WUI: Writing under the influence

How our perceptions of what’s safe to eat are swayed by the PR industry
Guest blog by Linda Bonvie

For two days in September 2018, the Conrad Hotel in New York City hosted an invitation-only shindig where large quantities of wine flowed, lunch and dinner were served, chefs whipped up dishes in cooking presentations and experts gave talks and demonstrations — all extensively photographed and videotaped.
Leading the event was the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” celeb chef, Andrew Zimmern, who posed with guests for untold numbers of photos wearing his trademark round spectacles perched low on his nose.

If you took a casual look at the goings-on, it might appear to have been any other well-planned, fancy corporate convention. But it wasn’t. This was more of a boot camp for journalists and bloggers to help them effectively spread the messaging of Ajinomoto, the world’s largest producer of monosodium glutamate.

Dubbed the “World Umami Forum,” the affair took place at the mid-point in a ten-million dollar campaign spearheaded by PR giant Edelman Public Relations. Among the goals of Edelman’s client Ajinomoto is to have the press (and eventually, they hope, everyone else) start replacing the tainted name of MSG with the more pleasing umami.


From left, Gary Beauchamp, PhD, Mary Lee Chin, MS, RD, Dr. Kumiko Ninomiya, Executive Fellow Ajinomoto, Chef Chris Koetke, Takaaki Nishii, CEO and President Ajinomoto, Tia M. Rains, public relations director Ajinomoto, Ali Bouzari, Sarah Lohman, Harold McGee.

Public relations blitzes, of course, are nothing new. There were plenty of tricky PR tactics spun for the benefit of Big Tobacco. Edelman, in fact, was behind such a campaign, as detailed in the tobacco industry cache of papers uncovered during decades of litigation. Its 1978 document called “Taking the initiative on the smoking issue – a total program,” designed for RJ Reynolds, outlines several ways that “another point of view on the cigarette question” could be promoted. One plan was the creation of a “National Smokers’ News Bureau” in New York, which would “set up interviews, organize editorial briefings…and engage in extensive personal contact with media to develop specific storylines.”

What makes a modern-day Edelman storyline travel much further than those in the past, however, is reflected by the sheer number of outlets to which they’re deployed, along with a media that seems more ready, willing and able to cooperate than ever before.

Dishing out disinformation over dinner and drinks

Celeb chef Andrew Zimmern and World Umami Forum guest. (Photo Loren Wohl/AP Images)

The articles and blogs that were published as a result of the umami gathering all had an amazingly similar ring to them. Authors always seemed to drop in a mention of “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” referring to a letter sent to the New England Journal of Medicine back in 1968 as the main reason why MSG got a bad rap in the U.S. (one of Edelman/Ajinomoto’s most oft repeated, fabricated storylines).

Some of the pieces were done more creatively than others, but all managed to drive home specific key points emphasized at the umami event, dutifully repeated by writers of all stripes. But no doubt it was the headlines that made the Edelman folks smug with the satisfaction of a job well done – most especially the one that ran in the Wall Street Journal.

The story, by WSJ writer River Davis, originally appeared in the April 27, 2019 print edition of the paper under the headline “Rescuing MSG’s Unsavory Reputation” — one quickly changed online to read, “The FDA Says It’s Safe, So Feel Free to Say ‘Yes’ to MSG.”

Even the subhead was altered, adding the word “healthy” in for good measure.

Realize for a moment that here we have a top-tier newspaper switching a headline and subhead so it contains a positive string of word parings (safe, healthy, MSG, yes), and ending with a long-used PR/marketing tactic known as a call to action. That’s when the consumer is instructed to do something that will help sales, e.g., “ask your doctor,” “click here,” “call now,” or in this case, “say yes.”

Why would the WSJ do that? I attempted to find out.

Asking the question in an email to Colleen Schwartz, a communications executive at Dow Jones, I continued to poke around online, soon finding a string of shared MSG stories at the Linkedin page of Edelman SVP of Food & Beverage Gennifer Horowitz.
She had posted several of the articles published after the umami forum, most to rave reviews from colleagues. But what caught my eye was the WSJ one with the “yes” headline, commented on by a Linkedin connection of Horowitz (who previously worked with the Andrew Zimmern “brand”): “What a huge win for Ajinomoto and MSG! Congrats to the whole team!”

