Left-Wing Activists and Corporate
by Scott Hogenson
CNSNews.com Executive Editor
Some funny things can happen when political activism mixes with
corporate operations. Corporations and their officers routinely
contribute to Republican and Democratic political campaigns and
causes, but the situation can be downright embarrassing and even
risky with pure activists.
The latest collision in this busy intersection happened earlier this
month involving the office supply store chain Staples and the
liberal group Media Matters. In a news release issued Jan. 4, Media
Matters claimed partial credit for what it described as a decision
by Staples to stop advertising on television stations owned and
operated by Sinclair Broadcasting. Media Matters has a beef with
Sinclair Broadcasting, accusing it of promoting a conservative
The Media Maters release noted, "Staples, Inc. attributed its
decision in part to the response the company received from customers
visiting the SinclairAction.com website," which is run by Media
Matters and is supported by the militant group MoveOn.org and a
number of similarly inclined left-wing organizations.
This release was picked-up by a few news outlets, which moved
stories on what Media Matters did. Trouble is, Staples wasn't buying
the news coverage or the release that spawned it.
Staples responded with its own statement, claiming the company's
position regarding Sinclair was, "misrepresented by an organization
with no affiliation," with Staples, further stating the office
supply retailer would continue to advertise with Sinclair.
This denial led to another Media Matters release on Jan. 7, which
included a letter to Staples from Media Matters President and CEO
David Brock, who wrote, "As you may know, Staples, Inc. officials
reviewed, edited, and approved the Media Matters press release of
January 4, 2005, in both draft and final form."
The 'we said-they said' quagmire deepened with a Los Angeles Times
report that included Staples' Vice President of Public Affairs Paul Capelli. "Staples executives reviewed the news release prepared by
Media Matters before it was made public. But, he said, 'we didn't
approve it,'" the newspaper reported. Capelli was further quoted
saying, "We said, 'No, we don't want you to issue the press
release,' and they issued it anyway."
In fairness, Staples' position wasn't helped on this matter when
Capelli was part of an earlier report by the Associated Press . "A
spokesman for Framingham-based Staples said Wednesday that the
company's decision to discontinue advertising during news
programming Jan. 10 was made in response to the complaints and as
part of the company's routine, periodic adjustments to its media
buying," noted the AP.
Odd as this all is, the weirder thing is how similar it is to an
earlier flap between another corporate giant - Home Depot - and
another left-wing advocacy group called PFLAG, the acronym for
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
During an episode in 2001, PFLAG issued a statement that Home Depot
was sponsoring its Father's Day promotion, resulting in media
coverage around the country.
Home Depot promptly denied PFLAG's
assertion, telling reporters the company was not sponsoring the
promotion, that the company did not approve the PFLAG announcement
and asked them to not issue it, which they did in spite of
A 'corrected' news release was issued by PFLAG, which later resulted
in a third statement from the group correcting its correction, which
was also factually flawed. When asked about the string of erroneous
news release, PFLAG officials were largely not available for
I don't know that these two situations constitute a trend. But there
appears to be a cautionary tale here for corporate America - hook up
with left-wing groups at your peril.
In both of these two cases, corporations found themselves at odds
with liberal organizations hoping to capitalize on the cachet of
these companies, resulting in charges and counter-charges. While
it's doubtful these incidents will hurt or have hurt the bottom
lines of Home Depot or Staples, it's a sure bet they detract from
things that most certainly help the bottom line.
In the Home Depot incident, PFLAG was eventually forced to correct
the record it had misrepresented despite corporate concerns. The
Staples situation is somewhat cloudier, but Media Matters has so far
declined to offer anything to support its claim that Staples
approved the group's news release, which started the dust-up in the
Perhaps the Staples-Media Matters flap will fade into oblivion
unresolved; perhaps it will be ultimately settled. But these two
incidents underscore a common fault among so many liberal
organizations - to take rhetorical liberties at the expense of
others and create unnecessary problems in the process. It's an
unnecessary corporate risk that merits caution, particularly when
dealing with groups that rarely, if ever, have corporate interests
Scott Hogenson, former executive editor of
Cybercast News Service.