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Opinion: Columnists

Ron Arnold: Big Green's anti-fracking operatic chorus hits false notes

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Lobbying campaigns aren't usually compared to classical music, but Mark Dowie, former editor of the left-wing Mother Jones magazine, once wrote of Big Green's political battle strategy:

"For considerable sums of money, public opinion can be molded, constituents mobilized, issues researched, and public officials button-holed, all in a symphonic arrangement."

If that's their metaphor, then we now have onstage at the Big Green opera of political farce the Artists Against Fracking, playing fast and loose in "No Shale Gas," produced by and starring Yoko Ono as the fading celebrity, with Alec Baldwin as the portly doomsayer and Lady Gaga as the petroleum engineer in a meat suit.

In the orchestra pit, Fenton Communications follows the baton of propaganda composer and maestro David Fenton in this nonsense rerun of his 1989 "No Alar on Apples."

That was Fenton's public relations hit for the Natural Resources Defense Council that bankrupted hundreds of mom-and-pop apple orchards in a pesticide scam falsely claiming that the root-applied fruit-ripener Alar was a pesticide threatening millions of kids who ate apples.

Fenton's current anti-fracking opera sings the same old bogus songs, with different words. But Fenton's biggest "symphonic arrangement" is still unemployment for his targets. And he's fiendishly good at it.

We know how he does it because he told prospective high-dollar clients in a memo how he destroyed Alar (he pressured it off the market) and made buckets of money for the NRDC, at a tidy fee for himself.

Fenton's proffer -- "we submit this campaign as a model for other non-profit organizations" -- sounds like seduction from the Prince of Darkness to wannabe Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

He wrote: "The campaign was based on NRDC's report 'Intolerable Risk: Pesticides in Our Children's Food.' Participation by the actress Meryl Streep was another essential element." Fenton told an interviewer, "The American public is hungry for celebrities and having one available really helps."

So, just make unqualified celebrities the arbiters of scientific truth and public policy. How? Sidestep all factual issues.

Streep gave Organic Gardening magazine dramatics first: "To think that food could hurt a child. It's weird. It upsets every corner of my existence. I went sort of wild. It's insane that we have to worry about the food we give to our children."

Next, she sidestepped all factual issues: "I can't do battle with the biochemists, but I don't think I have to. ... [M]others will respond to this on an emotional level." It completely short-circuits rationality. Fiendish.

Then came the Fenton specialty: "An agreement was made with CBS News 60 Minutes to "break" the story of the [NRDC] report in late February."

"Interviews were also arranged several months in advance with major women's magazines like Family Circle, Women's Day and Redbook (to appear in mid-March).

"Appearance dates were set with the Donahue Shows, ABC's Home Show, double appearances on NBC's Today show and other programs.

"On February 26, CBS 60 Minutes broke the story to an audience of 40 million viewers. ... The next morning, NRDC held a news conference attended by more than 70 journalists and 12 camera crews."

He can still do that. What does the oil and gas industry think about Fenton's impact, particularly in moratorium-paralyzed New York? Tom Shepstone, campaign manager of the pro-shale oil and gas group Energy In Depth, put it most succinctly:

"Fenton Communications' role in opposing natural gas development in New York, as is typical for the firm, is fear-monger in chief. The firm engages in the most outrageous forms of demagoguery imaginable, crossing over into outright deceit on numerous fronts."

Perhaps the public will see Fenton Communications as a "facts don't matter" stage manager, and the curtain will fall on their fracko-wacko symphonic arrangement with a dull thud.

Washington Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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