Hmm, what could this huge win be? Might the comment be referring to the headline swap?

I took that question directly to Schwartz, asking if the change was made at the behest of Edelman Public Relations. Schwartz emailed back almost immediately, saying she would have a response for me the next day. When the next day rolled around, she said that she needed more time, as she was “coordinating with colleagues in APAC.”

The statement she finally came back to me with was simply: “Wall Street Journal articles regularly run with different headlines in print and digital due to independent editorial preferences and space constraints. In this case, the difference in headlines is noted in the tag online: ‘Appeared in the April 27, 2019, print edition as ‘Rescuing MSG’s Unsavory Reputation.’”

Asking further questions of Schwartz proved useless. “Our statement stands – I won’t have any further comment for you,” she wrote back.

Too close for comfort

For the casual reader to know the difference between true news reporting or a writer simply giving coverage to a PR firm’s storyline isn’t easy. In the case of Edelman, its connection to the WSJ is a long and established one, even where its employees are concerned.

For example, it’s no secret that Edelman NYC brand director Nancy Jeffrey spent 10 years as a WSJ writer. Nor is Edelman’s warm and fuzzy relationship with the paper hush-hush.

As quoted in an Edelman website blog, Jeffrey recalls how Richard Edelman (son of founder Dan) would call her during her time at the paper “to meet with a client with a story to tell.” The “Edelman ethos,” Jeffrey says, is that “no one at Edelman ever rises too high to pitch a reporter.”

As for headlines, getting your messaging above the actual story may even outperform whatever the article says.

In a New Yorker story titled How headlines change the way we think, writer Maria Konnikova tells about an Australian study that found a reader’s take-away from an article is, in fact, dictated by the headline.

“By its choice of phrasing,” she writes, “a headline can influence your mindset as you read so that you later recall details that coincide with what you were expecting.”

Utilizing that concept in the digital media age can warp your mindset even more. An article that appeared in the online publication Vox a few months after the umami affair, although headlined “But what does umami taste like?” contained a snippet of code in the page so that when it’s shared online, the headline is replaced with “MSG is the purest form of umami…,” a line also used in an Ajinomoto MSG “fact sheet” and by the Glutamate Association.

Owned media, or a media owned?

Richard Edelman during an interview at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Mainstream media, said Edelman president and CEO Richard Edelman during an interview recently at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is on its way out. He calls the “notion” that media will continue on as we know them today “fallacious.” And what will replace them? According to Edelman, that will be “owned media,” meaning outlets – whether they be websites, blogs or even Facebook or Twitter accounts – over which businesses have complete control of content.

As newsrooms shrink, he says, companies are realizing “they have to tell their own stories.”

But considering how firms such as Edelman can enable companies that can afford a big PR tab to tell their own story anyway, will that really make much of a difference?

If Edelman has a catchphrase, it would probably be the Edelman Master Narrative, a.k.a. “the most important story you have to tell.”

Of course, when your client is Ajinomoto, that “story” will never include mention of the fact that MSG – a totally manufactured additive – is “excitotoxic,” meaning it can cause brain damage. It won’t disclose how MSG can trigger lifelong adverse reactions in an unborn child when a pregnant woman consumes food that contains the additive. Or that MSG, which always comes along with impurities in the finished product, is not identical to the glutamate in the human body and does not occur naturally in unprocessed foods. You won’t hear that MSG can cause a long list of adverse events (at levels that vary considerably from person to person), which can affect organs from the brain, to the heart, to the lungs to the bowels.

Do the folks at Edelman know this? Perhaps.

As reported in Gawker a decade ago, an unnamed PR executive “tipster” told how at an Edelman upper-management training session, attendees were told: “Sometimes you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is OK.”

This is an excerpt from “A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives: How to Avoid Synthetic Sweeteners, Artificial Colors, MSG, and More,” by Linda and Bill Bonvie, to be released March, 2020, Skyhorse Publishing.

The insanity of using MSG as a salt-substitute

Did the people at Edelman Public Relations (who currently have a multi-million dollar Ajinomoto account) dream up substituting MSG for salt to cut down on sodium intake, or is this a Glutamate Association original to promote sales of MSG?

