Last week a very curious article and a very curious blog post appeared in the Bay Area online media. The article appeared on the San Francisco Sentinel and is credited to the website's founder Pat Murphy. The blog post by Zennie Abraham appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle's website SFGate.com under a new blog section called "City Brights."
These pieces struck us as so odd because of their praise and defense of predatory East Palo Alto landlord, Page Mill Properties, a real estate investment company that is widely loathed in the community. It's difficult to imagine that anyone other than a hired PR firm could have anything nice to say about this company's activities in East Palo Alto.
Page Mill's excessive rent increases and unjust evictions have been denounced by numerous tenants, the East Palo Alto City Council and Mayor, SEIU 521, and community organizations including the Fair Rent Coaltion, Youth United for Community Action, Nuestra Casa, The Family Center, The Stanford Community Law Clinic, and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto.
Murphy's article reads like a reprint of a Page Mill press release, which, as it turns out, it essentially is. Murphy has been the subject of related controversy in the recent past. Last October, the environmental group Amazon Watch called on the Chevron corporation to disclose the nature of it's relationship with Murphy and his website. In a press release Amazon Watch states "for several months Murphy has been posting a steady stream of commentary and misleading facts to discredit indigenous groups suing Chevron for environmental contamination in Ecuador without disclosing he is being paid." In a published response to Amazon Watch's claims, Murphy did not deny that he had accepted payment from Chevron for services rendered.
It is clear from running a search on his website that until last week, Murphy hadn't often, if ever, covered news in East Palo Alto (EPA). Yet on April 17, Murphy published under his byline a detailed story about the supposed positive changes Page Mill has brought to the EPA community, complete with quotes from Page Mill CEO, David Taran and members of the community. Along with the article is a video, clearly produced for or by Page Mill, but with no disclosure as to the video's origins. (A video with some of the same footage, appears on an Abraham's blog as well. Both videos are hosted on the Page Mill Properties' YouTube channel.)
Abraham's post reads less like a mere reprint of a Page Mill press release, but is no less surprising in it's defense of the company and it's conduct in EPA. As with Murphy's website, a search of Abraham's past posts reveals no previous coverage of events in East Palo Alto. We find it quite interesting that within 48 hours, both of these writers, who showed no prior interest in the news of East Palo Alto, published heavily slanted coverage for Page Mill while the company is in the midst of litigation with the City of EPA, is the target of a class action law suit, and is facing increasingly negative press coverage.
As the website for his business, SBSON.com, explains, Mr. Abraham is paid by clients for the services of "online reputation management." In other words, he takes money to create positive hype for companies on the internet. Hmmm.
Most troubling is that, because Abraham now has a blog on SFGate.com under it's recently created "SF Brights" section, his terribly slanted piece appears as a San Francisco Chronicle article in internet news searches. Currently, if one searches Google for news on Page Mill Properties, Abraham's piece titled "Page Mill Properties Treated Unfairly in East Palo Alto" appears at the top of the search list. There is no indication that it is a blog piece from a writer who accepts payment from clients for "online reputation management."
Like Murphy, it appears that Abraham may also have a relationship of some nature with the Chevron corporation. On another of Abraham's multiple blogs the Chevron logo is prominently displayed and it links to his favorable coverage of Chevron's recent legal battles.
I contacted both Murphy and Abraham. Both denied receiving compensation for their favorable coverage of Page Mill.
To say the least, we are quite suspicious of the timing and the very slanted nature of these pieces. We're continuing to look into this and will keep you updated.