Was Chem Co.'s 'Secret Dossier' on Reporter Danielle Ivory a Sneak Attack or Predictable?

It wasn't the first time, nor the last time that a reporter investigating a large corporation was, in turn, investigated by the corporation. But it was Danielle Ivory's time, and while a lengthy report yesterday on how chemical giant Syngenta compiled a "secret dossier" on the Pullman-born Ivory may have rattled some journalists, others think such snooping comes with the territory.

In its story yesterday, PRWatch describes how Syngenta "backgrounded" Ivory after she began inquiring about the health risks of the company's herbicide, atrazine, a weed killer. According to a memo from the "research" firm that looked into Ivory's past:

We have been asked to prepare a rushed bio for Huffington Post Investigative Fund reporter Danielle Ivory for the purpose of assessing her motivations regarding her coverage on Atrazine. ... Our key analysis: Ivory has been described as the reporter who "broke the story on the EPA's Atrazine cover-up," which means her professional reputation and ego are tied to the effectiveness of the attack on the chemical.

The dossier also revealed that "Danielle is from the magical land of Pullman, Washington, where lentils and dreams grow."

PR Watch said its story was part of a new series about the corporation's "campaign to influence the media, potential jurors, potential plaintiffs, farmers, politicians, scientists, and the Environmental Protection Agency" that atrazine wasn't harmful to humans.

The story was picked up by Poynter's MediaWire and other journalism as well as political websites, and was applauded by some. Yet, "the dossier" consisted mostly of Ivory's work history - including a stint with Bill Moyers and a job at National Public Radio's Weekend Edition. She's also written for Democracy Now!, Alternet and Truthout (and is now with Bloomberg News).

Syngenta was clearly probing whether Ivory's work showed partiality against corporations. And apparently the corporation felt it did. The dossier characterized her as having worked for a "who's who of anti-employer employers," and said she "successfully used journalism to pressure an insurance company to reverse its decision not to cover a 12-year-old boy's prosthetic arm."

But so what? Some reporters are partial - maybe all are to an extent. Pure objectivity doesn't exist. Fairness is the rule to write by.

Or as Hamilton Nolan, writing on The Gawker yesterday, put it:

It is not unfair for a PR firm to research publicly available information about a reporter, then put that information into a file, and draw conclusions from that information. We're not talking about private eyes and phone hacking and black ops. We're talking about normal research. You know who else does this exact thing? Journalists. Fair is fair, reporters. Calling it a "secret dossier" does make it sound much more ominous, but it doesn't change the fact that what we're talking about here is basically a file folder containing a printout of Google results.

As for Ivory, she hasn't commented. Not even Tweeted. Maybe she's just...working.

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