Orlando Sentinel reports on OSHA Agent's connection to 'Blackfish' Producers

January 22, 2014, 2:35 AM

The Sentinel has picked up on Mice Chat's report that OSHA agent Lara Padgett (who investigated the death of Dawn Brancheau) has a close personal connection to the 'Blackfish' production team -- raising questions about her objectivity.

According to reports, Pagett jetted around the country and attended 'Blackfish' premiers in locations such as NYC and Sundance.

"OSHA is committed to fair and effective enforcement of safety and health requirements in the workplace. Allegations involving employee conduct are taken seriously and OSHA is investigating," OSHA spokesman Jesse Lawder said.


Replies (7)

January 22, 2014, 9:30 AM

Dawn Brancheau's family has now distanced itself from 'Blackfish' via a public statement"

"First and foremost, we are not affiliated with this movie in any way. We did not assist with its creation and were unaware of its content until the film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival," the statement begins, adding that the foundation and family members "have never and will never accept any compensation from its production."

"The film has brought a great deal of attention to the welfare of animals, and for that we are grateful. However, 'Blackfish' is not Dawn's story. Dawn Brancheau believed in the ethical treatment of animals. ... Dawn would not have remained a trainer at SeaWorld for 15 years if she felt that the whales were not well cared for."


Edited: January 22, 2014, 1:36 PM

I'm reminded of the line: "It's not paranoia is people really are out to get you."

The essential bit of information with which anyone needs to approach this story is this: PETA is all about harnessing anger to harvest money. It's a racket, a scam to separate animal lovers from their cash. How many rescue events have you seen PETA funding? How much habitat do they buy or restore to support animal populations?

PETA doesn't put its money into helping animals. It puts its money into itself, and into more PR stunts to help it generate more cash. But for the scam to work, PETA needs enemies. It needs targets for its potential donors' anger.

Zoos won't work, because they typically are locally funded and run non-profits. There's too much civic pride behind them to make them an effective target for public anger. But SeaWorld's perfect. It's a well-known brand, and a for-profit company, making it a convenient target for a "greedy corporation" attack. PETA and the anti-animal captivity movement (I won't call it by its preferred term of "animal rights" because I don't believe its leaders care one bit about animal rights) have been trying for years to make a case stick against the company.

Remember "The Cove"? That was another documentary attempt to slur SeaWorld and other marine parks. But it didn't stick because there wasn't a connection between the Japanese dolphin hunts and any reputable First World marine park.

But when Busch sold off its theme parks (denying SeaWorld a big corporate backer) and Dawn died, the anti-animal captivity crowd saw another chance. Throw in a filmmaker trying to launch her career, and the result is "Blackfish."

Kudos to MiceChat for tying together the sources that exposed the deceit the filmmakers used in this production, and for tying together the film production with the OSHA case. This whole thing is NOT about caring for orcas. It's about getting people angry at SeaWorld, so that PETA and the anti-captivity cause can exploit that.

Frankly, the traditional news media got played on this story. CNN bought Blackfish, and from that moment became the propaganda arm of the anti-animal-captivity movement. MiceChat reported how one of the former SeaWorld trainers was rebuffed by the network when she tried to point out errors in both the movie and the network's reporting.

PETA effectively played the media with incessant press releases about protests that generated enormous anti-SeaWorld publicity, even though I have yet to see a single protest where more than 100 people showed up. Typically, either the protest never materializes or just a handful of people show. Sorry, but that's not news.

PETA and others also generated enormous publicity by using Change.org petitions to pressure bands into quitting performances at SeaWorld (even as some of those same bands continues to play rodeos). Anyone with even a bit of online development experience knows how easy it is to create a script to game online petitions with multiple fake signatures. Yet newspapers and TV networks dutifully reported the Change.org petitions as if they represented real popular support.

SeaWorld got hung out to dry here. With CNN in bed with "Blackfish" and ignoring attempts to expose the truth behind the production, no other traditional news organization stepped up to examine CNN and the movie. Fox News is often CNN's natural foil, but it wasn't about to come to the defense of a company that attempts to educate the public about global warming. (Man-made global climate change leading to habitat loss, by the way, is the single greatest threat to animals in the world today. Not orca shows.) CBS is trying to morph into Fox News, embracing right-wing causes on 60 Minutes of late. ABC and NBC are owned by SeaWorld's biggest competitors (Disney and Universal). And it's just easier to republish a PETA press release than it is to do the hard work of reporting to deconstruct "Blackfish"'s well-crafted deceit. With an OSHA investigator in the bag, too (as it now appears), the anti-animal captivity movement could present the federal government as on its side, adding weight to its attack.

The OSHA obsession with this case has mystified me, and the MiceChat report helps explains that obsession. After all, let's not forget that a Disney monorail killed a Disney cast member that same year as Dawn died. And that the Disney case reflected far more obvious neglect on the company's part than SeaWorld's ultimate failure to protect Dawn. But OSHA let Disney off with its typical slap on the wrist, and the monorails continue to run at Disney, with none of the expensive modifications that OSHA's pursuing with SeaWorld. This has never been about protecting employees (which is OSHA's only job). There's obviously another agenda at play here, and the "Blackfish"/OSHA connection MiceChat exposed suggests that.

(We deserve better from our federal government's efforts to protect workplace safety than having it engage in a battle over animal captivity. I hope SeaWorld aggressively pursues OSHA in the courts over this, and that OSHA reforms its efforts in regulating SeaWorld.)

In our interaction with anti-animal-captivity allies here on TPI, we have found an overwhelming amount of hostility, anger, and an open embrace of lying to advance the movement's cause. This isn't a movement of caring and concern.

If you really want to help animals, go buy a ticket to SeaWorld. They spend millions of dollars every year doing the rescue rehabilitation and reintroduction work that PETA doesn't do. Volunteer or give to a local animal shelter. Support efforts to protect animal habitat. Work to slow, stop and reverse man-made global climate change.

I apologize for the length of my rant here, but this story has bothered me for a long time. As a journalism professional, nothing sets me off like a lie getting publicity while the truth is ignored. I believe that there is a legitimate public debate to be had about the appropriateness of orca captivity. But lying shouldn't play any role in that debate. PETA, the makers or Blackfish, and ultimately, OSHA, have undercut that debate by their efforts to hijack it to promote their own agendas, at the expense of the truth. And that frustrates me.

January 22, 2014, 1:08 PM

Robert, you are the kind of journalist that we need. I'm proud to work for you.

January 22, 2014, 3:40 PM

It's ironic that people who use the word ethical in the name of their organization seem to have a severe shortage of ethics in their behavior.

Edited: January 22, 2014, 10:08 PM

+1 (maybe 2) Robert, said it better than any of us could have.

January 23, 2014, 10:09 AM

Wow, Robert, that was an awesome rant! I agree 100%. Thanks for writing that.

January 24, 2014, 6:10 PM

It is interesting to me because I really felt that the one thing that was not in debate was that Seaworld broke OSHA regulations. I am actually surprised that nobody (except for Robert Niles) really covered that angle. I feel that this is more scandalous than the recanting trainers.

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