observed mildly.

Why did these mainstream media outlets air Berman's opinions on such pressing health issues? Is he a doctor? A nutritionist? A health-policy wonk? None of the above. He's a Washington lobbyist.

Berman runs an outfit called the Center for Consumer Freedom, which says it's devoted to defending "the right of adults and parents to choose what they eat, drink, and how they enjoy themselves." From his offices a block from the White House, Berman wages a never-ending public-relations assault on doctors, health advocates, scientists, food researchers, and just about anyone else who highlights the health downsides of eating junk food or being obese.

He also targets groups that want animal-treatment standards for the meat industry, such as PETA, and trial lawyers who want to sue the food industry -- "obesity lawyers licking their chops in search of their next super-sized payday." Such people, Berman notes on the center's Web site, are "food cops, health care enforcers, militant activists, meddling bureaucrats and violent radicals who think they know what's best for you."

However, while Berman presents himself as a defender of consumers against overbearing bureaucrats and health zealots, he's really defending the interests of another group: restaurant chains, food and beverage companies, meat producers, and others who stand to see profits hampered by government regulations, or even by increased health awareness on the part of customers.

Indeed, Berman has carved out a unique -- and very profitable -- niche in Washington's ever more sophisticated PR universe. At a time when the politics of food is going mainstream -- similar to the tobacco wars a generation ago -- he is the food and restaurant industry's No. 1 weapon against those seeking to regulate or shed light on its activities.

Relying on seed money from Philip Morris, Berman launched his group in 1995, with the explicit goal of uniting the tobacco and hospitality industries against the myriad forces of overregulation, particularly those pushing smoking bans in restaurants. But over time, food issues became the organization's focus, and the center's been bankrolled by hefty contributions from the food and restaurant industries. Berman, interestingly, hasn't taken great pains to disguise his funding sources in general. (Why bother? After all, it hasn't disqualified him from appearing on CNN.) He openly describes the group as a "nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies, and consumers."

To be sure, the center won't share the names of individual or corporate donors. Yet some information has come to light. The organization PR Watch, relying on an internal whistle-blower, has posted a list of the center's backers on its Web site. Among them: meat giants (Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms), soft-drink manufacturers (Coca-Cola), and fast food chains (White Castle, Outback Steakhouse). A center spokesman would only say that the list is "loaded with inaccuracies," but wouldn't say how.

Berman's strategy turns on a simple rhetorical gimmick: By employing the language of consumer freedom, he protects his client industries by demonizing (and, hopefully, discrediting) their critics -- all apparently in service of the hapless consumer. Berman has been explicit about his approach. "Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger," he once told Chain Leader Magazine, a trade publication for restaurant chains (whose readership presumably doesn't include too many ordinary consumers). "We've got to attack [activists'] credibility as spokespersons."

Berman’s efforts might not seem all that remarkable in a city where industry-funded "astroturf" groups are so emboldened that many no longer bother concealing funding sources. Yet he stands out, if only for the sheer, unparalleled audacity with which he's straddled his dual roles as consumer "advocate" and industry lobbyist.

Consider that in addition to running the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), Berman also has another day job: He's the founder and president of an influential Washington lobbying firm, Berman & Co. According to press accounts, the firm has performed for-profit lobbying for -- you guessed it -- many of the same industries served by the center: restaurant chains like Outback, Hooters, and Red Lobster (a spokesman declined comment). Berman has also lobbied for the American Beverage Institute, which represents restaurateurs and beverage manufacturers. (On behalf of such clients, he opposed the Americans with Disabilities Act, argued against hikes in the federal minimum wage and helped defeat federal legislation that would have imposed a uniform lower blood-alcohol threshold to mark drunken driving -- all regulatory reforms that threatened the profits of his clients.) It's challenging indeed to sort out where the for-profit lobbying against regulation ends and the nonprofit consumer freedom fighting against regulation begins.

And it gets murkier. Berman's nonprofit center, it turns out, has also been paying handsome sums for research, communications, and other services to none other than ... Berman & Co. In 2002, for example, according to its Internal Revenue Service filing, the Center for Consumer Freedom paid Berman & Co. more than million.

So, to recap: Berman the Defender of Consumers runs a nonprofit that collects donations from industries served by Berman the Corporate Lobbyist -- and also pays lucrative fees to Berman the Corporate Lobbyist for his services. If you managed to follow that, you'll probably agree that Berman has pulled off a pretty impressive piece of lobbying jujitsu -- one that says an awful lot about how things really function at the nexus of government policy, big corporations, and the media.

Berman's roles have grown so blurry that one good-government group has called on the IRS to revoke the center's tax-exempt status. In November, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the IRS to investigate the center, pointing to its massive payments to a for-profit company controlled by its own director, along with other transgressions. CREW argues that Berman's group is about protecting industry, not aiding consumers, and therefore is not engaging in the sort of charitable activities that entitle it to tax-exempt status. Berman has dismissed the allegations as littered with "non-factual items" and "misstatements of the law" -- again without saying specifically how.

Yet by any measure, CREW has a compelling case. It's partly based on hard evidence: a host of internal Philip Morris documents that discussed the 1995 formation of Berman's group (then called the Guest Choice Network) in remarkably unguarded terms.

The documents -- correspondence between Berman and Philip Morris, plus an internal Philip Morris memo, all released during discovery on the Big Tobacco lawsuits -- provide an extraordinary glimpse into the creation of a corporate front group, one apparently designed to use the language of consumer choice to advance the interests of major corporations. In a 1995 letter to a Philip Morris executive asking for startup funds for Guest Choice, Berman wrote: "The concept is to unite the restaurant and hospitality industries in a campaign to defend their consumers and marketing programs from anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-meat activists ... I would like to solicit Philip Morris for an initial contribution of 0,000."

