"Fast Food Nation" mega-selling author Eric Schlosser must be doing something right. He's under vicious attack from food industry lobbyists and front groups mimicking his book title in their website smearing him. Long time Fleishman-Hillard food flack Becky Johnson and her fellow spinmeisters risk publicizing Schlosser's writings in their over-the-top efforts to condemn him.
The industrial food lobby is freaking-out over "Chew On This", his new book with Charles Wilson aimed at youngsters, and the fact that his "Fast Food Nation" is being made into a major Hollywood movie with the same title. Best Food Nation is the food industry's sound-alike website funded by the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Council of Chain Restaurants, and 14 other food lobbies. The website highlights anti-Schlosser rants by industry-funded front groups including Heartland Institute and the American Council on Science and Health.
The attack on Schlosser by industry-funded front groups was evident in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported that "the food and restaurant industry has launched a counterattack that includes .. protests at some book signings" and that at a Lincoln Park bookstore a Virginia-based group called the Center for Individual Freedom" passed out flyers. The Center receives corporate funding for its work, but does not reveal which corporations.
The Chicago Sun Times reported that "when he gave a talk to a Los Angeles school, the Young Americans for Freedom handed out information implying he was anti-immigrant, he said. On Thursday, Chicago-based Heartland Institute distributed a news release saying Schlosser was: 'tricking young people . . . to lead them away from capitalism into his failed socialist ideology.' "
The corporate food industry's coordinated attack on Schlosser flies in the face of much conventional advice about "crisis management" PR and how best to discredit critics. Funding front groups such as the Heartland Institute to harrass an author as respected and popular as Schlosser is likely to create a controversy that will simply give him a bigger stage. But the corporate food industry is not known for its subtlety; just ask Oprah Winfrey who was the first victim of the food disparagement laws lobbied onto the books in Texas.
Oprah's prescient show of April 16, 1996, sounded the alarm on mad cow risks in the United States. Rather than heed the warning of her guest Howard Lyman to stop the feeding of cows to cows, the practice was allowed to continue and Oprah was sued into silence on the issue of mad cow risks by milionaire beef feedlot owners. Maybe Mr. Schlosser will eventually find himself at the wrong end of a Texas food disparagement lawsuit like Oprah, as the biggest food corporations in America desperately try to shut him up. One of the lessons of the Oprah trial, of course, is that Oprah's guest Howard Lyman was right -- feeding cows to cows has spread mad cow disease across North America with US cases confirmed now in the states of Washington, Alabama and, ironically, Texas.
Let's hope the mainstream corporate media responds with more courage and integrity to the attacks on journalist Eric Schlosser than they did to the outrageous food disparagement lawsuit against Oprah. Ultimately Oprah won her lawsuit, after spending millions of dollars and years of her life defending herself, but the lawsuit succeeded in intimidating news producers and editors and limiting the coverage of the issue that launched the suit, mad cow risks in America. Even though Oprah talked tough as she walked victoriously from an Amarillo, Texas, courthouse claiming that "free speech rocks," she has never re-visited the subject of mad cow disease in America on her program, and her lawyers have even bottled up the April 16, 1996, program itself so that the historic video footage is not easily available.
Maybe the corporate food bullies behind "Best Food Nation" have been so emboldened by the success of their hammer-handed attack on Oprah, and the way it cowed the media into dropping coverage of mad cow risks in America, that the PR braintrust advising Big Food are thinking that a similar approach will demonize Schlosser and tar him with bad press and publicity. Much depends on how the mainstream media respond to their food advertisers' bullying attempts to silence and smear the author of "Fast Food Nation" and "Chew On This".