Editorials: In bed with stars
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1998:
They call themselves “gun nuts,” in seeming confession of mental instability and of
equating their weapons with manhood. There are 2.8 million of them, down from 3.5 million
as recently as 1995. They’re the National Rifle Association, desperate to reverse a decline
that has cut cash assets from $81 million in 1991 to just $43 million now.
On June 7, in Philadelphia, a setting selected to evoke historic imagery, the 1,600
delegates to the NRA annual convention elected actor Charlton Heston president.
Heston, 73, derives much of his claim to leadership from having played Moses in
the 1956 film The Ten Commandments––a weightier role, to be sure, than former U.S.
President Ronald Reagan’s most famous role, opposite a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo.
NRA foes chortled as Heston described himself as a moderate. As USA Today editorialists
noted, “Just last December, he likened gun owners to Jews during the Holocaust,
boasted that the Founding Fathers were ‘white guys,’ and said that U.S. President Bill
Clinton’s ‘shock troops…claim it’s time to place homosexual men in tents with Boy Scouts.’
In most worlds, that would count as lurid extremism.”
Political reality, though, is that celebrities attract big bucks, including from corporate
high donors, and without both money and star power, few campaigns succeed.
Thus, also on June 7, in Denver, the American Humane Association board accepted
the May 19 joint resignation of five members, and elected three replacements.
“The change resulted from fundamental differences in defining the role and function
of effective board members,” AHA secretary Robert F.X. Hart explained to staff. “The
majority of our board believe that the board should not be involved in micro-managing operations.
There was also widespread sentiment that board composition should be modified,” to
include “members who can provide us access to celebrities, finances, etc.”
The new AHA board members include actress Shirley Jones, L.A. Cellular vice
president of external affairs Steven C. Crosby, and David Grannis, introduced as “president
of Planning Company Associates, a company which specializes in strategic planning and
implementation to both the public and private sectors.”
In fact, Planning Company Associates is a California-based lobbying firm, whose
sole listed client is Walt Disney Inc.
So far, so good. AHA, since 1876, has had a dual mandate to protect animals and
children. No one anywhere has done more to further those ideals than Disney, who in Bambi,
101 Dalmatians, and Dumbo indicted the cruelty inherent in hunting, the fur trade, and circuses
long before there was an animal rights movement, defended coyotes against predator
control trapping almost before anyone else did, and in countless other ways redefined cultural
perceptions of how humans should relate to animals.
Disney likewise all but invented the modern view of childhood as a time for play
and wonder. When Walt Disney made his first cartoon short, Steamboat Willie, in 1926,
forcing children to work as young as possible and repressing play were still entrenched in public
policy and conventional wisdom. In Steamboat Willie, Disney introduced Mickey Mouse,
a child worker who fought for his right to play and be happy. The Disney empire has stood up
forthrightly for children ever since.
Like any very large corporation, Disney has at times erred, but Disney g a f f e s
against the well-being of either children or animals are still so few as to be counted on the fingers
of one hand, even after 70-odd years, and each has been far removed in time and distance
from each of the others. ANIMAL PEOPLE regards the anti-Disney campaign waged
by certain animal rights groups as one of the most fundamentally misdirected in the history of
the cause, while the example of Disney in resisting would-be censors ranging from the NRA
to the People’s Republic of China is only to be emulated.
Shirley Jones, however, has apparently had only marginal involvement in animal
protection, as a reputed sometime dog rescuer and donor of items to Actors & Others For
Animals benefit auctions––and is presently among the most prominent spokespersons for the
National Dairy Council. Her personal web site doesn’t mention either animal or child protection,
but features a direct link to a Dairy Council site.
We asked Jones on June 11 if she was aware that the Dairy Council and state affiliates
had worked to exempt agricultural practices from coverage by the humane laws of 28
states––17 in the past 12 years, 14 in the past nine years. We asked Jones further if she knew
that the Dairy Council and AHA have directly opposing positions on the use of bovine growth
hormone to boost milk production, the general use and development of genetic technology,
the practice of crate-rearing veal calves, and humane standards for livestock transport.
We asked if in view of all this, she believed she could fairly represent the interests
of both the Dairy Council and AHA. Her agent on June 14 promised us answers, but as we
went to press two weeks later, none had arrived.
Crosby, a corporate attorney, was at L.A. Cellular apparently involved in fundraising
for several medical charities, which operate on stated behalf of children but in some
instances have come under animal rights boycott for financing animal-based research. L.A.
Cellular itself is a spin-off from the American Telephone & Telegraph empire, the U.S. arm of
International Telephone & Telegraph. Both AT&T and IT&T are reputed longtime clients of
Burson-Marsteller, a $200-billion-a-year multinational public relations empire, with 63
offices in 32 nations. Before joining L.A. Cellular circa 1994, Crosby was a vice president of
the Burson-Marsteller office in Los Angeles.
