My report that broke the story.
The Gawker piece: 5WPR Flacks Get So Freaking Busted Impersonating People Online.
The Forward's piece…
Flacks for Kosher Slaughterhouse Accused of Impersonating Company’s Critics Online
A New York public relations firm representing an embattled kosher slaughterhouse is being accused of making fraudulent postings on the Internet on behalf of its client.
The postings in question were made on FailedMessiah.com, a blog that has written extensively about Agriprocessors, operator of the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse. The operator of FailedMessiah, Shmarya Rosenberg, has been a vociferous critic of the company, which was recently the target of a federal immigration raid that resulted in the arrest of 400 workers at its plant in Postville, Iowa.
A number of comments left by visitors on FailedMessiah in recent weeks caught the attention of Rosenberg. The comments were posted using the names of other critics of Agriprocessors, but when Rosenberg investigated the source of the comments, he says he found evidence that they had come from a public relations firm in New York, 5WPR, which had been hired by Agriprocessors at about the same time that the comments began appearing. 5WPR is famous for representing hip-hop stars and Israeli politicians.
The 5WPR employee who has been handling the Agriprocessors account, Juda Engelmayer, told the Forward that he would not comment on the accusations against his firm, which were made today by Rosenberg on FailedMessiah. Soon after Engelmayer declined to comment, the CEO of 5WPR, Ronn Torossian, called the Forward to say that the company was doing an internal investigation to determine whether the postings had, in fact, come from 5WPR.
Torossian said he did not know when the investigation would be complete but added, “I have complete confidence in knowing that my account team who runs these accounts did not make these posts.”
Torossian also said that Rosenberg has been a long-time opponent of 5WPR and that the current allegations are “clearly his agenda against my firm.”
Rosenberg, a Minnesota-based blogger, has extensively covered and criticized the ups and downs of Agriprocessors and 5WPR over the past few years. When Agriprocessors hired 5WPR, a spokesman for the kosher meat company said that 5WPR would help confront negative attention that the company was receiving on the Internet.
Rosenberg said he first noticed unusual comments posted on his blog around four weeks ago. In a few cases, Rosenberg said the comments caught his eye because some seemed out of character for critics of Agriprocessors.
Rosenberg began collecting the number that associates a comment with a specific Internet user — the IP address — and when he did a reverse search on the dozens of comments, he says, all of them appeared to come from computers at 5WPR. Rosenberg laid out the graphic evidence of his investigation on his blog.
“I realized what was happening and I just let it go, because I thought it would be interesting to see how long they kept it up and see if they would do anything else stupid,” Rosenberg said.
Two of the postings in question were made in the name of Rabbi Morris Allen, a prominent critic of Agriprocessors and the founder of the Conservative movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek initiative, which is attempting to create ethical standards for the production of kosher food. The first of the comments purporting to come from Allen appeared with his name misspelled. The second, which was made midday on July 9, came at the same time that Allen was presiding over the funeral of his aunt in Omaha, Neb.
Both comments were in response to a blog post by Rosenberg about the decision by an Orthodox Jewish group to end a boycott of Agriprocessors. The comment made it appear that Allen was gloating over the move by another critic of Agriprocessors.
“This doesn’t rile us,” the comment said. “This is a cause. Agriprocessors is the drive for us.”
Allen told the Forward that the postings left him concerned for his safety and for the reputation of Hekhsher Tzedek.
“I’m increasingly concerned about my own safety because if you begin to engage in this kind of behavior, I just wonder where it ends,” he said.
A spokesman for the Hekhsher Tzedek said that the group is planning to take legal action against whoever made the fraudulent comments. On FailedMessiah, Rosenberg said that the fraud was likely a “federal crime.”
Paul Levy, an attorney at the Public Citizen Litigation Group, said that the success of any legal action would depend largely on state law and on whether the comments were defamatory.
1. "Rosenberg said he first noticed unusual comments posted on his blog around four weeks ago. In a few cases, Rosenberg said the comments caught his eye because some seemed out of character for critics of Agriprocessors."
That would be supporters of Agriprocessors. I told this to Lana Gersten, and I also told her it was only in the last two days, when 5W started leaving comments in the names of Agriprocessors critics, that I moved to expose 5W. (I'm told the switch to critics from supporters was an editing error, not Lana Gersten's error, and it has been corrected in a new piece.)
2. CEO of 5WPR, Ronn Torossian "said that Rosenberg has been a long-time opponent of 5WPR and that the current allegations are “clearly his agenda against my firm.” Please. 5W represented Le Marais during the controversy last year and, as anyone can see by reading this blog, I supported Le Marais.
5W also represented the big Israel 60th anniversary concerts this year, which I also supported.
The only time I have ever clashed with 5W is over Agriprocessors, which would limit my "long-time" opposition to about three weeks, the approximate length of time 5W has been working for Agriprocessors.
In other words, Ronn Torossian is mistaken or lying.
Without knowing what 5W would say to the Forward, I showed Lana Gersten the first two comments that came from 5W's IP. They are comments in support of the Israel at 60 concerts, months before the ICE raid on Agriprocessors. Here's my post promoting the concerts. It's dated February 28, 2008, 2 1/2 months before the ICE raid on Agriprocessors.
I told her I promoted that concert and had also supported Le Marais, another 5W client. And I told her Juda Engelmayer, the 5W VP handling the Agriprocessors account was a nice guy and that I felt badly about having to do something that would hurt his business.
None of that is in the piece, and the Forward didn't ask me to respond to Torossian's allegation.
3. Late yesterday afternoon, I spoke with a contrite Juda Engelmayer, 5W's VP, who told me an unpaid intern left the comments and that intern – who he has so far refused to name – was fired yesterday afternoon.
Engelmayer said, "It's no one's fault but our own. We give people too much leeway."
That may be true. But the first two 5W sockpuppet comments were left February 28, 2008 – well before any summer interns were working at 5W. The next comments begin on June 17, 2008 – which seems to be the day 5W took the Agriprocessors account. (Details here.)
At that time, Menachem Lubinsky, Agriprocessors other PR flack, said 5W's role would be defined this way:
"Menachem Lubinksy, CEO of the kosher industry consulting firm Lubicom and a spokesman for Agriprocessors, told the Forward that he expected 5W to deal with negative publicity and blogs. Asked to confirm this, Engelmayer said 5W’s role is still undefined."
It seems Lubinsky was right.
Here is what 5W did, as explained by Wikipedia.
Gawker piece in PDF:
5WPR_ 5WPR Flacks Get So Freaking Busted Impersonating People Online.pdf
Forward piece in PDF:
Flacks for Kosher Slaughterhouse Accused of Impersonating Company’s Critics Online - Forward.com".pdf
Gawker on 5W's CEO, Ronn Torossian.