It’s amazing how people try to spin the media. Big companies that own large swaths of contaminated land, poisoned water wells, giant dumps, or intrusive quarries will hire an unscrupulous public relations firm to spin the media by sending out crap “events” taking place on the land, such as “Family Day” or “Biology Day” for kids. And members of those agencies will attend public meetings, spot a few people they can elevate to some sort of leadership position, and those folks will then turn from being community activists to mouthpieces for the big corporation. These people are called “astroturf.” I came across accusations of astroturfing a few weeks ago, regarding the Boeing Co, and the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. Above is a photo of the Santa Susana land, taken by the Rocketdyne CleanUp Coalition. Below is a draft pamphlet I obtained that shows how the company was planning to spin the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the Ventura County Star Press. From part of my story (Dec. 2012, Daily News):
After two decades of fighting to clean up the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site, longtime activists say their efforts are being subverted by a Boeing-backed effort to recruit new community voices.
The division between old-timers and so-called new voices centers over exactly how much cleanup work is needed at the contaminated former rocket testing site in the Simi Hills.
The veteran activists are pushing for a cleanup to the highest state standards, which would take a longer time and cost more money. The other, newer group is seeking a less-stringent cleanup in the hopes that the property would be open for public recreational use more quickly and at less expense.
And some of those in the older, more stringent group claim the others are simply doing Boeing’s bidding in a false grass-roots effort dubbed “astroturfing.” They say following that plan will ultimately leave some degree of contamination on the site, continuing to pose a health risk to the public.
“They (the new group) have this vision, because of Boeing propaganda, that the land up there will be moonscaped, and that every piece of dirt is going to be removed from that mountain, and that’s not true,” said Marie Mason, one of the original members of the Rocketdyne Clean-up Coalition.
“Most are honest, well-meaning people, but they don’t really get how contaminated it is up there.”
The Rocketdyne Clean-up Coalition, established in 1989, said the Boeing Co., which owns the lab, hired a consulting company to find people in the community who would support its desire to clean the site up to a less stringent standard and turn the land into open space.
But those in the newer group dispute claims of astroturfing, saying it diminishes their legitimate views about what to do with the field lab site.
John Luker, vice president of the Santa Susana Mountain Park Association, said he was once on the side of the old voices, but he eventually came to believe that the property only needs to be cleaned up to be used as open space.
“This is the most important wilderness corridor in Southern California,” Luker said in an email. “The Boeing Co. is sincere in their desire to turn over their property to a government agency or non-profit as parkland and open space. The Santa Susana Mountain Park Association is dedicated to preserving 15,000 acres in the Simi Hills, including the Rocketdyne parcel. We have had that mission for over 40 years.”
“We are working to help establish that partnership. What’s wrong with that?” he added.
Rick Brausch, who advises the cleanup for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, said the fear that new voices will sway cleanup efforts suggests continued mistrust among residents because of years of secrecy.
“They are hypervigilant with a cause,” Brausch said of the longtime activists. He added, however, that the state agency also is on alert for astroturfing.
“We need to be cautious and we need to be vigilant,” he said. “We need to be careful that we don’t get put in a direction that we can’t get out of.”