Meat Company’s P.R. Firm Acknowledges Responsibility of ‘Senior Staff Member’ in Online Deception
This article is a follow-up to this report that appears in this week’s print edition of the Forward.
The CEO of a major New York public relations firm publicly admitted that his company posted fraudulent comments on the Internet about a client, a major kosher slaughterhouse.
Over the course of the past week, evidence has mounted that someone at the firm, 5WPR, had posted comments on a number of Web sites under false names. The comments in question were about Agriprocessors, a kosher meat company that was recently the target of a massive federal immigration raid. 5WPR began representing Agriprocessors in June, and many of the comments praised Agriprocessors, while others impersonated prominent critics of the company.
The employee in charge of the Agriprocessors account, Juda Engelmayer, initially said that an intern at the company had posted the comments and had been fired.
Today, the CEO of 5WPR, Ronn Torossian, released a statement that said, “A senior staff member failed to be transparent in dealing with client matters. He has taken full responsibility.”
In an e-mail to the Forward, Torossian wrote that Engelmayer had not been fired. But Torossian would not answer questions about how Engelmayer, or anyone else in the company, had taken “full responsibility.” He also would not answer questions about the status of the intern that Engelmayer had mentioned.
A number of the comments in question were posted under 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.
Allen’s organization, Hekhsher Tzedek, has said it is looking into taking legal action against 5WPR.
The fraudulent comments were first uncovered by the blogger Shmarya Rosenberg of FailedMessiah.com. At the time, Torossian told the Forward, “I have complete confidence in knowing that my account team who runs these accounts did not make these posts.”
On Thursday, the JTA wrote a story indicating that similar comments posted on the JTA Web site had come from what appeared to be Engelmayer’s home in Manhattan.
After JTA made this discovery, a person claiming to be an intern at 5WPR called JTA to explain that he had posted the comment from Engelmayer’s apartment without Engelmayer’s knowledge. The intern declined to give his name, according to JTA.
Soon thereafter, Rosenberg published yet another blog post indicating that many earlier comments on his FailedMessiah blog appeared to also come from Engelmayer’s apartment. This was followed quickly by Torossian’s statement. In it, he said, “This battle is not about blogging, it is however about protecting the highest levels of Kashrut in the Jewish community.”
In 2004 Nathaniel Popper wrote a profile for the Forward of 5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian, which can be read here.