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  • Staci-lee Sherwood

Buying the media: when facts are traded to the highest bidder

Updated: Mar 18


By Staci-lee Sherwood



Public perception of media has changed over the years but one thing has stayed constant, the assumption and hope that most reporting is fact based. Over the past few decades consolidation of companies has shrunk down to near incestuous size where a meager 6 corporate giants now own approximately 90% of media (radio, tv and print). That type of influence comes with a hefty price tag but the ultimate price is paid by the unsuspecting consumer.



For newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post their reputation precedes them. They have a global reach of tens of millions and influence most heads of state would envy. They revel in their power, even boast about it at times and to capture a job at these companies is the premier choice for most young journalists. Hiding under the façade of fact based reporting these companies hide a dirty secret. This secret is so insipid they hide it in plain sight, literally, as they offer up a website specifically touting the benefits. Most people with ethics would prefer to guard this, hide it away from prying eyes and questioning minds. I don’t think many even know of its existence. I’m talking about the private branding companies these two well known newspapers have; the New York Times calls is TBrand and the Washington Post calls it Creative Group.


If one didn’t know of their existence it would be rather difficult to find it by chance. For newspapers that pride themselves on reporting the facts to have a company specifically designed to do advertising for the very companies and government agencies they also report on is the very definition of conflict of interest. At a time when the battle cry of fake news is trending seems odd these media giants choose to partake in something ethically questionable.


https://www.tbrandstudio.com/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/creativegroup/archive/#



For many people fact checking has become a full time job. The internet has allowed an almost seamless marriage between fact and fiction. It’s quite difficult at times to determine if something is fact based with so much data at one’s fingertips yet with unknown origin. Scrolling through a newsfeed on any social media platform it’s easy to see how fake news can slip into mainstream unnoticed. Professional non biased fact checkers are sorely lacking so many people often rely on a friend they know to dig around and uncover the truth.



Opinion and fact can live in harmony and for most of history they did with little confusion. Facts exist regardless of one’s sway politically, religiously or emotionally. Opinion is one’s interpretation of facts as they relate to their own lives and values. Everyone has bias for many complex reasons but now we have opinion presented as facts, even worse much of the ‘news’ that makes it into the social media realm is totally made up. The bigger issue is lack of being able to verify where these bits of information come from. The internet is a key player in making the ability to differentiate between fact and opinion much harder.



Now add to this cocktail long respected media companies writing stories for clients they used to report on. Sold to potential clients as hip Madison Avenue type ad campaigns written by journalists it’s easy to see the benefits to these companies. The promising of clever greenwashing to an impressive clientele list is something the public should concern itself with. For those apologists who think this is just a PR department consider this; there is already a barrage of fake news, compromised reporters who mislead and coverup facts, media who refuse to cover a story because of personal connections that already exists. Now they are getting paid to do so, big difference.



No longer content to report the news the New York Times, nicknamed The Grey Lady, is now in the advertising/branding game. Public relations and advertising firms have long been a staple in the business world. To comingle that with reporting the news seems unbelievably unethical and a huge conflict of interest. There is no firewall strong enough to put between news and PR when humans are involved. Click here for their client list which has 3 major oil companies Chevron, Exxonmobil and Shell. https://www.tbrandstudio.com/impact/




Tide detergent is a client of TBrand, their parent company is Procter & Gamble. For those fighting the abuses and cruelty associated with animal testing P & G has been at the forefront of the battle. Currently they still participate in putting countless animals through painful barbaric experiments for their products. One of their companies, Tide, announced they plan to end animal testing in 2023. In the past many companies have made similar announcements only to renege once the heat of public outcry had cooled. Furthermore it doesn’t take years to stop testing it’s something the company can do today by just stopping the tests.



For decades Tide conducted horrific tests but does anyone remember the New York Times doing any type of reporting on the misleading ‘facts’ when it comes to results or the cruelty involved? Would they think twice about having their newspaper expose something the public would be against when they need the same public to buy the products of their client Tide ?



This is the happy looking campaign for Tide created by TBrand. The image belies the ugly truth of cruelty they were responsible for over many decades.



