Sunrise (5/2/11)

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PR INDUSTRY SHAPES NEWS LIKE NEVER BEFORE

ProPublica: “The Gulf oil spill was 2010’s biggest story, so when David Barstow walked into a Houston hotel for last December’s hearings on the disaster, he wasn’t surprised to see that the conference room was packed. Calling the hearing to order, Coast Guard Captain Hung Nguyen cautioned the throng, “We will continue to allow full media coverage as long as it does not interfere with the rights of the parties to a fair hearing and does not unduly distract from the solemnity, decorum, and dignity of the proceedings.” It’s a stock warning that every judge gives before an important trial, intended to protect witnesses from a hounding press. But Nguyen might have been worrying too much. Because as Barstow realized as he glanced across the crowd, most of the people busily scribbling notes in the room were not there to ask questions. They were there to answer them. … “You would go into these hearings and there would be more PR people representing these big players than there were reporters, sometimes by a factor of two or three,” Barstow said. “There were platoons of PR people.” … In their recent book, “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” Robert McChesney and John Nichols tracked the number of people working in journalism since 1980 and compared it to the numbers for public relations. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they found that the number of journalists has fallen drastically while public relations people have multiplied at an even faster rate. In 1980, there were about .45 PR workers per 100,000 population compared with .36 journalists. In 2008, there were .90 PR people per 100,000 compared to .25 journalists. That’s a ratio of more than three-to-one, better equipped, better financed.”

SODA LOBBY FIGHTS FOOD STAMP BAN

–NYT: “To Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, it seemed like a sensible way to attack a major public health problem. To the soft drink industry, giant food companies, makers of snacks and candy, supermarkets, and antihunger groups, it seemed like an attack at the grocery checkout counter. … Food and beverage lobbyists see the mayor’s plan as a well-intentioned but misguided and paternalistic effort. They say it would create a logistical bottleneck at checkout counters and stigmatize poor people using food stamps. … They also fear that restrictions on soft drinks would set a precedent for the government to distinguish between good and bad foods and to ban the use of food stamps for other products — an issue sure to come up next year in the Congressional debate on a new farm bill. … President Obama, whose position on the New York plan is unclear, is in an awkward situation. The Agriculture Department, historically averse to restricting the use of food stamps, has said, “There are no bad foods, only bad diets.” The department rejected a somewhat similar proposal from Minnesota in 2004.”

FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES HIRE TOP LOBBYISTS IN ’11

Roll Call: “They may not have ivy-covered campuses or rowing teams, but for-profit colleges that award degrees in nontraditional studies such as herbal sciences and golf management have hired the Ivy League of lobbyists to wage a high-dollar battle against federal rules that they claim could put them out of business. … “There has been an all-hands-on-deck,” said one lobbyist hired by a for-profit school, joking that there were so many lobbyists roaming Capitol Hill on the issue that “they are stumbling over each other.”

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