Editor's Letter

March 20, 2014
Can We Please Call a Spade a Spade?

In his 1910 book entitled How to Speak and Write Correctly, author Joseph Devlin took to task communicators who put on airs, feign learning, and avoid plain words: “. . . you may not want to call a spade a spade. You may prefer to call it a spatulous device for abrading the surface of the soil. Better, however, to stick to the old familiar name that your grandfather called it.”

It certainly is not Devlin’s grandfather’s world anymore.

We all know how power, politics and lobbyists work, but at moments when the curtain lifts and we see the spin wizards in plain view, it is unsettling, particularly when it involves important issues that need serious thought and debate from all sides. So I was uneasy when I encountered in our industry’s space the website of a group calling itself the Environmental Policy Alliance or EPA. Sounds like the Environmental Protection Agency, doesn’t it? Just a coincidence?

It certainly is not.

At the website you can read the mission statement: “The Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA) is devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups and exploring the intersection between activists and government agencies.” Fair enough. But what is the funding and agenda behind the Environmental Policy Alliance? The top of the website’s home page explains that the Alliance is “a project of the Center for Organizational Research & Education.” But what is this formidable-sounding Center? I find no links or description at the Alliance website. However, the street address and office suite number at the top of the home page are those of an infamous Washington, D.C., gun-for-hire PR firm, Berman and Company.

Rick Berman, founder of the firm, was profiled in a segment of the TV program 60 Minutes (which is posted at YouTube under “Rick Berman on 60 Minutes”) where he describes his tactics for what I call misinformation campaigns. “Shooting the messenger means getting people to understand that this messenger is not as credible as their name would suggest,” Berman boasts.

So what messages appear under the credible-sounding name of the Center for Organizational Research & Education? Among them: an “EPA Facts” tab that seems designed to create confusion about the federal agency’s name and the gun-for-hire’s name; a “LEED Exposed” tab that makes much of poorly performing LEED buildings but ignores the difference between certification for new construction and O&M; and a “Big Green Radicals” tab that denounces environmental groups as “a multimillion-dollar lobbying machine,” a statement that reminds me of a certain conversation between a kettle and a pot.

Let’s agree to call a spade a spade, and a sham a sham.

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