Procter & Gamble has been placing virtually identical op-eds supposedly written by different authors arguing for corporate tax cuts in newspapers across the country. In comments to Media Matters, some of the editors of those newspapers criticized the company for their tactics, with one saying the company would be blacklisted from the paper.
Procter & Gamble (P&G) is a Fortune 500 company that produces products such as Charmin, Head & Shoulders, and Tide. The company has publicly supported Republicans’ recent tax efforts, include a large cut to the corporate tax rate. P&G has also spent millions on lobbying efforts in recent years on issues that include corporate taxes, according to government lobbying records.
In recent weeks, the company has been helping place op-eds by manufacturing plant managers across the country in their respective newspapers that tout the alleged benefits of cutting corporate taxes to the economy (numerous economists disagree). While those op-eds all have different authors, they are virtually the same except for a few sentences about the P&G plant in the area. The North Carolina-based website Greensboro 101 first noted the similarities in a December 11 post. (Thanks to reader R.K. for passing on the information.)
Those op-eds are:
- A November 24 op-ed in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (WI) by Green Bay plant manager Dan Lloyd. (Update: The publication has since added an editor's note to the top of the piece.)
- A November 25 op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune (UT) by Box Elder manager Joe Tomon.
- A December 5 op-ed in the Southeast Missourian by Cape Girardeau plant managers Jack Geissinger and Tim Hayner.
- A December 6 op-ed in The Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA) by Mehoopany plant managers Laszlo Varga and Jose Manuel Sanchez.
- A December 10 op-ed in the News & Record by (Greensboro, NC) Greensboro plant managers Kevin Hazel and John Sorjonen. (The paper has since added an editor’s note.)
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders promoted the Green Bay Press-Gazette op-ed on November 28 on her Twitter account, writing:
Wisconsin plant manager explains how the tax cut bill is going to empower American companies and workers to WIN AGAIN https://t.co/AVxaiidTOX
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) November 28, 2017
Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC) promoted the News & Record op-ed in a press release headlined “ICYMI: Procter and Gamble Plant Managers: ‘Tax Bill Will Level the Field for Greensboro, Too.’”
For the most part, the only interchangeable parts of the op-eds are information about P&G’s local manufacturing ties and the last sentence fragment about cutting corporate taxes allegedly helping “P&G’s U.S. employees in [place of publication].”
Here, for example, is a composite image that compares the texts of the November 24 and December 10 op-eds (the News & Record later added an editor's note to the top of the piece online):
P&G defended the op-eds in the following statement to Media Matters (the statement also appeared in the News & Record):
When P&G decided to promote the benefits of corporate tax reform, we encouraged most of our U.S. plant managers to write Op-Eds or Letters to the Editor for their local newspapers. Many accepted. Working as a team, a format was devised that was consistent and accurate. The fact that many of our plant managers, from all over the country, agreed on the content further demonstrates that corporate tax reform is a necessity to keep U.S. companies competitive in the global market. This topic impacts every P&G business and manufacturing site, and we appreciate the leadership of our plant managers.
Two editors criticized P&G’s tactics in comments to Media Matters and specifically said if they had known the op-eds weren’t unique they wouldn’t have run them.
George Pyle, the editorial page editor at the Salt Lake Tribune, told Media Matters that P&G deceived the Utah-based publication and they’re now on his blacklist.
“I specifically asked if this was exclusive to The Tribune and was told that it was,” Pyle said in an email. “Our policy is that all the submitted op-eds we run must be exclusive to us. After they run, we have nothing to say if the same person wants to pedal the same piece somewhere else. We don't pay for these and aren't buying any rights. But if I had known this same piece was going to show up in other newspapers under other bylines, I would have rejected it out of hand.”
He added: “I was already uncomfortable with the increasing number of op-eds that come from PR firms or corporate sources rather than directly from their supposed authors. Corporate and nonprofit, liberal and conservative, are all doing this more and more and it bugs me more every day. These guys are now on my black list and I am going to be more suspicious of such things going forward.”
Allen Johnson, the editorial page editor at the Greensboro News & Record, told Media Matters: “We were not aware of the shared authorship of the piece until after the fact. If we had known in advance, we would not have run it. We also contacted P&G about the issue and told them of our concerns.” He later said the paper would be open to publishing P&G “but only if they follow our standards.”
Jim Fitzhenry, the executive editor and vice president of news for USA Today Network-Wisconsin, said the publication was “not aware that Procter & Gamble had submitted similar op-eds to various publications. A standard review of the op-ed did not show that any portions had been previously used in other publications. That is not surprising. Based on the information you provided, it looks like the op-ed was first used in the Press-Gazette.”
He added that they would have “reconsidered publishing the op-ed if we knew it was a boiler plate submission. We give strong preference for letters and op-eds prepared specially for our readers, not mass produced material.” Fitzhenry added that they would “continue to review submissions for publication, from P & G and all readers, on a case-by-case basis.”
By contrast, The Times-Tribune in Scranton, PA, said they didn’t have a problem with the op-ed.
Patrick McKenna, the paper's associate editor, explained in an email that he was “not concerned that regionalized versions appeared anywhere else as long as it was exclusive to us in our market, where P&G has a major paper products plant. Whatever the plant managers endorsed obviously is P&G corporate policy, and I have no problem with that voice being heard regardless of whether the company expresses it through a single corporate spokesman or executive or through regional executives. We were under no illusion that the column was anything other than an expression of P&G policy, regardless of attribution, and the authors were of course identified as P&G executives.”
He added: “Regarding the op-ed itself, there is nothing surprising about a major corporation favoring a major corporate tax decrease. For us, it was a reasonable counterpoint to a cascade of other opinions we had published opposing the tax plan, which our editorial board also generally opposes on matters of process and substance.”
The Southeast Missourian did not respond to a request for comment.
Media Matters documented several months ago that numerous op-eds defending the pipeline industry were published without disclosing writer James “Spider” Marks’ financial ties to that industry. John L. Micek, opinion editor for PennLive, told Media Matters at the time that Marks and his public relations people misled the publication and if he had disclosed his industry ties, the piece never would have run.