|February 29, 2008|
|Choking on the Whistle (blower)|
|By Greg Hazley|
|Amid the largest recall of beef in history (and with much of it already supplied to schools around the country under a huge federal program), Congress and the Agriculture Dept. have taken the blame for that debacle and, with deep and profound introspection, promised to shore up oversight of the meat-packing industry. That’s a solid PR response to a massive crisis like the recall. |
Unfortunately, it’s not even close to reality.
Like any desperate and publicly embarrassed figure, our esteemed elected (and appointed) officials are blaming the whistle blower, the Humane Society. Unfortunately for those critics, the HS has shown that it knows a thing or two about PR.
The HS released the smoking gun video tape in late January of a downer cow in California being “ushered” into a slaughterhouse. It also gave an exclusive to the Washington Post. The group said it contacted local prosecutors in California and grew frustrated when little became of the probe, so it went ahead with the PR effort. More on that in a minute.
Agriculture secretary Ed Schafer this week blamed the HS as it “stood by” for four months between the video being shot and it becoming public. Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess “assailed” the HS for waiting to tell the feds about the video.
But as the Humane Society’s Paul Shaprio told the New York Times: “…the USDA should not be relying on a private animal welfare charity to do its job for them.”
[While we’re talking about time frames and the USDA, it’s important to note that the government still hasn’t said whether one of its veterinarians inspected downer cows at the W/H slaughterhouse, as is required by federal law. How long could it take to know that?]
To be fair, Democrats in Congress have spoken out in support of the HS' whistle blower campaign. HS, as part of its solid PR push, has been circulating those remarks of support.
NPR's "On the Media" had a great report over the weekend about how and why the story has struck the public and media consciousness.
The HS held a press conference only after the Post initially broke the story in late January. Asked why the group gave the story to the Post as an exclusive, HS CEO Wayne Pacelle had this to say:
The idea of exclusives, I think, is a dangerous one. We often don't do exclusives because other outlets then get upset. But we did feel that there was truly a strong Washington angle with Congress and an executive agency headquartered here.
We did have something new to offer, even after The Post broke the story, because it was a print outlet and we had really compelling video footage. And I think once that was made available then it just started to gather steam, and then you just had a subsequent set of actions in response to the investigation that drove the story almost on a daily basis.
Pacelle admitted that most of the stories pushed by the HS do not reach a “critical mass” of public and media attention. He cited the Michael Vick-dogfighting case and pet rescues during Katrina as PR successes for the group.
Pacelle also added that “canned hunting” is next in the group’s sights. If I operated one of those hunting “preserves” where guests pay big dollars to shoot exotic game, I’d be in touch with some PR counsel right about now.
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