This is a rabbit used in experiments for detergent and many other household products and cosmetics. This is not something Tide or Procter & Gamble wants to be linked to. This is not even the worst of it.



Another client is Florida via their tourism department. A quick view of their campaign looks like a happy clean safe place for families to visit. The truth is hidden behind these ‘postcards’ created by TBrand. For years I had reached out to many reporters and editors asking they cover several huge stories in Florida. These included corruption from the Gov down to several state agencies. They involved issues such as spraying poison in the water, the deliberate lies told to both residents and tourists about Red Tide and Blue Green Algae, the starving of our Manatees and killing millions of Sea Turtle hatchlings due to light pollution.



None of these stories got much if any attention because the state of Florida is a client. For the New York Times to do any of these ongoing crisis justice, in-depth reporting on corruption and fraud would be required. Biting the hand that feeds them had to be a factor when deciding whether to report on these issues. Though other newspapers covered some of these issues the Times has an expansive global reach and could have really shaped legislation to help end these problems.



Here is a postcard for their Visit Florida campaign



This is what the Blue Green Algae looks like, neon green water with an unbearable stench. Not something anyone wants on a postcard. This is now a yearly occurrence with beach closings and dead marine life littering the beaches.

credit AP



Now becoming a common sight all over the state are massive fish kills, though sharks, dolphins and sea turtles are also counted among the dead every time Red Tide happens. Touted as ‘naturally occurring’ that is in dispute and used as a cover to shield the public from the true deadly dangers of being anywhere near the water when Red Tide occurs (or Blue Green Algae). Much of the information sent out to tourist businesses like hotels, beaches and shops comes from the tourism board which is a client of TBrand.



A massive fish kill fills the water



This is a common occurrence in Florida



No coverage about the state spraying poisonous herbicides into the water killing off the food supply of Manatees. This also makes the water toxic to the fish caught and sold. Because Florida is a client the odds of seeing this multilayered tragedy being covered is probably nil. Imagine the change that might occur with the reach of the New York Times if they had the integrity to write the truth.


To view videos about the manatee & water crisis from Mike Knepper https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1CEpyh59KEmYRonq1q4J7A


Click here to read some sobering facts https://www.realitycheckswithstacilee.com/post/manatee-death-rate-skyrockets-while-florida-s-fwc-covers-up-the-cause-lies-to-tourist


Every day one of the state agencies responsible for these Manatee deaths pulls 4-10 dead out of the toxic water. This is TRUE Florida.

credit The Guardian



One of the most blatant corruption anti democracy stories involving an oil company brings up the case of Chevron and a human rights lawyer that won a huge case against them. As is often the case what companies do in other countries is usually much worse than what they think they can get away with here. Take the issue of Ecuador and the water contamination caused by decades of dumping toxins and heavy metals from drilling right into the water. For nearly 30 years Texaco dumped straight into the rivers local indigenous people used to drink and bathe in. They had unlined open air pits knowing the seepage from this improper way of containing toxic waste would devastate the people, land, water and area forever. It’s hard to find a better example of David fighting Goliath than this case. Back in 2011 attorney Steven Donziger won a case against corporate oil giant Chevron, who had bought out Texaco back in 2000 and was aware of the pollution they had caused.



Over the following years they gathered dozens of lawyers and proceeded to buy off the officials in Ecuador and then in New York. Unfortunately the influence both Texaco and Chevron won over years of currying favors paid off. The plight of Donziger is enough to scare off even the most determined whistleblower and activist. The fact this story is not front page news has more to do with far reaching access to decision makers than the merits of the case. Chevron filed a lawsuit against Donziger as retaliation and therein lies what can best be described as undo influence over the judicial system.



The symbol for American justice may be blind but the reality of our broken legal system is not when it comes to favors for those who can pay. It’s a complex case and even more confounding is how it got this twisted. There are judges admitting to falsifying evidence, private law firms appointed by the presiding federal judge who had a history of working with Chevron lawyers and mainstream media refusing to report on this story (and others just as damming). This should cause a chill to anyone who thinks we live in a democracy because that illusion is fast eroding. Chevron is also a client of The New York Times branding company TBrand.