Plenty of “salt is bad for you” articles can be found, such as this one at SFgate that states: “… if you consume too much sodium, over time this can lead to potentially serious health problems. Managing your sodium intake is of key importance to maintaining your health and well-being.”

On the other hand, glutamate-industry propaganda almost always contains at least a line or two claiming that MSG contains less sodium than table salt – without mentioning that MSG contributes to brain damage, obesity, infertility, a-fib, migraine headache, asthma, seizures and more.

So, if you’re trying to manage your sodium intake for health reasons, why on earth would you purposefully ingest products that are loaded with brain-damaging, obesity-producing, infertility-causing glutamate?

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG): The basics

1) It’s manufactured using genetically engineered bacteria.
The most “naturally occurring” thing about monosodium glutamate is the genetically modified bacteria that excrete monosodium glutamate’s potentially excitotoxic glutamic acid through their cell walls.

2) It contains:

  • L-glutamic acid (which stimulates taste buds to give the perception of a more exciting or robust taste experience);
  • unavoidable, undesirable, by-products of L-glutamic acid manufacture which include D-glutamic acid, pyroglutamic acid, and additional impurities depending on the material fed to the bacteria and the exact nature of the bacterial fermentation involved –– by-products of manufacture that are not found in unadulterated meat, fish, poultry or in the human body;
  • sodium, and,
  • moisture.

3) When present in excess, it turns excitotoxic.
When present in excess (amounts greater than needed for normal body function), the glutamic acid in monosodium glutamate becomes excitotoxic, causing neurotransmitters to fire repeatedly until the cells associated with targeted glutamate receptors die — causing brain damage and endocrine disorders as well as reactions such as a-fib, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and seizures.

4) There is more than enough free glutamic acid in processed food to enable humans to accrue the excesses needed to cause brain damage and consequent abnormalities.

5) To learn more:

To learn more about monosodium glutamate see: What is monosodium glutamate?

To review the names of ingredients that contain manufactured free glutamic acid see: Ingredient Names Used to Hide MfG.

To understand the difference between manufactured free glutamic acid and the glutamic acid found in unadulterated protein and in the human body see: Manufactured vs Natural glutamic acid.

To read about industry’s denial of the toxicity of MSG see:
Basic Facts (things the “glutes” don’t want you to know)
This is How the “MSG is Safe” Game is Played
Meet the “Glutes”
Here’s How They Hide MSG
The Architect of it All
Industry’s FDA
Six Big Fat Lies
Propaganda
Umami

Giving credit where credit is due: Writers engaged in spreading the Glutes’ propaganda and the outlets that enable them

The fiction that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a harmless food additive has several key components:

  • Rigged studies and bold-faced lies.
  • A vigorous PR effort (currently being conducted by Daniel J. Edelman Public Relations).
  • Paid media, in the form of “sponsored” content (that you may not realize is bought and paid for).
  • “Earned” media – meaning legitimate journalists with access to top-tier outlets (think Wall Street Journal) who have been enlisted to write up articles that look and sound like real news, but are simply industry’s messaging done in the “voice” of the publication. This method also works with celebrities (especially chefs), bloggers and anyone else who has a big social media following.

And if you think that the flood of glutamate-industry propaganda has been torrential lately, you’re absolutely right. Ajinomoto, the world’s largest manufacturer of monosodium glutamate, is in the middle of a 10-million-dollar PR blitz (according to Ajinomoto), to “persuade Americans that MSG is safe—and maybe even good for you…”

We can’t always say for sure who is responsible for spreading the Glutes’ words so far and wide, but it seems only appropriate to share the names of some of the authors and outlets that enable them. For more about glutamate-industry propaganda, look here and here.

