Since its inception in 1971, Greenpeace has enjoyed an almost unassailable reputation as an environmental crusader that answers to no one but the many individual green-tinted donors who support it. According to the organization’s website:
Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organization. We do not accept money from government or corporations. That’s why our financial supporters are our lifeblood.
In the United States, at least, this dependence upon individual donors has resulted in the employment of thousands of individual door-to-door canvassers, as well as seemingly endless direct mail campaigns that have become familiar to almost any American who somehow managed to end up on an environmental organization’s mailing list. In fact, according to Greenpeace’s 2006 financial report (see page 26 for the balance sheet), 25% of the organization’s 2005 income was devoted to fundraising expenses. It is no exaggeration to state that – in addition to being a professional environmental organization – Greenpeace is also a highly professional fundraising organization.
One of the ways that Greenpeace (and, to be fair, many other non-profit organizations) likes to raise money is to connect an appeal for donations to a specific news item and/or campaign by the organization’s staff. Ideally, such an approach cultivates a prospective donor’s emotional response without taking advantage of it. Of course, whenever news is crafted to appeal to emotions – much less, empty wallets – there is opportunity for abuse.
Which brings me to “Toxic Tea Party,” a news article listed under the “International News” section of Greenpeace’s international homepage. Dated July 23, 2007, and reported from Guiyu, China, “Toxic Tea Party” purports to describe the “uncontrolled environmental disaster” caused by the thriving trade in imported e-scrap in southern Guangdong Province. The story opens with a striking description of a tea party where a man named “Boss Guo” makes two cups of tea, one with bottled water, and one with local water likely contaminated by chemicals released during the processing of e-scrap. Next to this opening paragraph is a photo showing the results: the bottled water produces normal-looking tea; the supposedly contaminated water produces black tea. Below, a screen capture of the first paragraph, the dateline, and the photo:
The photo in question was taken by Natalie Behring, and an enlarged version that credits the image to her can be found by clicking the story here. At the bottom of the enlargement page, the photo is clearly dated March 8, 2005. A screen capture of the (contradictory) dateline:
Another Behring image from what appears to be the same shoot, can be found on flickr, and is dated March 9, 2005.
The “Toxic Tea Party” story includes several additional photos from Behring, most of which are also found on her personal site, and her flickr site, and all of which appear to have been taken either March 8 or 9, 2005.
In other words – the Toxic Tea Party that Greenpeace implies took place recently (as implied by the July 23, 2007 dateline) actually took place twenty-six months ago. Continue reading