Last spring, when the anti-fast-food documentary Super Size Me began opening in American theaters, an opinion writer named Richard Berman swung into action. He cranked out a scathing op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times that blasted the film for "serving up a flawed premise: that we're powerless to stop Big Food from turning us into a nation of fatties."
When legendary TV chef Julia Child died a few months later, Berman saw another opportunity. He wrote a piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that used her death as an occasion to debunk the idea that soft drinks are linked to diabetes.
And last month, when a Cleveland hospital garnered national attention for trying to evict its in-house McDonald's, Berman was invited on CNN to critique the move. "I don't see anything wrong with giving people choices," he observed mildly.
Why did these mainstream media outlets air Berman's opinions on such pressing health issues? Is he a doctor? A nutritionist? A health-policy wonk? None of the above. He's a Washington lobbyist.
...Berman's strategy turns on a simple rhetorical gimmick: By employing the language of consumer freedom, he protects his client industries by demonizing (and, hopefully, discrediting) their critics -- all apparently in service of the hapless consumer. Berman has been explicit about his approach. "Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger," he once told Chain Leader Magazine, a trade publication for restaurant chains (whose readership presumably doesn't include too many ordinary consumers). "We've got to attack [activists'] credibility as spokespersons."