Monsanto Wins Headline Sweepstakes

By Keith Kloor | June 21, 2013 11:03 am

I’m guessing that nobody at Monsanto has ever invoked the adage, “There is is no such thing as bad publicity.” The biotech giant, already a bogeyman to the anti-globalization/anti-corporate/anti-GMO crowd, has endured a particularly rough PR stretch of late.

Last month, protesters from around the globe marched against the company. Then came news of Monsanto’s “rogue” GMO wheat, a curious mystery that has reignited the “contamination” meme.

All this notoriety makes Monsanto a media magnet. So when three scientists were awarded the annual World Food Prize this week–one of them being from Monsanto–most editors and reporters hooked their stories to…you guessed it: Monsanto. The angle was telegraphed by the headlines.

New York Times: “Executive at Monsanto Wins Global Food Honor”

Financial Times: “World Food Prize to Monsanto exec”

Reuters was a bit more inclusive: “Monsanto Exec, other biotech pioneers win World Food Prize”

Same with MarketWatch: “Monsanto exec shares world food prize for genetically modified crops”

The Cattle Network (yes, there is such a thing) was rather parsimonious: “Monsanto scientist, two others win World Food Prize”

USA Today notably departed from the herd: “World food prize goes for work on biotech crops”

An NPR story, titled “And the Winner of the World Food Prize is…the Man from Monsanto,” generated over 250 comments, of which one reader observed:

I think NPR has figured out that if the word “Monsanto” is in the title of the story, they really don’t need anything else to bring in readers and comments.

Indeed, I think most everyone in media has figured that out. And many of the NPR comments are gloriously entertaining, like this one:

Monsanto, the Great Satan of Agriculture, has been given the World Food Prize?? That’s like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to someone like Adolf Hitler, or Miss America to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This kind of sentiment is seemingly widespread among GMO opponents, and it’s rather cartoonish.

I suspect that the World Food Prize is no less fraught with politics and overt messaging than the Nobel Peace Prize, but if the judges wanted to highlight biotechnology this year, then with the (deserved) inclusion of a Monsanto scientist they surely had to know how most of the media would spin the news and how that would be received by all the people who already say GMOs and Monsanto in the same breath.


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets.From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine.In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest.He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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