Rachael Ray Every Day, May, 2019
“Surprise: MSG Has Been Completely Safe to Eat All This Time”
Author: Hillary Maglin
https://www.rachaelraymag.com/whats-new/why-msg-is-safe-to-eat

BBC future, May, 2019
“The man who discovered umami”
Author: Veronique Greenwood
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190503-the-mystery-taste-that-always-eluded-us

BBC Future, November, 2015
Is MSG as bad as it’s made out to be?
Author: Bianca Nogrady
www.bbc.com/future/story/20151106-is-msg-as-bad-as-its-made-out-to-be\

The Wall Street Journal, April, 2019
“The FDA Says It’s Safe, So Feel Free to Say ‘Yes’ to MSG”
Author: River Davis
https://www.wsj.com/articles/rescuing-msgs-unsavory-reputation-11556337610

WebMD, February, 2019
“Is MSG really so bad?”
Author: Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
https://blogs.webmd.com/food-fitness/20190219/is-msg-really-so-bad

Lifehacker Skillet, January, 2019
“Put MSG in everything, you cowards”
Author: Claire Lower
https://skillet.lifehacker.com/put-msg-in-everything-you-cowards-1831721707

Men’s Health, January, 2019
“Is MSG Bad for You? No – and Here’s Why”
Author: Chris Mohr, Ph.D, RD
https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/a26006305/msg-not-bad-for-you/

fivethirtyeight, January, 2016
How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia
Author: Anna Maria Barry-Jester
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-msg-got-a-bad-rap-flawed-science-and-xenophobia/

Decoding Delicious, March, 2013
What is MSG, and is it safe to eat? –
Author: Amanda Green
www.decodingdelicious.com/what-is-msg/

Lifehacker, December, 2018
“Stop being afraid of MSG”
Author: Beth Skwarecki
https://vitals.lifehacker.com/stop-being-afraid-of-msg-1831011967

Esquire, October, 2018
“It’s time for America to fall back in love with MSG”
Author: Joanna Rothkopf
https://www.esquire.com/food-drink/food/a23566452/its-time-for-america-to-fall-back-in-love-with-msg/

The Seattle Times, October, 2018
“Avoiding MSG? Look beyond the myths”
Author: Carrie Dennett
https://www.seattletimes.com/life/wellness/avoiding-msg-look-beyond-the-myths/

Berkeley Wellness, October, 2018
“Is MSG Safe?”
Author: Keng Lam MD
https://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/msg-safe

US News & World Report, October, 2018
“Scientists Have Known MSG is Safe for Decades. Why Don’t Most Americans?”
Author: Toby Amidor
https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2018-10-10/scientists-have-known-msg-is-safe-for-decades-why-dont-most-americans

Business Insider, August, 2014
Is MSG Sodium In Chinese Food Safe To Eat?
Author: Kevin Loria
https://www.businessinsider.com/is-msg-sodium-in-chinese-food-safe-to-eat-2014-8

Business Insider, February, 2017
Everyone should cook with MSG, says food scientist
Author: Gus Lubin
https://www.businessinsider.com/cooking-with-msg-supersalt-2017-2

BuzzFeed, August, 2013
The Notorious MSG’s Unlikely Formula For Success
Author: John Mahoney
https://www.buzzfeed.com/johnmahoney/the-notorious-msgs-unlikely-formula-for-success

Slate, May, 2006
Could MSG make a comeback?
Author: Sarah Dickerman
https://slate.com/human-interest/2006/05/could-msg-make-a-comeback.html

Reader’s Digest, August, 2018
“What is MSG – and how bad is it, really?
Author: Denise Mann, MS
https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/what-is-msg-and-how-bad-is-it-really/

Blog: MyFitnessPal, September, 2016
Is MSG Safe?
Author: Monica Reinagel
https://blog.myfitnesspal.com/is-msg-safe/

Skeptical Raptor, July, 2018
“MSG myth – debunked with real science”
https://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/msg-myth-versus-science/

Self, June, 2018
“We all really need to stop freaking out about MSG”
Author: Yvette d’Entremont
https://www.self.com/story/we-all-really-need-to-stop-freaking-out-about-msg

The Guardian, May, 2018
“Chinese restaurant syndrome: has MSG been unfairly demonized?”
Author: Joanna Blythman
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/may/21/chinese-restaurant-syndrome-has-msg-been-unfairly-demonised

The Guardian, July 2005
If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache?
Author: Alex Renton
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/jul/10/foodanddrink.features3

Financial Times, May, 2015
OMG I love MSG
Author: Tim Hayward
Not available online

Smithsonian.com, November, 2013
It’s the Umami, Stupid. Why the Truth About MSG is So Easy to Swallow
Author: Natasha Geiling
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/its-the-umami-stupid-why-the-truth-about-msg-is-so-easy-to-swallow-180947626/

We’ve merely skimmed the surface of what’s out there. If other articles catch your eye, please send their links to us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com, or post them on our Facebook page. We like to give credit where credit is due.

