By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Critics say Berman's hyperbolic, aggressive attacks (he once told a reporter his strategy is to "shoot the messenger") only stir up animosity toward the PR industry and make his clients look like jerks. To be sure, Berman & Co. (which detractors say is virtually indistinguishable from CCF) tends to represent the most politically incorrect clients imaginableslaughterhouses, fast-food chains, and big-box storesagainst names more readily associated with good intentions.
"It's one thing for CCF to criticize us," says Lauren Sucher of the Environmental Working Group. "But are they also saying that doctors who give their time to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have a biased agenda?" They are indeed. And don't get Berman started on Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"I don't believe that having a glass of anything makes it unsafe to go behind the wheel," Berman says about his campaign against MADD's efforts to lower the legal blood alcohol limit. "Some people do. That's not a balanced perspective."
Berman is also fighting health advocates who want sodas and sugary snacks removed from schools, and just about anyone else who seeks to curtail what Berman calls personal freedom and responsibility in the name of the public good. His campaigns can seem so over-the-top that many activists laugh when his name comes up.
Still, it would be a mistake to underestimate the lobbyist, whose message may be hitting home with Congress. On December 15 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved HR 4167, a measure that would prevent states from placing food warnings stricter than federal warnings. If the National Food Uniformity Act is passed, supermarket shoppers in states like California that have for years required mercury warnings on fish will be affected.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (DNew York) is not happy. "If we're not going to keep contaminants out of our food and water supplies-and this Republican Congress won't take action to do sothen the least we can do is to allow informative labeling. If there's mercury in your tuna, you have a right to know it."