Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Suspicious Blog Postings Emerge Praising and Defending Predatory Landlord

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 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,, 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 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.


  1. Thank you for researching and posting this Andy. I, too, thought that the posts by Pat Murphy and Zenny Abraham were suspicious both in their timing and their near verbatim recanting of Page Mill's talking points. It's interesting to see that both clearly work on a "pay for placement" basis.

    Compare what you brought to light about Zenny Abraham and Pat Murphy with the policies of reputable news organizations. Magazines required ads styled to look like articles to be clearly labeled as "Paid Advertisement". Funding announcements on NPR are never read by the people who report the news. These are policies put in place to maintain the integrity of reporting and clearly separate news from paid commercial messages.

  2. Andy, this is good digging. It is obvious from both of those reports that the person who wrote them has never spent any actual time in East Palo Alto, but only had one of Page Mill's "special public relations tours." Page Mill has been doing nasty business in EPA, and they are trying to whitewash it. The citizens of EPA will find out who's paying these guys (perhaps through a Public Relations firm?) and we will out them. If I want to see fake news, I watch The Daily Show. Much funnier than Zennie, IMHO, and more honest. Given what this country is going through, a little honesty would be nice.

  3. Andy, thank you for posting this. Zennie is a paid blogger for Sam Singer Associates, the "Mr. Fix it" who was paid to flack for Chevron after their human rights abuses. Mr. Murphy was in on this gig, too, and they just cross-linked each other and rolled in the cash for dishonest PR work that no one else would touch. The fact is Page Mill Properties is rotten to the core, and they've hired people who are just as rotten as they are.

    Will nobody stand up and say "This is simply wrong"?