Entergy stacks pipeline hearing with paid actors. Because of course they would.
Last week, the New Orleans Lens reported that a group of pro-pipeline advocates who attended a public hearing last October were, in fact, paid actors. The hearing, to solicit public opinion on a proposed power plant, was stacked with a dozen or so actors in matching orange shirts. The Lens reports actors were paid $60 to show up, and $200 for a “speaking role.”
Entergy, the company behind the power plant, and told the Lens that it wasn’t responsible for the paid actors praising its proposal. But after an internal investigation, Entergy later reported that Hawthorn, the PR company it contracted to organize grassroots support for the project, did in fact hire a subcontractor named Crowds on Demand. This group, per its name, then put out the ads and hired the actors to create this astroturf effort.
Entergy maintains that it knew nothing about Hawthorn’s subcontracting to stuff the meeting with paid proponents, and that it’s since terminated the contract. And on Friday, Hawthorn told The Lens that paying actors “was not requested or authorized” and that “there was a misunderstanding” that they “deeply regret.”
But that’s hard to believe, especially because this isn’t the first time Hawthorn’s hired a subcontractor who’s engaged in astroturfing, as Matt Kasper of the Energy and Policy Institute points out. In fact, Hawthorn’s efforts to sink the 2008 cap and trade legislation is such a shining example of how not to do public relations that it is literally a textbook example of poor PR practice.
On behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, Hawthorn hired a subcontractor to drum up opposition. Apparently unable to find any real opposition, the subcontractor instead fabricated letters from minority groups and sent them to lawmakers. Hawthorn later admitted to it, but not until after the House voted on the bill.
So either Entergy hired Hawthorn without doing any sort of due diligence about the company’s illicit history of mobilizing supposedly grassroots support for pro-industry energy policy, or that’s exactly why it hired Hawthorn.
Because the astroturfing was successful in getting the council to approve the project, whether or not this admission from Entergy and Hawthorn will change anything remains to be seen. DeSmog’s Julie Dermansky, reporting from a followup meeting earlier this month, found that those opposed to the power plant, like Happy Johnson, are hoping that “the new council will do the right thing and take another look.”
And they absolutely should. Because if these sorts of opportunities for public input mean anything, the fact that paid industry voices are crowding out concerned citizens has to mean something.
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(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)