Phony Message; Fake Billboards?

As a journalist, my job is to report the facts.

But as a commentator, I have to call ’em as I see ’em, and the latest stunt by our pals at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) exhibited — for once — a level of strategic thinking that is worthy of a (momentary) nod.

In the wake of the ill-advised trade war with China, U.S. soybean farmers, who export nearly one-quarter of their annual crop to Asia, may be hit with more than $620 million in tariffs. PETA is capitalizing on that dilemma by planning to pay for billboards (see photo below) that suggest patriotic Americans could help out those poor struggling farmers by eating more tofu.

PETA soy billboard

Of course, it’s not enough just to load up one’s shopping cart with packages of bland, tasteless tofu; the billboard insists that people go vegan, which is the central core of PETA’s extremist positioning that humanity should have nothing to do with animals — other than admiring from a distance the harmonious co-existence among all species that exist in the Nature’s peaceful kingdom.

(I guess all those violent animal shows, such as “Fatal Attractions,” “I, Predator,” “Predator’s Prey,” “Swamp Wars” and the “Killer Elephants/Jellyfish/Squid” series — and that’s just one cable channel’s fare — must be fake news).

Give PETA credit: They’ve developed a tactical angle on what’s been a hot news story, and they’re scoring points from media coverage of their plans to put up billboards, without actually spending any money (yet) to do so.

One side note here: Actual news organizations, such as the Des Moines Register newspaper, covered the story by headlining the actual news angle: the reaction to the billboard, not the launch of yet another of PETA’s PR stunts.

Contrast the newspaper’s headline, “Iowa soybean group calls PETA vegan billboard ‘a new low,’ ” with the pro-veggie UK website LiveKindly’s take: “Dallas billboard to encourage U.S. citizens to go vegan to support local soy farmers.”

First of all, what’s with the “U.S. citizens” reference? There are hundreds of thousands of Brits living and working in The States who aren’t American citizens. Are they specifically excluded from participating in PETA’s vegan campaigning?

Moreover, LiveKindly betrays its bias by referring to PETA in its story as an “animal rights charity,” a misnomer that, had it been uttered in a courtroom, would have prompted an immediate “Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence.”

Followed by an equally prompt, “Sustained.”

‘D’ is for Disingenuous
“The threat of a trade war with China is looming, and soy farmers warn that tariffs on soy exports to China … would cause ‘serious damage’ to their industry,” PETA’s statement read. “That’s why PETA plans to run a billboard in Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, which is the second-highest soy-producing state in the country and the home of the president of the American Soybean Association.”

But the Iowa Soybean Association blasted the proposed stunt, underlining that the group is not encouraging consumers to give up meat.

“The billboard is misleading and disingenuous,” said Aaron Putze, a spokesperson for the organization. “[Its efforts] to capitalize on a painful trade dispute to further its anti-meat agenda is in poor taste. It’s a new low for PETA.”

Sorry, Aaron, but unfortunately, this lame billboard is not a new low for PETA. Not even close. They’ve stooped much lower than this in their efforts to gin up media coverage, create notoriety and recruit donors for whatever cause du jour they happen to have cooked up.

Not to mention that PETA and its allies never tire of harping on the evils of “Industrial Agriculture,” the perils of Big Ag’s control of food production and the ecological horror that is modern American farming.

Now, when it suits their warped purposes, they’re all of a sudden linking arms with those poor, trampled-upon Midwest soy farmers as they march in lockstep with the leaders of the vegan community to the nearest Whole Foods to stock up on tofu for that summertime barbecue.

Look, the billboard idea is clever, it’s eye-catching and it will likely resonate with people who’ve already embraced PETA’s philosophy that eating meat is somehow at the root of all the world’s problems.

Given ’em credit for that idea, too, because like most successful movements, PETA’s latched onto one that re-positions a small change that’s easy to do into something that creates consequences that appear to be monumental.

But the only thing monumental about PETA is the degree of hubris they continue to flaunt.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.