Dirty Tricks?

This editorial was first published in the West Marin Citizen August 22, 2013. Reprinted with permission.

False Oyster Story Raises Questions

By Sarah Rolph

On Tuesday, August 13, an alarming story appeared in a little-known online publication called Food World News (FWN), reporting that the California Department of Public Health had issued a warning against Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) and that illnesses had been linked to their oysters. The story was entirely false, and when that was pointed out, the publication removed it.

Over a week later, those are just about the only facts that are clear.

Food Safety News, a respected publication, was cited in the false story by FWN, so Food Safety News looked into what happened. Editor Dan Flynn wrote in an August 18 editorial that he thinks the most likely explanation is that the FWN reporter made a terrible mistake. Flynn’s reasoning is based on two coincidences: there was a warning about DBOC oysters exactly one year earlier, reported by Food Safety News on August 13, 2012, and there was also a story in Food Safety News on August 10 of this year about potential contamination from oysters in Connecticut. The FWN news story managed to confuse the two, which is really quite a feat, but that’s the best guess about what happened based on what we know so far.

More puzzling are two tweets that were sent within minutes of each other right at the same time this false story was published.

Amy Trainer (I presume; the tweet was posted under the account @ProtectPtReyes, which is associated with the website “Save Point Reyes Wilderness,” which is registered to Trainer) tweeted: “Oysters from @drakesbayoyster are making us sick. @CAPublicHealth shuts DBOC down.”

This tweet did not link to the FWN story.  It linked to a story at the California Department of Public Health website about last year’s recall of DBOC oysters. That story was posted on August 10, 2012, and it was not mentioned in the recent FWN story. Did Amy instantly remember that story from a year ago, and then instantly forget it was a year old?

Steve Maviglio, linking to the very same 2012 California Department of Public Health story, tweeted: “@CAPublicHealth shuts down @drakesbayoyster. Time to close it for good.”

Is it a coincidence that these tweets happened at the same time as the FWN story, even though they didn’t link to it? How odd.

Who is Steve Maviglio? He is principal of the Sacramento PR firm Forza Communications, and very active in politics.  He is the publisher of the political website “California Majority Report.” He often sends negative tweets about DBOC, and often leaves negative comments at the DBOC Facebook page.  The similarity of his comments to the prevailing anti-oyster-farm narrative has caused some to wonder whether he is working for EAC. When that came up in the online comment section at the Marin IJ, Maviglio replied: “I’m not ‘Amy Trainer’s PR person.’ I’ve never met her face to face. What I am is President of the Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative (one of the largest in the state) and a passionate believer in protecting our national seashore and against the right-wing interests trying to exploit our public lands for corporate benefits.”

That’s disingenuous at best. I have to wonder whether someone who isn’t forthcoming about his identity might be willing to play dirty tricks.

The reporter for FWN regrets the error, and has promised to follow up with more information about the source of the false story. Perhaps more will be revealed.

Tweeting that people are getting sick from eating DBOC oysters (when they are not) is akin to yelling fire in a crowded theater (when there is no fire). It does not reflect well on EAC and its allies. At least one of the wilderness advocates appears to agree. Gordon Bennett responded to Amy’s tweet on Wednesday, August 14 by tweeting “Please correct this, which is from last year and not helpful to current Wilderness efforts.”  Can’t argue with that.