The contrived controversy over MSG-safety

If you Google “monosodium glutamate” and the word “controversy,” you come up with over 800,000 results. Does that mean there are legitimate opposing viewpoints about whether monosodium glutamate is safe or not – a true controversy?

Clearly there are two sides to every story, and we should be told both. But when the side claiming “controversy” offers nothing more than rigged research, name calling, and out and out lies, what they’re delivering is more akin to propaganda than it is to controversy. And in the case of MSG-safety, that’s all there is. There is no honest MSG-is-safe science. There are no scrupulous studies that demonstrate that MSG is a “harmless” food additive.

So if you’re wondering where the “facts” about MSG-safety are coming from, we have listed some of the arguments on which those ”facts” are based:

Purported evidence that MSG is a harmless food additive:

  1. Animal studies that falsely claimed to be replications of studies demonstrating brain damage in laboratory animals.
  2. The argument that animal studies demonstrating MSG-toxicity are invalid, because animals do not represent the human condition.
  3. The lie that humans can’t eat enough manufactured free glutamate (MfG) to cause the brain damage, endocrine disorders, and assorted reactions that laboratory animals experienced in the 1960s and 1970s – a claim that is particularly interesting in light of industry claims one and two above.
  4. Human studies that have nothing to do with MSG safety
  5. Human double-blind studies rigged to concluded that research has failed to demonstrated that monosodium glutamate or MfG had toxic potential. Lacing placebo materials used in those studies with an excitotoxic amino acid that causes the same reactions as caused by MSG (the aspartic acid in aspartame) has been just one of the many devices used to facilitate industry’s claim that “research has failed to demonstrated that L-glutamate has toxic potential.”

Bold-faced lies, including:

6. Glutamate contained in MSG is identical to glutamate in the human body.

7. MSG is very well researched and has been found to be safe.

8. MSG must be safe since the FDA has said so.

9. MSG has been used for over a century without adverse reactions.

10. MSG is naturally made, similar to yogurt, vinegar and wine.

11. Monosodium glutamate occurs naturally in food.

12. Humans can’t eat enough manufactured free glutamic acid (MfG) to cause the brain damage, endocrine disorders, and assorted reactions that the laboratory animals experienced.

And all this is packaged by the largest independently owned PR firm in the world, Daniel J. Edelman Public Relations (now working for Ajinomoto, the largest manufacturer of monosodium glutamate in the world). Edelman is reported to have told employees that “Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is OK.”

Is “controversial” the right term to describe a situation where one side tells the truth about a subject while the opposing side resorts to rigging research, calling names, and telling lies?

About MSG-toxicity, there really is no controversy.

RESOURCES

Data
https://www.truthinlabeling.org/data.html

Brain lesions, obesity, and other disturbances in mice treated with monosodium glutamate.
Olney JW. Science. 1969 May 9;164(3880):719-21. PMID: 5778021
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5778021

Excitotoxic food additives–relevance of animal studies to human safety.
Olney JW. Neurobehav Toxicol Teratol. 1984 Nov-Dec;6(6):455-62. Review. PMID: 6152304
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6152304

Brain damage in mice from voluntary ingestion of glutamate and aspartate.
Olney JW, Labruyere J, de Gubareff T. Neurobehav Toxicol. 1980 Summer;2(2):125-9. PMID: 7290308
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7290308

Brain damage and oral intake of certain amino acids.
Olney JW. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1976;69:497-506. No abstract available. PMID: 821314
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/821314

Brain-damaging potential of protein hydrolysates.
Olney JW, Ho OL, Rhee V. N Engl J Med. 1973 Aug 23;289(8):391-5. No abstract available. PMID: 4198222
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4198222

Brain damage in infant mice following oral intake of glutamate, aspartate or cysteine.
Olney JW, Ho OL. Nature. 1970 Aug 8;227(5258):609-11. No abstract available. PMID: 5464249
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5464249

