Bayer has been making headlines since it acquired Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion, inheriting lawsuits alleging their (formerly Monsanto's) glyphosate-containing Roundup caused cancer and other health problems. Recent revelations also suggest the corporate giant had clandestine discussions with a media foundation aimed at promoting and protecting the company's interests.
The records obtained by The Guardian, which include email communications that took place from 2018 to 2019, suggest Bayer senior vice president Ray Kerins and external communications vice president Chris Loder had discussions with Thanos Dimadis, a communications strategist who formerly served as the executive director of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) and the related Foreign Press Foundation (FPF).1
Bayer 'Attempts to Buy' Press Association
In exchange for Bayer becoming a "major supporter" of the FPF, as well as offering financial incentives to Dimadis personally, the FPA promised to carry out a list of planned initiatives to benefit Bayer, including:2
• Bayer vice president Loder would get a seat on FPF's advisory board and be allowed to participate in board meetings
• FPA would raise awareness about topics Bayer identified
• Bayer would not only be given advance notice of who would receive the Foreign Press awards, but the "selection of the honorary awardees for the Foreign Press awards should not be contradictory to Bayer's strategic communications plans and initiatives"
• The press association would organize forums for media influencers and journalists on topics relevant to Bayer's goals
The list goes on, with the press association offering Bayer a press conference against fake news along with multiple "background briefings" for journalists that would further Bayer's "communications priorities and strategic goals."
Dimadis also sent Bayer a list of hundreds of foreign correspondents so they could select who should be kept engaged with the company. Carey Gillam, an investigative journalist, wrote in The Guardian:3
The emails show that Bayer's Loder … arranged a call with Dimadis on 25 June 2018 to discuss the planned initiatives. Following that call, Dimadis wrote back to Loder, copying Kerins on the 25 June 2018 email, thanking Loder for the call and saying Bayer could consider him a 'strong ally'.
He then asked for Bayer to pay him personally, separate from funding to the press association's foundation, as a 'part-time contractor'. Absent that, he asked if Bayer would add extra money to the company's yearly donation that could be directed to Dimadis after he delivered "each one of our projects".
In a 11 July 2018 emailed response, Bayer's Loder told Dimadis the company agreed to add in extra money to its FPA budget to 'influence your personal role in these projects'. 'Your efforts with the FPA Board … are very much appreciated by Ray and me and are a very good development in reinvigorating the Bayer-FPA relationship,' Loder wrote to Dimadis in that same email.
'You have been responsive to everything that Ray and I have discussed with you, and we certainly appreciate your attentiveness to this matter. We appreciate you taking action to move our partnership forward.'
Bayer Becomes Largest Sponsor of New Press Organization
One caveat to the initiatives was that Bayer would withdraw its support if Dimadis were no longer affiliated with FPA. Such a split occurred in early 2019, with Dimadis leaving FPA and FPD and becoming president of the Association of Foreign Correspondents in the USA (AFC-USA) in partnership with Bayer and others.
"The association held an awards ceremony … in New York City featuring Kerins. Bayer is the single largest sponsor of the new press association, listed as donating $50,000," Gillam wrote.4 It was after Dimadis severed ties with FPF that the emails between him and the Bayer executives were uncovered, surprising staffers. Gillam reported:5
FPA's vice-president, Ian Williams, said the emails show Bayer was 'attempting to buy' the press association; pursuing an arrangement in which Bayer would have control over which journalists received awards, who spoke at conferences and other events, and in return would 'feather the nest' of Dimadis. He said he was shocked that the trade-off was so 'explicit'.