Where’s the beef? In no danger from Biden’s climate plan

If you get your information from Fox News or other right wing sites, you might be stocking up on hamburger and steaks about now. You’re preparing for President Biden’s coming ban on beef.

Of course, you’ll be filling your freezer needlessly because no ban on beef is in the offing. It is nowhere in Biden’s plan for halving carbon emissions by 2030.

Yet this small and patently false controversy — “Bye Bye Burgers” was one Fox headline — serves as one more cautionary tale about how vulnerable we are to misinformation. As political strategist Dan Pfeiffer writes on Message Box, it illustrates the need for a rapid-response communication strategy that doesn’t let even small false-hoods go unchallenged. His take on political communications is equally useful for all organizations and leaders.

The idea that Biden wants to ban steaks and beef stew emerged last week, with the president’s Virtual Climate Summit in which he an-nounced his aggressive emissions reduction goals. The Daily Mail, a UK-based tabloid, published irresponsible and inaccurate speculation that Biden could meet his goals only if he keeps Americans from eat-ing more than one hamburger a month.

Science does suggest that the planet would benefit from drastic cuts in beef production; the Daily Mail referred to a University of Michi-gan study stating that in January 2020. But married with a desire to discredit Biden and tie him up in a culture war, that science helped spawn a disinformation campaign that bordered on whacky.

“You can throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled Brussels sprouts and wave your American flag. Call it July 4th Green,” de-clared Fox News host Larry Kudlow. Others also gleefully picked up the theme, which caught fire on social media.

“By Sunday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) had dubbed Presi-dent Joe Biden the ‘Hamburglar.’ Pictures of steaks and hamburgers were rocketing around the rightwing media ecosystem, escorted by captions screaming that Biden’s climate plan would force Americans to cut 90 percent of red meat from their diets. We had entered the era of baseless meat fear-mongering,” as Kate Riga of Talking Points Memo wrote.

CNN, Vox, the Washington Post and other responsible news outlets pointed out the inaccuracy of the meat-banning claims. But when most people get their news on social media, that’s not nearly enough. The White House got busy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, post-ing the accurate stories along with pictures of a smiling then-candidate Biden flipping burgers.

We are all vulnerable to the brush fires and forest fires that race through digital media. They destroy reputations, cast doubt on good intentions and stir up baseless fears. The only way to counter them is to be vigilant and answer bogus claims as soon as they arise.

Accurate coverage in a respected news outlet is still effective, but in most cases only if you amplify it with a robust social media strategy. One thing that is not an option is ignoring attacks. As silly and obvi-ously wrong as they may seem, they can put your leadership, your organization and its goals in jeopardy.

“Even if no one believes that Biden will ration red meat, they very well might believe that his plans will negatively impact their way of life,” Pfeiffer writes. “That’s why we have to respond.”

— Barbara LeBlanc

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