The public can connect the dots. What does it say about choosing this company to advertise for? Attorney Donziger is still under house arrest over 600 days, total violation of his civil rights and grand perversion of law. Click here for an update https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/08/chevron-amazon-ecuador-steven-donziger-erin-brockovich



Click here to read the in-depth reporting in Salon 2020 https://www.salon.com/2020/08/27/the-case-of-steven-donziger-and-chevron-how-those-who-fight-corporate-tyranny-are-crushed/

And here from The Nation https://www.thenation.com/article/environment/chevron-persecution-steven-donziger/


Cofán community member Donald investigates one of the many unlined, open-air oil waste pits in his rainforest home, where Chevron abandoned oil production in 1990. Photo credit: Rainforest Action Network



In a 2021 article from Engineering & technology The judge who now presides over the case, District Judge Loretta Preska, was hand-picked by Kaplan and is a leader of the right-wing Federalist Society, to which Chevron is a major donor.’ Click here to read more https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2021/01/lasting-effects-from-the-rainforest-oil-spill-in-ecuador/



Shell Oil is a global company with a global reach. This also includes all the spills around the world that has destroyed the drinking water of many communities. Here we have a space age looking picture of a clean bright future with Shell.




How Shell Oil does business and little has changed over the years despite lawsuits and watchdogs groups

credit phys.org



In a landmark verdict an oil company was found guilty despite their claims of sabotage causing the leaks. Every pipeline leaks though it’s rarely reported and the company almost always claims ‘sabotage’ though they’re never able to prove that. This case made news around the world including Forbes but does not appear to be covered by WAPO. In fact if a newspaper were to cover all the leaks, spills and explosions associated with oil and gas they would never have room for any other story. Lack of coverage and in particular that which covers the affects of the oil and other chemicals used when dumped into drinking water has not gone unnoticed. Click here to read about the case against Shell

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrvetter/2021/01/29/niger-delta-oil-spills-shell-ruled-responsible-in-landmark-verdict/?sh=3f2af45e465e



Not to be outdone by the New York Times branding company TBrand the Washington Post threw their hat into the ring and came up with Creative group. A quick scroll through their client list and it reads like a who’s who of some of the biggest corporations known for questionable ethics, dangerous products and polluting our drinking water. What is the end game for a newspaper that boasts a long history of exposing fraud, think back to 1973 and Watergate where their reporters took down a corrupt president. Click here for their client list https://www.washingtonpost.com/creativegroup/archive/#/our-partners



The American Petroleum Institute is a huge trade association that lobbies for oil and gas companies. One has to wonder why they need to hire a branding company when their reach goes right up to the White House. Their website boasts they represent over 600 companies in the industry. The public is probably quite familiar with most of them and even more so with their business tactics, political shenanigans and agenda for making the consumer pay to clean up their pollution…or are they really that aware?



A study done by the US National Library on Medicine National Institute of Health found that “According to the NOSDRA oil spill monitor website, the national picture of oil spills (2006- March 2020) is a total of 13,091 spill events and a total release of 692,761 barrels. Of these events, 71.5.% of the incidents pertained to crude oil accounting for 95.7% of total spill contaminants.” Imagine if that were reported in the morning paper or nightly news and the effect it could have on the global usage of fossil fuel and the drive toward cleaner safer fuel sources. Click here to read this very important brief study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7184024/



Because most of the media has been consolidated into just 6 mega corporate giants and taken over by their interests, watchdog groups have become more popular. Many seeking the facts turn to these groups, with many being non profits, for the facts the newspaper used to report on. Here’s one reporting on the oil spills https://blog.resourcewatch.org/2019/02/07/there-were-137-oil-spills-in-the-us-in-2018-see-where-they-happened/



Ironically the Washington Post reported in Janaury 2020 that The Guardian will no longer publish ads for the fossil fuel industry stating “Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world,” Bateson and Nicklin said.” They went on to report in the article ‘Heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune announced in 2014 that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund would divest from fossil fuel industries. The University of California system last year cut fossil fuel companies from its $70 billion pension fund and $13.4 billion endowment. Earlier this month, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said it would divest $500 million in coal interests.