That suggests Crosby was high enough up to know whom Burson-Marsteller was
representing, why, and how, and perhaps to have had some influence in choosing clients.
During the years Crosby appears to have been part of B-M, it represented––among
many other entities with positions opposing those of the AHA––the State of Alaska in defense
of killing wolves to make more moose and caribou available to human hunters; Monsanto in
defense of bovine growth hormone; the pregnant mares’ urine industry; five of the eight top
corporate users of animals in product testing; and the Fur Information Council of America.
At least 36 B-M clients during that time prominently funded wise-use movement
efforts to dismantle the Endangered Species Act, open wildlife sanctuaries to mineral and
energy extraction, and impose civil penalties against persons and organizations, such as the
AHA, who might sue to stop corporate exploitation of public lands.
B-M has also long represented Phillip Morris and other tobacco firms, whose efforts
to hook children on smoking and undercut efforts to protect children from tobacco advertising
have recently been disclosed via lawsuits and Congressional investigation. These efforts
included using huge numbers of animals in experiments of questionable validity.
Further, B-M represented the dictatorships of Argentina, Chile, El Salvador,
Indonesia, and Nigeria, whose human rights abuses included orphaning, kidnapping, torturing,
raping, and killing tens of thousands of children, along with closing schools and making
The dictatorships of several of these nations reportedly had troubling relationships
with IT&T, and possibly, through it, AT&T.
None of this necessarily means Crosby shouldn’t be admitted to the AHA board––if
he had an outstanding record of internal opposition to B-M defense of atrocity––but it does
suggest he owes AHA supporters a detailed accounting of his past, perhaps an apology for
some past associations, and a clear statement as to where he stands regarding AHA policies.
We asked Crosby for as much on June 11, forwarding copies to AHA executives,
but––as with Jones––have received no reply.
Groupies get diseases
There are no shortage of examples of how celebrities and well-heeled c o r p o r a d o s
have taken positions at odds with those of the organizations they represent.
Naomi Campbell, for instance, star of the PETA “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear
Fur” campaign in 1995, prominently modeled fur in 1997. Singer Melissa Etheridge dumped
PETA when it opposed animal-based AIDS research. Seeking middle ground, actors Alex
Baldwin and Kim Basinger have endorsed both PETA and AIDS research, making partisans of
either cause uncomfortable, and have refused to choose between absolutist positions.
Elected president of the American SPCA in 1991, TV personality Roger Caras has
repeatedly embarrassed staff with ill-informed attacks on vegetarianism, assertions that rabbits
can give virgin birth, and the claim that San Francisco has been able to go to no-kill animal
control because it has a large gay community. At that, Caras may have done less harm to the
ASPCA than Fred Drasner. CEO for both The New York Daily News and U.S. News & World
Report, Drasner was considered a star acquisition to the ASPCA board––until The New York
Post exposed how he allegedly massacred sitting ducks in December 1997 at a canned hunt.
The Humane Society of the U.S. landed both a media star and a bigtime financier in
Sonny Bloch. Elected to the HSUS board in 1993 after eight years of involvement in other
capacities, Bloch was indicted in 1995 for allegedly conspiring to embezzle more than $21
million from investors in his personal schemes, and is now doing time in federal prison.
Many celebrities have made outstanding contributions to animal protection.
Brigitte Bardot, Doris Day, Tony LaRussa, and the late Linda McCartney all lent
more than just their names to animal protection projects; Bardot would be distinguished for
her 36 years of fulltime work for animals even if she had never been an actress.
Marilyn Baker of the Humane Society of the Desert, in Palm Springs, California,
has so long submerged her identity in the cause that few remember how 25 years ago she was a
glamorous pioneering TV investigative reporter, whose exposes brought Richard Avanzino to
the presidency of the then-much troubled San Francisco SPCA, thereby starting pursuit of nokill
animal control. Baker could easily have been the real-life role model for Candace Bergen,
who as “Murphy Brown” refused to wear fur and used a PETA coffee cup.
A full list of involved celebrities and other influential people would run for pages.
It is not necessary that any of them be absolutely consistent in their animal protection
beliefs, especially since beliefs and positions may be contradictory within the cause itself. It is
necessary, though, that they be sincere. Martin Sheen, for example, is unpopular in some
circles for starring in a film purportedly flattering to bullfighters, but there was no questioning
his sincerity when in March 1995 he and Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society were nearly lynched by sealers whom they rebuked in Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec.
Three times during the week we drafted this editorial, humane organizations asked
us for introductions to celebrities, or to others who might help them win corporate support.
Our standard answer: the celebrities and corporate connections you want are those
who find you, get personally involved, and begin making a positive contribution before you
ask them to formally represent you.
Even then, before you ask, look for possible conflicts of interest. Test anyone you
might consider electing to a policy-making position in a non-policy-making capacity first.
Recognize the risks inherent in giving any stranger the opportunity to make or break your organization
and cause––and if you value your efforts and reputation, play it safe.