The Risk-Monger

It was a really bad idea to turn watching Stéphane Horel’s Lobbumentary, Endoc(t)rinement, into a drinking game, but last Saturday the Risk-Monger could not resist. The rule of the game was that during the programme, every time Corporate Europe Observatory’s Martin Pigeon (who, as far as I know, has no experience on the science of endocrine disruptors) took the microphone to take a shot at industry, I had to take a shot of whiskey. Needless to say, the day after was spent nursing a massive hangover and much regret.

Why did Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) have more than 20% of the interview airtime during Ms Horel’s opus against industry? It could not possibly be that CEO was paying Ms Horel (whom CEO erroneously referred to as a “journalist” rather than their consultant) for another project on a similar subject and where they were sharing advice and activist lobbying tactics. They said they were not working together and the Risk-Monger would never want to think that any good person would ever lie or deceive in such a manner. So it had to be something else.

I think CEO were merely helping Stéphane Horel (in a charitable sense) since she was having a terrible time over the last two years getting people to participate in this activist lobbying campaign of hers (except for the usual lot, like David Gee, who have a hard time shutting up when they see a microphone). Only one scientist, Andreas Kortenkamp (another one with an apparent microphone addiction), chose to participate – weakening the argument against the 80+ scientists who had written Anne Glover to beg the European Commission to start using a little evidence-based scientific research in their endocrine policy-making. No other scientists, not even Skakkebaek, chose to come forward and speak on Horel’s behalf – no one else. As Kortenkamp had already become the darling of the EDC activists, this was certainly not a resounding triumph for journalistic research.

It must have been very frustrating for Stéphane Horel. See messages of Horel pleading with the European Commission spokesperson, Frédéric Vincent, to get Commission officials to give her an interview. By definition, civil servants must serve civil society (unless they have “good reason”) … but after seeing how she had massacred the reputations of other public officials and industry representatives in the past, that could certainly stand as “good reason” not to speak to her. At one point, I kid you not, she even begs Vincent, declaring that Brussels lacks legitimacy so they need to participate in her “documentary” to improve the public perception of these institutions (see screenshot below, first box).

Horel does not seem to realise that attacking others does not come without its consequences.

So Horel is promising that her conspiracy theory tomb will help restore the badly needed public legitimacy that the European Commission presently lacks. Right, now I need another drink!

Two Commission officials chose to grant Stéphane Horel an interview, and I am sure on Saturday, after the show, they had drunk even more whiskey than the Risk-Monger. She mixed in random split-second shots of the officials hesitating (creating an image of dumbfoundedness or confusion) or shots trying to depict a contrived impatience with their colleagues. Horel was clearly trying to present a conspiracy within the European Commission (an inter-service fratricide orchestrated by evil industry lobbyists). Kudos to the Commission for seeing through that. I am certain these officials had the best of intentions when granting an interview to someone they had been led to believe was a journalist … it is just a shame that the person interviewing them had other intentions (and certainly not to help restore the public trust in Brussels).

Two industry representatives also participated in this exposé on lobbying corruption. Industry trade associations have always been committed to public engagement so they had granted an interview in good faith, under the assumption that Ms Horel was acting as she said she was, as a journalist. Both of these directors are fairly new in their posts so it is not unsurprising that they could not have known the manipulative tactics of someone who clearly had an agenda. Once again, if there had been a European Transparency Registry for Journalists, these directors could have looked up Ms Horel’s files, and they would have been able to have made a more informed choice.

It is very sad to say that if I had been advising these associations, I would have recommended that they ignore the request for an interview (given Horel’s deceptive history and her mal-intentions). Other EDC-charged organisations were not interviewed and came out smelling better. When activists game the system and leave a bad taste all around, they are perversely hurting the process of openness and engagement that industry associations in Brussels have aspired to. Even Horel acknowledged that industry had been cooperative with her (see screenshot above – second box) – it is a pity that she had, once again, burnt that olive branch.

It must have been a very frustrating experience for Horel – she spent months reading industry documents, reports and emails made public by the European Commission, at her request, and she could find no smoking guns – no emails to show how industry was lobbying improperly. All she could do is present cute waves of letterheads floating by. In other words, as the Risk-Monger had predicted, industry behaved properly (unlike activist NGOs, industry imposes ethical codes of conduct on their managers and it is reassuring to see that there was no wrongdoing).

Even more frustrating for Horel is that, after two years of time and a lot of other people’s money, she did not get this great victory against industry that she had wanted. While she used some tricks of the camera to try to make certain people look hopeless or clueless, she has cemented her reputation in this town as a cunning activist that cannot be trusted. I don’t expect anyone of standing will ever give her an interview slot in Brussels again.

And what exactly did Stéphane Horel gain from two years of work and a soiled reputation? Dismissing her activist friends great PR and declarations of success, essentially she earned all of 12 retweets in the 48 hours following her “show” (three tweets from people involved in the programme). Frustrating indeed!

As I closed the whiskey bottle watching the many credits roll by while this somewhat cute but clearly disturbed child cruised away in his baby carriage (an old and rather tired activist trick – use children to make a point), I had to wonder about all of the toxins I had ingested over the last hour. Clearly natural chemicals have far more endocrine disrupting properties than anything synthetic.

And that was the point! This programme was not at all about endocrine disruption … so even that one noisy scientist was one too many. Endoc(t)rinement was simply an angry work against our political institutions and industrial economy … and for that, Corporate Europe Observatory can consider it money and time well spent.


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