Animal rights activists, including those from Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), have a well-earned reputation about lying about their identity to further their cause.
But previously, in most cases, that lying was done to gain employment with or access to animal agriculture operations.
However, last week, DxE member Matt Johnson took it to a completely different level, by telling the folks at the Fox Business network that he was Smithfield Foods’ CEO, Dennis Organ. What is scary is that the network believed him, and during the course of a roughly six-minute interview, “Mornings with Maria” host Maria Bartiromo seemed to not have an inkling that the person she was interviewing was not who he claimed to be. It wasn’t until later that Bartiromo went on camera to admit she had been “punked.”
Since that time, Bartiromo has been quite the laughingstock, yet what happened was not funny at all.
Meat and poultry producers have enough challenges with groups like DxE as it is, and when you have inattentive media outlets that allow themselves to be tricked, it doesn’t help.
I have never met Organ, but it was clear from sight alone that Johnson wasn’t Organ. A simple visit to the Smithfield website and a scan of the internet for other photos of Organ would have prevented this.
The occasional smirks on Johnson’s face and his basic body language also should have brought out suspicion. The fact that Johnson said, “through the outbreaks that are happening at our plants, our industry poses a serious threat in effectively bringing on the next pandemic,” and described Smithfield farms as “petri dishes for new diseases,” should have also raised a red flag.
Soon after those comments were made, Bartiromo went on to address Smithfield’s China connection, in that in 2013 it was acquired by Shuanghui International, which later changed its name to WH Group.
Bartiromo boasted that Fox Business has “covered the China story so closely,” yet she erroneously referred to African swine fever as “African swine flu” on multiple occasions, and she mispronounced the name Shuanghui. Oh, and then there was that little detail about not knowing Johnson wasn’t Organ.
What the industry should learn from this
Obviously, Johnson should not have done what he did. But DxE members have pretty much made it clear that doing wrong isn’t so bad if it furthers the animal rights cause.
Johnson told The Wrap, that DxE “put feelers out there elsewhere, strategically,” but were rejected by other outlets. Obviously, Fox Business didn’t reject them.
Clearly, the Fox Business interview shouldn’t have happened, either. If blame were to be given, 99% should go to the network. But Smithfield might need to be held a little accountable, too.
I’ve heard numerous times that those in the agriculture industry must tell their own story, before someone else does, and does so falsely. That is exactly what happened here.
In today’s environment, it is more important than ever for meat and poultry producers to be transparent, and to cultivate relationships with the media. I’m not saying Smithfield hasn’t done this, but incidents like this prove that any effort to introduce your company, its leadership, and its core beliefs to the media is time well spent.