Any strategy that successfully manipulates public opinion is bound to be repeated, and we can now clearly see how the tobacco industry’s playbook is being used to shape the public narrative about COVID-19 and the projected post-COVID era.
In 2011, after many years of raising awareness regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and industrial agriculture, we decided we needed a new game plan. Educating people through our newsletter was great, but we realized the best way to expose Monsanto — a leading GMO advocate and patented seed owner at the time — was to get them to engage directly and ensure national attention.
To that end, Mercola.com funded the signature gathering in California that initiated Proposition 37, the right to know what’s in your food by ensuring proper GMO labeling. We spent more than $1 million for the Prop 37 initiative, plus several million dollars more for GMO labeling initiatives in other U.S. states in the following years.
This initiative forced Monsanto to engage with the public directly to defend their toxic products and dangerous business practices, all while receiving national coverage in the process.
The Monsanto Case
Monsanto spent tens of millions of dollars attacking anyone in their way, but they did so indirectly, just like the tobacco industry did before them. This is the core take-home of what I’m about to describe next.
They used a public relations team to do most of their dirty work — paying scientists and academics to voice their “independent opinions,” influencing scientific journals, and getting journalists and editorial boards to write favorable and influential pieces to help them maintain their lies and influence minds.
Still, while the spending of tens of millions of dollars to influence voters resulted in a narrow defeat of Prop 37, the new, widespread awareness of GMOs, pesticides and industrial agriculture eventually led to Monsanto’s demise.
In 2013, in a last-ditch effort to salvage its tarnished image, Monsanto hired the PR firm Ketchum. As noted in a HuffPost article by Paul Thacker,1 “Monsanto hit reboot with Ketchum,” which “created a campaign called GMO Answers, and used social media and third-party scientists to offer a counter narrative to allay concern about Monsanto’s products.”
The GMO Answers’ website is set up to allow professors at public universities answer GMO questions from the public — supposedly without remuneration from the industry. But over the years, evidence emerged showing that these academics are far from independent, and often end up getting paid for their contributions via hidden means, such as unrestricted grants.