Gold finch giving camera the evil eye

The latest Email Hack and the Great Soda Conspiracy

I’m interested in the food industry primarily because of an interest in food safety and the environment. I’m not a Michael Pollan groupie, but when it comes to large corporations and consumers, I generally land on the side of the consumer.

My dual interest in the food industry and Clinton emails crossed recently with the release of hacked emails, these supposedly from the account of Capricia Marshall and released to a site known as DCLeaks. Marshall consulted with Coca-Cola, but has also worked on the Clinton campaign, as well as being the former US Chief of Protocol during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.

A web site known as The Russels published what they felt was a close association between Hillary Clinton and Coca-Cola, as proven by one email interchange between Clinton staff workers and the company.

When Hillary Clinton supported Philadelphia’s soda tax this April, Latham and Marshall both played critical roles in Coca-Cola’s damage control. What follows is a case study in how corporations influence American politics through strings-attached donations and well-placed personnel.

First of all, we don’t know whether these emails have been modified or not, but for the sake of argument, we’ll say they’re legitimate. Do the emails imply that Clinton was influenced by a strings-attached donation by Coke?

Let’s go back into the news archives for the time in question. PhillyVoice wrote about Clinton’s support for the soda tax. It quotes a CNN article, which quoted Clinton:

It starts early with working with families, working with kids, building up community resources – I’m very supportive of the mayor’s proposal to tax soda to get universal pre-school for kids,” Clinton said. “I mean, we need universal pre-school. And if that’s a way to do it, that’s how we should do it.”

Clinton supported the tax for two reasons. One, the money was going to universal pre-school, which Clinton strongly supports. A second reason that isn’t covered in the articles is the fact that this was an important issue to Philadelphia’s mayor, Jim Kenney. She was helping a fellow Democrat get one in the win column.

Now, the Coca-Cola people can have all the tizzies it wants, but they had no influence on whether a broad support for soda taxes was going to be included in Clinton’s platform. The reason why is because soda taxes are a local issue, not a national one. Clinton’s support for this specific soda tax was for reasons unrelated to the support many of us have for soda taxes: because we want to reduce consumption of sugary drinks by the young folk. Not supporting the soda tax for the same reason doesn’t make Clinton pro-obesity, it doesn’t even make her beholden to the soda industry.

The email from Coca-Cola’s Katherine Rumbaugh, VP of Government Relations, published in a Forbes article by Nancy Fink Huehnergarth  that read:

[W]e’ve confirmed that there is no continued conversation around beverage taxes today and in future engagements – campaign is not going to drive conversation here or weigh in further,” Rumbaugh wrote. “Also, Jake Sullivan, [Clinton’s senior policy adviser], confirmed that they are not driving this from a policy POV. We’re also working on how to walk this back.

Is company executive speak for, “I earned the big bucks you pay me”.

Jake Sullivan confirmed that soda taxes were not going to be part of Clinton’s policy platform. Of course, they weren’t. As for the “walking back”, didn’t happen. Clinton stated she supported the Philadelphia soda tax, the soda tax passed, and she never once stated, “No, no, I didn’t mean it.”

I’m sorry my foodie friends, but the soda tax just isn’t that big a deal to the Clinton campaign. And I strongly suggest that you drop trying to get Clinton to pick this up because this is a local issue, not a national one.

This all just demonstrates the problem with writing news stories related to email hacks: people can cherry pick through the emails to find what they want, but whatever they choose to publicize is taken out of context, out of the bigger picture, and all they’re doing is feeding the hacking machine.

They’re also, albeit indirectly, misinforming their readers. The writers have made much more of the relationship between Clinton and Coca-Cola than probably exists, because the issue is much more important to these particular journalists, not to mention Coca-Cola, than it is to the Clinton campaign. That’s not to say that sugary soft drinks impact on a growing obesity problem isn’t significant, but it’s not significant at the national level for this particular Presidential race.

Will Coca-Cola have an inside track into the White House during a Clinton Presidency? No more than any other corporation with the big bucks to lobby Congress and the White House, regardless of who is President. And frankly, when it comes to soda, there isn’t much a President, or even a Congress, can do at the national level. Soda taxes, removing soda from schools, outreach…these are almost invariably local and state decisions.





Why Debate Moderators Should Not Fact Check Candidates


Well, the debate happened. Hillary Clinton cleaned Trump’s clock. Trump fell apart. And, by all indications, Lester Holt did a good job.

See? This is the way it’s done:

In both cases, Holt called out Trump’s lies in advance. He called the questions Trump raised about President Barack Obama’s birthplace “false claims” and noted in his question about the Iraq War that Trump had supported the war when it began. Holt then followed up to reiterate contradictions with Trump’s past statements.


When Fox News Chris Wallace stated he would not be fact checking the Presidential candidates during the debate he moderated, people’s heads seemed to spontaneously explode.

It is a given that one of the Presidential candidates this year is known for the sheer number of lies he can state within a surprisingly short period of time. The New York Time clocked him at 31 lies in just the last week. And his ability to tell a lie is only matched by his breathtaking level of ignorance about governance and foreign policy.

Combined, the two should generate, at a minimum a great deal of misinformation, and at a maximum, some real whoppers.

It is important to fact-check this and every candidate; even the ones we like and adore. But it is not the job of debate moderators to insert themselves into the debate. If they do, the debate can only result in a “You said this”, “I did not”, “Did, too”, “Did not” point and counter-point.  Not only does this disrupt the debate, it makes the debate about the moderator and the candidate(s), rather than just the candidates.

It is the job of the other candidate to fact-check their opponent. It then becomes the moderator’s job to ensure that such fact-checking doesn’t degenerate into a case of “Did, too”, “Did not”, “Did so”, “No you didn’t”, which benefits no one.

Now, what a skilled moderator can do is be aware of a candidate’s proclivity to stretch the truth on various issues, and coach questions in such a way that they short-circuit this tendency. So, instead of asking a candidate a broad, open-ended question such as “Did you support the invasion of Iraq?”, they can ask, “When you were on Howard Stern’s show in 2002, you said you supported the invasion of Iraq. Why did you feel this was a good move at the time?”

It reminds the candidate of previous fact-checking and forces them to respond to a specific event. If the candidate lies at that point, then it’s obvious. It gives them no room to run, no doorway in which to escape.

In addition, though it may not be the moderator’s job to fact-check, it is most definitely the job of the media. Not only should journalists and pundits point out inconsistencies and fabrications, they should do so in whatever immediate manner they can. This can include TV banners, post-debate discussions that include fact-checking, and even annotating the debate transcripts with asides providing additional information.

However, when a journalist is a debate moderator, they stop being a journalist at that point.

A debate moderator’s job is to ask pertinent, relevant questions that elicit information voters need in order to make an informed choice. To enable this they have to ensure that the point/counter-point between the candidates stays on point and is relevant. And they have to ask questions specific to the individual’s qualifications for the position. It becomes, in effect, a job interview. It provides a way for people to compare the candidates on the issues, not their personalities.

This also means that the debate moderator must avoid pandering to whatever is popular, or focusing on past events that have already been talked to death. In other words, they should avoid asking questions about specifics to the individual and focus, instead, on specifics of the job of President of the United States. This may include asking questions about issues related to past events, and using the event as a locus, but the focus shouldn’t be on the past event, itself.

Yeah, fat chance on that one.

The image is of turkey vultures. It seemed appropriate to the discussion.