Perhaps this is why so many oil companies like Exxonmobil, Chevron and Shell feel the need to hire a branding company to buff out the stains of decades of lies and deliberate misrepresentation of their products safety.



BP oil spill in the Gulf 2010

photo by WIN MCNAMEE, GETTY IMAGES



What can be said about the tobacco industry we haven’t already heard? What possible ‘good’ news is out there? The choice to hire a company to clean up a well known brand that produces one of the most damaging products seems counterintuitive. Are they producing a product less carcinogenic or less addictive? How would anyone know if anything written by Creative Group isn’t just good old fashioned whitewashing? If Washington Post is taking on Big Tobacco as a client that says more about them than it does about Philip Morris. The public already knows the agenda of whitewashing by that company but unaware of the newspaper writing some of it.



Healthy lungs of non smokers are pink and evenly colored while smokers lung will blacken over time from the tar. This photo is just to demonstrate the potential damage. Imagine if this were used in an ad campaign for their tobacco client.



Purdue Pharma manufactures OxyContin perhaps the most infamous prescription drug and the one most associated with the national opioid crisis. The infamous Purdue Pharma is made famous again by the Hulu series ‘Dopesick’ which chronicles the timeline of fraud and lies by this company.



For those who haven’t kept up to date news wise the Sackler family, with an estimated worth of $10 billion, owned Purdue Pharma for many years. This is the company that makes the pain relief pills that was touted as a miracle drug for pain relief. In reality the only miracle was how this company was able to convince the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to grant them a special label for this narcotic. This allowed the sales force to make false claims about the safety of these pills. Doctors and patients were out right lied to when told OxyContin wasn’t addictive, safety tested and made to sound more like aspirin than opium.



Because of this family’s greed and arrogance a drug crisis was unleashed on this country to which there is no end. The FDA was presented with data showing this drug was actually highly addictive, so much it is almost impossible to get people off them. The Sackler’s kept selling the pills and asking their sales force to push the special label granted by the FDA showing their first of its kind approval of an opioid for the general market. Normally narcotics like this have a ‘black box warning’ label that warns about high chance for addiction, and usually only available in a hospital. The lack of this warning for OxyContin allowed this drug to travel to every corner of the country creating lifelong addicts.



Five presidents and even more FDA chiefs and not one banned a product they all knew should never have been approved for the general market in the first place. That’s not due to a branding company that’s your government choosing money over safety of the citizens. Now Washington Post has taken up the task of polishing off their justly burnt reputation.



Still available today for purchase even online



Fast forward to 2021 where the family no longer has control of Purdue Pharma which was dissolved during a complex bankruptcy deal that also shielded the Sackler family from criminal prosecution. A new pharmaceutical company called Knoa will take its place and continue to manufacture OxyContin along with other opioids. The lack of oversight and accountability by the FDA has proven once again they are little more than a lobby for drug companies.

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/opioid-manufacturer-purdue-pharma-pleads-guilty-fraud-and-kickback-conspiracies



There is no way to go back in time and prevent fake news. Propaganda has been around as long as humans have. The best defense is often an offense. Don’t just believe what you read, see or hear regardless of where you are getting the news. Much of the fake news out there can be broken down and verified with a few simple but important steps.


*Take a few minutes to search the names, dates and locations mentioned to see if they actually exist.

*Take a photo and do an image search, this often brings up the photo’s origin and with that one can determine if it relates to the story.

*Assume everyone has some bias so know which way the source leans.

*Check the date, often fake news is presented as current when in fact it is not.

*Ask yourself what you are not reading about.

*Do a search to see if there is a personal connection between reporter, publisher and the company or government agency reported on.

*Many news sites are actually entertainment but don’t broadly advertise that. Scroll to the bottom and look for any disclaimers that read, in tiny print, ‘for entertainment purposes’. This lets the site off the hook from being sued but does not prevent them from posting items presented as truth. They know most people won’t even check to verify the site let alone its content.

*Remember the old expression if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck……it’s probably a duck.




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