With Al Gore’s global-warming-hysteria “Live Earth” concerts looming, the May 31 issue of The Washington Post reflected upon a similar effort in the late 1970s. In 1979, David Fenton organized an event call “No Nukes,” a concert that protested the use of nuclear energy.
In the story “Putting the Progressive in PR” by Linton Weeks, the Post depicted Fenton, now head of Fenton Communications, as an entrepreneurial Mahatma Gandhi figure – furthering causes deemed pure and wholesome by the Post, from the protection of swordfish to abolishing the death penalty. Weeks described Fenton’s PR firm as “left-leaning.” That’s an understatement to say the least.
Over the years, Fenton Communications clients have included many notoriously liberal institutions such as MoveOn.org, Greenpeace, the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and George Soros. That list of names alone suggests a little more than “left-leaning.” But even Fenton saw things differently.
“‘Left’ is a pejorative term,” Fenton told the Post. “People I hang with use the word ‘progressive.’”
In 1996, Fenton was reported to be one of the architects of the discredited Alar pesticide scare, which he marketed to women’s magazines like Redbook and Woman’s Day. The Post didn’t question those exploits.
The 1,856-word story was presented as one man’s battle against nuclear power – from his “No Nukes” concert efforts to warnings of a potentially “ghastly scenario of a hazardous-waste spill in a densely populated urban area.” Yet nowhere in the story was a pro-nuclear point of view presented. Nor was any point of view that showed another side to any of Fenton’s causes.
But this isn’t the way the Post always does profiles.
In April 2005, the Post’s Caroline E. Mayer and Amy Joyce profiled another public affairs organization’s founder – the difference was that this organization advocated a free-market agenda. The Center for Consumer Freedom’s Executive Director and Berman & Co. President, Richard Berman, wasn’t handled with kid gloves as Fenton was.
The Post cited several left-wing advocacy groups that vilified Berman’s efforts. Liberal activist groups, from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, described edgy tactics employed by Berman’s nonprofit organization.
“I’m troubled by this message and this industry that sells unhealthy things and are so willing to sacrifice the health of consumers,” said Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, on Berman’s efforts to defend certain sectors of the food, beverage and tobacco industries.
The story also raised questions about the Center for Consumer Freedom’s tax-exempt status. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington accused Berman of using it to funnel money to himself and his company, asserting the organization’s activities are “not remotely charitable.”
But Fenton was treated much differently by the Post. Fenton’s accomplishments, from the beginning of his involvement with left-wing causes in the 1960s to his promotion of a nuclear-free energy policy, were glorified by Weeks’ story.
Fenton’s past tactics, including Web videos attacking Fox News and a television commercial against efforts to privatize Social Security, were never questioned by the Post, unlike the tactics employed by Berman.
“There’s no division between his [Fenton’s] life and his work,” beamed Arianna Huffington, founder of the left-of-center Web site, The Huffington Post, to The Washington Post. “The work that he does is exactly what he is passionate about.”