Neonatal exposure to monosodium glutamate induces morphological alterations in suprachiasmatic nucleus of adult rat.
Rojas-Castañeda JC, Vigueras-Villaseñor RM, Chávez-Saldaña M, Rojas P, Gutiérrez-Pérez O, Rojas C, Arteaga-Silva M. Int J Exp Pathol. 2016 Feb;97(1):18-26. doi: 10.1111/iep.12157. Epub 2016 Jan 21. PMID: 26799547
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26799547

What is monosodium glutamate
https://www.truthinlabeling.org/whatismonosodiumglutamate.html

The Toxicity/Safety of Processed Free Glutamic Acid (MSG): A study in Suppression of Information.
https://www.truthinlabeling.org/assets/manuscript2.pdf

Flawed industry studies
https://www.truthinlabeling.org/flawed.html

Six big fat lies
https://www.truthinlabeling.org/lies.html

Propaganda 101: The 8 ingredients in cutting edge propaganda
https://www.truthinlabeling.org/blog/2019/05/01/propaganda-101-the-8-ingredients-in-cutting-edge-propaganda/

https://www.edelman.com/insights/edelman-ad-age-best-places-work-2019

https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Edelman

https://gawker.com/356220/sometimes-you-just-have-to-stand-up-there-and-lie

‘Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie’

It’s hard to keep up with glutamate-industry propaganda, as they clearly have some of the most creative minds in the business. The latest to handle PR for Ajinomoto Co, Inc. (the leading producer of monosodium glutamate) is none other than Daniel J. Edelman Public Relations, the largest independently owned PR firm in the world.

At the beginning of this year, Richard Edelman (son of founder Daniel), when writing about how honored he was that his namesake agency was listed as a “best place to work” by Ad Age, proudly told how they are now working with Ajinomoto to “set the record straight about long-misunderstood monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the U.S.”

And that explains a lot about the bold new propaganda campaigns we’ve been seeing lately — significantly different approaches. One in particular masquerades as an announcement of a newsworthy event to be featured in business sections of some top-name newspapers.

“Rescuing MSG’s Unsavory Reputation” was carried by the Chicago Tribune, the Latin American Herald Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal among others, with lots of “feel- good” words paired with “monosodium glutamate.”  Psychologists might call it conditioning; we call it brainwashing. The same piece was also posted in Food Processing, which calls itself “the information source for food and beverage manufacturers,” under the headline, “Ajinomoto Wants to Repair MSG’s Reputation.”

Now we’ve seen “The man who discovered umami,” by Veronique Greenwood, in no less a program than BBC’s “Future”. This time, the message that MSG is a harmless flavor enhancer is encased in a pleasant story about the glories of “umami.”  And in this friendly, good-natured, affable little tale is inserted the message that the consumer is supposed to take away:

“The product, a monosodium glutamate (MSG) powder called Aji-No-Moto, is still made today. (Although rumuors have swirled periodically that eating too much MSG can give people headaches and other health problems, the US Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence for such claims. It just makes food taste more savoury.)”

It’s clever, for sure. But Edelman has a long history of clever propaganda techniques. One that it terms “litigation PR,” was used to stop a dozen state attorneys general from joining the anti-trust actions taken against Microsoft in the late 1990s. Other efforts of theirs have included representing the American Petroleum Institute at a reported fee of $52 million a year in an “astroturfing” venture (a fake grass-roots campaign typically industry funded) to promote fracking, as well as other climate-change-denial crusades, and working with Big Tobacco to help “slow or reverse” public opinion regarding smoking. One document from the late 1970s, produced by Edelman for RJ Reynolds, states that their purpose is to “begin the process of establishing that there is another point of view on the cigarette question.”

But nothing describes Edelman’s MSG “set the record straight” effort better than a story that appeared in Gawker ten years ago. According to an unnamed, top-level marketing executive, an Edelman senior management training session included this quote: “Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is OK.”

We can’t wait to see what these propaganda artists will have in store for us next. 

References:

https://www.edelman.com/insights/edelman-ad-age-best-places-work-2019

https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Edelman

https://gawker.com/356220/sometimes-you-just-have-to-stand-up-there-and-lie

https://www.industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/tobacco/docs/#id=mybm0104