Friday, February 19, 1999

Pepper won't press charges over pie

PETA says stunts will go on

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Procter & Gamble Co.'s John Pepper won't press charges and plans no legal action against animal-rights protesters who smashed pies in his face during a speech at Northwestern University.

        The chairman of the Cincinnati consumer-products titan has described Wednesday night's incident as a publicity stunt that doesn't warrant the attention legal action would bring.

        The pie-throwers — members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) — say they will continue such in-your-face protests until they get what they want: an end to P&G's animal tests on certain products.

        But experts say those tactics could backfire by turning public opinion against the group.

        “I think there are more effective ways to go about making a statement or reaching a company than to go out with such extreme actions,” said Tracy Murrison, a public relations specialist with Powers & Associates in downtown Cincinnati.

        “It's harmful to their image because they're not getting their message across. All people know now is that PETA threw a pie in his face. They don't know why because the act overshadows what the agenda is.”

        In addition, some of PETA's tactics could be considered menacing or violent, which also could turn off supporters, said Brian MacConnell, chief executive officer of Cincinnati's MacConnell Marketing Communications. “This is a little bit of an exaggeration, but it's not too hard to imagine how these kinds of protests could be a little bit dangerous to somebody's personal safety,” Mr. MacConnell said. “What if (Mr. Pepper) had seen them coming and backed off the stage? I can absolutely see nothing but harm coming to the reputation of the group who does that.”

        In Mr. MacConnell's and other experts' opinions, PETA already has damaged its im age.

        Although PETA insists its tactics are nonviolent, there is no denying the menacing nature of PETA protesters shouting “blood and death” at actress Cybill Shepherd as part of a protest against cosmetics maker L'Oreal, for whom Ms. Shepherd modeled.

        And such well-publicized tactics as throwing blood on women wearing furs in downtown Manhattan also add to the perception that PETA is an extremist group, experts say.

        Alison Green, 25, a PETA member from Arlington, Va., disputes the implication.

        “Throwing a pie may seem silly ... but it's just a lighthearted, fun way to draw attention to a serious issue and force them to focus on it,” Ms. Green said.

        Ms. Green and Dawn Carr, 29, of Rockland County, N.Y., were charged by Evanston, Ill., police with disorderly conduct and released on $75 bail in connection with the Northwestern incident.

        Mr. Pepper was the target of similar attack last February when a PETA protester hit him in the face with a tofu cream pie as he received an award from Ohio's governor in Columbus.

        In both cases, Mr. Pepper wiped the pie filing from his face and continued with his address. He will continue to conduct business in the same manner, P&G spokeswoman Amy Neltner said.

        “He's not going to let this sort of thing impede his decisions or change his decisions to go out and do this sort of work, whether it's a campus recruiting trip or receiving an award,” Ms. Neltner said.


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