Animal Rights Activist Fools Maria Bartiromo, and the Company He Impersonated Is Not Happy with Fox

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Note to cable shows: Google your guests before they appear.

This apparently is something I have to tell Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo and the rest of her crew.

Yes, I know, Fox Business is the little brother of Fox News and more, well, business-oriented — but for those of you who have wondered about how standards are fairing over at the news division of the Fox Corporation, consider an unpleasant interview on Dec. 23 where host Maria Bartiromo thought she was interviewing the CEO of food processing giant Smithfield Foods, but was, in fact, interviewing an animal rights activist impersonating him.

So, first off, the incoming CEO of Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer and processor, is named Dennis Organ; that’s an aptronym if I’ve ever heard one. However, Organ wasn’t appearing with Bartiromo, despite the fact she thought he was.

Instead, according to The Washington Post, the six-minute segment — which was centered around vaccinating Smithfield’s workers — was conducted instead by Matt Johnson of radical group Direct Action Everywhere.

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A little bit of background: This spring, as the first wave of COVID-19 hit the food supply chain hard, 1,294 workers at Smithfield’s meat-packing factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, fell ill with the coronavirus. Four died, according to Reuters, although the company is disputing the findings.

In September, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the facility for “failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm,” since the employees worked closely together.

Johnson — who looks nothing like Dennis Organ, something a Smithfield executive noted could have been cleared up by a “simple Google search for a photo of our CEO” — said that “the first change under my leadership is transparency and at times brutal honesty.”

“Thousands of our really courageous food workers, and I really do want to emphasize the heroic efforts of these folks — they’ve been getting sick for really just trying to provide for their families,” Johnson said.

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“As far as Smithfield, we’ve done for our employees, we’ve provided them with extensive personal protective equipment and offered additional paid leave for sick employees, but those steps have unfortunately been insufficient in many instances.”

He went on to impugn the entire food-processing industry: “The truth is that our industry, in addition to the outbreaks that are happening at our plants, our industry poses a serious threat in effectively bringing on the next pandemic,” he said.

Bartiromo next asked about the company’s new China-based ownership.

“Are the hogs raised in the United States and then sent to China to get slaughtered and produced and packaged?” she asked.

Johnson didn’t handle this one quite as well, stammering through his answer before saying that “the pigs are slaughtered in the U.S. and we have an export market which we think is a very necessary part of a thriving economy, to have open trade.”

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“Funnily enough, that is an accurate summary of the situation. Smithfield produces pork for U.S. customers, all of which is processed in this country,” Erik Wemple wrote at The Washington Post. “Certain cuts that aren’t popular in the domestic market go to the company’s 40 export markets, including Mexico, Japan and Hong Kong/China.”

However, Johnson was surprised this didn’t tip off Bartiromo.

“She thought she was speaking to the CEO of the company, who would know all these things off the top of his head, but I didn’t know the answer to that,” said Johnson, who told Wemple he got the interview by coming up with “fake contact info.”

Bartiromo then said that she “was told that in China, there was this African swine flu that affected so many pigs that there were a million pigs in the river, dead. They didn’t know where to get rid of the pigs that were dead. And then other sources were saying that well, you can’t get sick even if the pig had African swine flu if the pig was dead, so they cut up the meat as well.”

How are Americans going to believe that the meat is safe if they’re going to China to get slaughtered and packaged? What kind of processing securities do you have in place to assure Americans that their pork is safe?”

Johnson said he’d done some “homework” on the company’s safety procedures, which he listed, and noted they didn’t import any pork from China. Again, true.

How much this actually fooled Bartiromo is anyone’s guess, however. At Mediaite, Aidan McLaughlin noted “Bartiromo appeared somewhat skeptical as the interview went on, even at one point rolling her eyes.”

This ended up being a failure for everyone involved, apparently. Johnson said that he didn’t get in the line that he wanted to: namely, the animal rights activist wanted to say that Smithfield would “transition entirely to plant-based meats.”

Smithfield foods wasn’t happy, either.

“FOX Business aired a segment that was a complete hoax,” Smithfield Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo told The Washington Post.

And as for Bartiromo: “We have an important correction to make. It appears we have been punk’d. Earlier in the program I interviewed someone claiming to be the CEO of Smithfield Foods, Dennis Organ,” she said at the end of the show.

“We’ve since learned that that was not Dennis Organ, but an imposter making false claims about the company. He is someone who has absolutely no relation to Smithfield Foods, we want to apologize to Dennis Organ, Smithfield Foods, and to our audience for making this mistake. We will of course be more vigilant.”

A good start on not getting “punk’d” would be to avail oneself of Google. This is a big miss for a big network.

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