Boston Tree Party
Last Friday, the Boston Globe printed an angry letter to the editor from Todd Paglia of the environmental group Forest Ethics. The charge? That the Globe advertising department, without reasonable explanation, had refused to run a Forest Ethics ad critical of Massachusetts-based Staples, a major Globe advertiser, and that an ombudsman column backing the department’s decision was based on embarrassingly one-sided reporting.
The ad contains the bold statement that 97 percent of Staples copy paper comes from clearcut forests. In his column, ombudsman Jack Thomas quoted Globe advertising division sales manager Dennis Lloyd as saying he had told an unidentified Forest Ethics representative (presumably Paglia) that the claims in the ad required substantiation. Thomas then reported (presumably based on Lloyd’s version of events) that someone from Forest Ethics had called back just once to confirm the policy. After that, Thomas reported, the group was “not heard from again.”
Not so, according to Paglia, who recollects numerous conversations with Globe advertising department employees, including Lloyd. Paglia told Muckraker that Lloyd never mentioned any problem with the claims presented in the ad. Instead, Paglia said, Lloyd contended that the tone of the ad was the problem. Paglia said he repeatedly offered to make changes in order to get the ad in the paper. Nothing worked.
“They never gave me a specific or straight answer,” Paglia said of his multiple “circular” conversations with Lloyd and other Globe ad department officials.
Lloyd did not return Muckraker’s call, but he told columnists Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, that “in a general sense” the fact that the ad named Staples was a “concern.”
“The reason we declined the ad was we did not feel comfortable not necessarily with the issue but the way it was expressed,” Lloyd said, according to Mokhiber and Weissman.
That, of course, directly contradicts the explanation in Thomas’s column.
Globe spokesman Rick Gulla said Staples’s position as a big-time advertiser played absolutely no role in the decision to spike the ad and called the difference in Paglia and Lloyd’s versions of events an “impasse.”
“It is our belief here at the Globe that we have a responsibility in our ad space, as we do in the news columns, to attempt to verify these kinds of [claims]. … We never saw any substantiation.”
Gulla called the ad “very accusatory,” noting that it included the phone number of Staples CEO Tom Stemberg.
But Paglia said he specifically offered to take Stemberg’s phone number out in order to get the ad in the paper. And he said he would have happily provided substantiation if only he’d been asked. As it stands, Paglia said he felt like a victim of “corporate-controlled media.”
“We were willing to pay the going rate for our ad. But Staples is willing to pay the going rate for who knows how many ads. … It’s just a matter of dollars.”
As for Thomas, who also failed to return a call from Muckraker, he not only presented just the Globe’s version of events, but also saw fit to rip into Paglia and the manner in which environmental activists reacted to the controversy. While correctly noting that the many letters to Globe editor Matt Storin about the issue missed their mark (Storin has no control over what ads get printed), Thomas failed to resolve the much larger underlying question: Did the Globe kill an ad for fear it might offend another (bigger and more lucrative) advertiser?
We may never know for sure. And the truth, as ever, may lie somewhere in the middle. But the Globe advertising department’s shifting explanations and reliance on public-relations officials for comment certainly tilts the balance in this dispute towards Paglia and Forest Ethics.
Among the bigger environmental decisions the Bush administration will make is whether to press forward with so-called “New Source Review” lawsuits against power plants and refineries that were grandfathered out of Clean Air Act emissions regulations but have since upgraded output capabilities. Towards the end of the Clinton administration, the Justice Department began to sue companies that had made “significant modifications” to their facilities (as opposed to “routine maintenance”), in an attempt to force the companies into compliance with current air-quality standards.
But the Bush White House has been vague about whether it will proceed with the lawsuits. The president’s energy plan, in fact, calls for an EPA study of the issue and directs the Justice Department to review all pending litigation to ensure that it hasn’t hampered innovation and energy production.
Now environmentalists are buzzing about just who will be conducting this “review.”
Most of the questions surround Philip Perry, who recently left D.C. power law firm Latham & Watkins (which has represented Cinergy and American Electric Power, both the subject of pending lawsuits) to join the Justice Department in the deputy attorney general’s office. Early reports out of Justice had Perry teaming up with Clinton holdover John Cruden to review the lawsuits and decide whether to continue with them.
And while Perry’s recent affiliation with Latham & Watkins has raised hackles, it’s not the only thing that has enviros hot under the collar. Perry also happens to be the son-in-law of energy task force head and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney. Yep, the veep himself.
The Justice Department now says Perry will have no role in the deliberations, which are being conducted in the office of legal policy under Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh — but some sources still fear Perry’s “hidden” influence.
Frank O’Donnell of Clear Air Trust, meanwhile, notes that several companies that had cut tentative deals with the EPA, including Cinergy and Dominion Resources, have since backed off, preferring to wait until the reviews are done.
Here’s a puzzle for you: What do Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, and David Brock have to do with the administration’s clean air policies? Not much, actually. But Clean Air Trust’s O’Donnell has dug up one connection.
If you read closely (which Muckraker did) the reports about David Brock’s many-years-too-late admission that he intimidated Clarence Thomas acquaintance Kaye Savage into retracting damaging statements about Thomas, you’ll recall that Brock says the source for the information he used to intimidate Savage was Mark Paoletta, a friend of Thomas’s who worked in the first Bush White House.
Still don’t see the connection? Well, working right alongside Paoletta in the George H.W. Bush White House counsel’s office was none other than Jeffrey Holmstead, another Latham & Watkins vet who is slated to become head of the EPA’s clean air office.
O’Donnell passed along this 1990 memo from Allan B. Hubbard, executive director of the then-White House Council on Competitiveness, to then-White House counsel C. Boyden Gray: “Thank you for all your support for the Council’s work. I greatly appreciate the terri
fic effort by your staff, especially Jeff Holmstead and Mark Paoletta …”
Not that this association necessarily casts a bad light on Holmstead. But it does point out what a small incestuous world Washington can be.
Get Grist in your inbox