Boeing Accused Of Covert, Coordinated Op-Ed Smear Campaign Against Space X
from the disinformation-nation dept
For years we’ve noted how the American press has an absolutely horrible tendency to run guest Op-Eds without disclosing the author’s financial conflicts of interest(s). Jesse Jackson, for example, can sometimes be found comparing efforts to bring competition to the cable box to racism in the 60s, without disclosing the cable industry’s underlying influence. Similarly, former Representative and fair use champion Rick Boucher can often be found praising CISPA, denying a lack of competition in broadband or attacking net neutrality in Op-Ed pages nationwide on behalf of AT&T with zero disclosure of his real financial motivations.
The act of republishing these missives without clearly disclosing financial conflicts of interests isn’t just unethical, it pollutes the national discourse, undermines already shaky trust in media, and contributes to a sound wall of disinformation as giant companies try to sell their latest megamerger, pass anti-consumer regulations and legislation, undermine a competitor, or justify terrible behavior.
One more recent example of this phenomenon comes courtesy of Boeing, which is being accused of running a covert smear campaign against Space X via media outlets that fail to adequately disclose ulterior financial motives of Op-Ed authors.
Back in August, just around the time that Boeing was hyping the company’s Starliner spacecraft program, a series of Op-Eds began showing up in newspapers nationwide attacking Space X and its allegedly unsafe fueling practices. The articles, which appeared everywhere from the Houston Chronicle to the Washington Times, all purported to simply be worried about astronaut safety. All were penned by Richard Hagar, who worked for NASA during the Apollo program, but now resides in Tennessee. All implied repeatedly that Space X was ignoring safety standards and putting astronauts at risk.
But amusingly, when Ars Technica tried to track down Hagar, they discovered that he didn’t actually write the vast majority of the Op-Eds published in countless news outlets nationwide under his name. Instead, the missives were penned by a PR and policy shop with an expertise in astroturf and other disingenuous messaging:
“To try to understand his viewpoint, Ars attempted to reach Hagar by phone and email in September. In the course of this process, we learned that he did not actually submit many of these op-eds.
In fact, based upon our research, at least four of the six op-eds that we located were submitted by two people with gmail.com addresses. Their names were Josh Brevik and Casey Murray. Further research revealed that two people with these names worked as “associates” at a Washington, DC-based public relations firm named Law Media Group or LMG. We reached out to multiple editors at papers that ran the op-eds, and they confirmed that no LMG affiliation was disclosed to them. Attempts to reach Julian Epstein, the chief executive of LMG, by phone and email were unsuccessful.”
Boeing is an LMG client, and has worked previously for the company on past projects by “developing messaging” and crafting a “social media campaign amplifying our nationwide chorus of genuine American voices supporting Boeing.” Boeing is also Space X’s only competitor in the commercial crew program, so the mathematics here should be fairly obvious. Law Media Group (LMG) was busted for this exact sort of thing ten years ago and apparently absolutely nothing has changed, making it abundantly clear just how little most people care about this sort of disinformation.
News outlets have little incentive to crack down on this kind of disingenuous dreck, as they don’t want to anger the companies footing the bill. Most Americans are totally clueless about the perils on zero transparency in this regard, so public pressure to actually do something about it for many media outlets remains largely nonexistent. And while you could pass a law mandating that corporations are free to speak as long as they speak for themselves, countless corporations would certainly be quick to claim their ability to spread misleading nonsense via covert intermediaries violates their First Amendment rights.
Aside from applying continuous public pressure on news outlets to behave more transparently and ethically, it’s a problem that doesn’t seem to have an obvious solution.