In another 1995 memo to Philip Morris, Berman explicitly described his strategy as follows: A broad coalition of industries in defense of the consumer -- and generally devoted to fighting regulations -- would provide effective PR cover for the tobacco giant's specific goals. "If externally perceived as driven by restaurant interests, there will be more flexibility and creativity allowed than if it is 'owned' by Philip Morris," Berman wrote.

Equally revealing is a 1995 internal memo written by a Philip Morris exec who approved of Berman's strategy. "[Berman's] proposed solution would broaden the focus of the 'smoking issue,' and expand into the bigger picture of over-regulation," the memo reads. "We believe his proposal is worthy of testing." (For more documents, go to www.citizensforethics.org.) This is remarkable stuff. How often do we get such an intimate peek at a major corporation's decision to bankroll an astroturf group?

The only remaining question is whether the IRS will allow Berman's outfit to continue operating as a tax-exempt nonprofit. The group has changed names and focus over the years, and it no longer takes tobacco money. Yet it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Berman's MO hasn't changed. His activities continue to be less about educating consumers than about safeguarding industry profits.

As Berman himself put it in the Chain Leader interview: "The fact is that other groups drive consumer behavior on meat, alcohol, fat, sugar, tobacco, and caffeine with outrageous quotes, exaggeration, junk science, and even violent acts ... . Few companies spend any serious time .. . developing long-term strategies to meet these challenges. Thus our clients have encouraged us to fill this void."

Which is exactly what Berman has done.

Greg Sargent is a contributing editor at New York magazine.

Report this post as:

Local News

GUIDE TO REBEL CITY LOS ANGELES AVAILABLE A12 5:39PM

lausd whistle blower A10 11:58PM

Website Upgrade A10 3:02AM

Help KCET and UCLA identify 60s-70s Chicano images A04 1:02PM

UCLA Luskin: Casting Youth Justice in a Different Light A02 11:58AM

Change Links April 2018 A01 11:27AM

Nuclear Shutdown News March 2018 M31 6:57PM

Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018! M29 7:00PM

Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018! M29 6:38PM

Spring 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! M19 2:02PM

Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Shows Shocking Eviction Trends in L.A. M16 5:40PM

Steve Mnuchin video at UCLA released M15 12:34AM

Actress and Philanthropist Tanna Frederick Hosts Project Save Our Surf Beach Clean Ups M06 12:10PM

After Being Told He's 'Full of Sh*t' at School Event, Mnuchin Demands UCLA Suppress Video M02 11:44AM

Resolution of the Rent Strike in Boyle Heights M01 6:28PM

What Big Brother Knows About You and What You Can Do About It M01 3:30PM

Step Up As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Steps Down F14 2:44PM

Our House Grief Support Center Hosts 9th Annual Run For Hope, April 29 F13 12:51PM

Don’t let this LA County Probation Department overhaul proposal sit on the shelf F13 11:04AM

Echo Park Residents Sue LA Over Controversial Development F12 8:51AM

Former Signal Hill police officer pleads guilty in road-rage incident in Irvine F09 10:25PM

Calif. Police Accused of 'Collusion' With Neo-Nazis After Release of Court Documents F09 7:14PM

Center for the Study of Political Graphics exhibit on Police Abuse posters F07 9:50AM

City Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Claiming Pasadena Police Officer Had His Sister Falsely Arre F04 3:17PM

Professor's Study Highlights Health Risks of Urban Oil Drilling F04 12:42PM

Claims paid involving Pasadena Police Department 2014 to present F04 10:52AM

Pasadenans - get your license plate reader records from police F03 11:11PM

LA Times Homicide Report F03 1:57PM

More Local News...

Other/Breaking News

Xyloglossie attitudinale A23 8:07AM

Shadowgun Legends Hack and Cheats A23 7:24AM

What does the Quran Say About Islamic Dress?? A21 4:15PM

Biodiversité ou la nature privatisée A20 11:22AM

The Market is a Universal Totalitarian Religion A20 7:14AM

Book Available about Hispanics and US Civil War by National Park Service A19 5:52PM

The Shortwave Report 04/20/18 Listen Globally! A19 4:01PM

The Republican 'Prolife' Party Is the Party of War, Execution, and Bear Cub Murder A19 11:48AM

Neurogenèse involutive A18 9:21AM

Paraphysique de la dictature étatique A16 10:13AM

Book Review: "The New Bonapartists" A16 3:45AM

The West Must Take the First Steps to Russia A14 12:25PM

Théorie générale de la révolution ou hommage à feu Mikhaïl Bakounine A14 3:30AM

The Shortwave Report 04/13/18 Listen Globally! A12 3:50PM

“Lost in a Dream” Singing Competition Winner to Be Chosen on April 15 for ,000 Prize! A12 3:48PM

The World Dependent on Central Banks A12 4:43AM

Ohio Governor Race: Dennis Kucinich & Richard Cordray Run Against Mike DeWine A11 9:40PM

March 2018 Honduras Coup Again Update A10 10:52PM

Apologie du zadisme insurrectionnel A10 3:33PM

ICE contract with license plate reader company A10 1:14PM

Palimpseste sisyphéen A09 11:23PM

Black Portraiture(S) IV: The Color of Silence...Cuba No...Cambridge Yes A09 5:32AM

Prohibiting Micro-Second Betting on the Exchanges A09 4:18AM

Prosecutors treat Muslims harsher than non-Muslims for the same crimes A08 10:33PM

Amy Goodman interview on cell phone safety A08 10:29PM

Mesa, Arizona police officer kills unarmed white man A08 9:50PM

Israeli leaders should be prosecuted for war crimes A08 9:48PM

Paraphysique de l'autorité A08 12:11AM

More Breaking News...
© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy