They call it Astroturf.
...it’s like “grassroots” organizing, but fake, and it’s the new promotion vehicle of choice for corporations with a message. Consumers have long since learned that when a Fortune 500 company shows up at a regulatory hearing and insists that some new plan is “better for consumers,” it usually turns out to be better for the company. When a “neutral,” non-corporate research and advocacy group pitches the same idea, it can sound a whole lot better. That’s why plenty of large companies have founded or sponsored such groups, a fact that gets surprisingly little mention in the media.Bruce Kushnick, of Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, attends a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities meeting regarding a video franshice for Verizon. Bruce Kushnick notices no media, no opposing members of the public, only three men who work for Verizon. Bruce Kushnick goes home and writes this:
“Three guys are standing in the back by the exit door and they keep shaking the hands of the speakers,” he says, “most of whom testified that Verizon should get a new, statewide franchise to offer cable services. … I later learn that the three men in the back of the room, Moe, Larry and Curly, work for Verizon, and it is clear by the smiles and handshakes that a room of witnesses have been brought by Verizon to testify on its behalf. Not one mentioned that Verizon gives their organization money or other support.”When we refer to the media as the "Watchdogs of Democracy," we aren't just talking about what goes on in Washington. As watchdogs, the media is there to provide information to the public that otherwise may never see the light of day. Information that may prove very important to the way we live our lives, and guaranteeing that as Americans we continue to have choices.
What we are getting instead is complacency or silence, "Op-Eds" written by corporate shills, or "public service" corporate promotion presented as investigative journalism. The public cannot attend a public hearing if they don't know about it, nor will many individuals turn out even if they do. But for the public good, this is the role our media is meant to fill.
As Citizens, we do have an obligation to stay informed and take an active part if we want any freedom in the face of corporate agendas. These companies are out to make money, and there is nothing wrong with that. But how can they be policed in any reasonable way if the media is on the payroll and Joe Public is oblivious?