Someone is accusing Fox Business of perpetrating a “hoax." And it has nothing to do with the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

In this case, the accusation is coming from Smithfield Foods: “FOX Business aired a segment that was a complete hoax,” said Smithfield Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo in a statement sent to the Erik Wemple Blog. At issue was a segment of Maria Bartiromo’s morning show on Fox Business. She presented an interview with Dennis Organ, the incoming chief executive of Smithfield, whose Sioux Falls,* S.D., plant was the site of a much-publicized coronavirus outbreak earlier this year. OSHA found that more than 1,200 Smithfield employees contracted the disease, and four died in the spring, according to Reuters; the company is contesting the findings.

Perhaps we should say that Bartiromo interviewed “Dennis Organ." That’s because animal-rights activist Matt Johnson of Direct Action Everywhere was impersonating the real Organ. The scam allowed him to filibuster the segment as he toggled between CEO-speak and activist talking points. How alike do these fellows look? Judge for yourself: Here’s Organ; here’s Johnson.

In climate-conscious Denmark, the supermarket chain Coop is using an app to help customers understand the carbon footprint of the food they buy. (Alison Withers/The Washington Post)

Clearly Fox Business producers need to brush up on the hairstyles of meat-industry executives. “A simple Google search for a photo of our CEO would have prevented this from happening,” said Lombardo in her statement. Bartiromo did the journalistic thing later at the end of that day’s program: “We have been punk’d,” she said, summarizing the situation and apologizing to Organ, Smithfield and the Fox Business audience.

In his chat with Bartiromo, Johnson/"Dennis Organ" boasted about the “brutal honesty” he’d bring to the job. “It’s certainly been a challenging time,” he said at the start. “Thousands of our really courageous food workers, and I really do want to emphasize the heroic efforts of these folks — they’ve been getting sick for really just trying to provide for their families. As far as Smithfield, we’ve done for our employees, we’ve provided them with extensive personal protective equipment and offered additional paid leave for sick employees, but those steps have unfortunately been insufficient in many instances."

“The truth is that our industry, in addition to the outbreaks that are happening at our plants, our industry poses a serious threat in effectively bringing on the next pandemic,” said Johnson/"Dennis Organ."

Bartiromo argued that Smithfield, as the world’s largest pork producer, has a chance to shape the industry. However, she noted that the company’s parent company is now based in Hong Kong — "Are the hogs raised in the United States and then sent to China to get slaughtered and produced and packaged?”

In an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, Johnson/"Dennis Organ" said he was caught “flat-footed” by the question. “She thought she was speaking to the CEO of the company, who would know all these things off the top of his head, but I didn’t know the answer to that.” So the imposter, in between “uh”s, managed to say that “the pigs are slaughtered in the U.S. and we have an export market which we think is a very necessary part of a thriving economy, to have open trade.”

Funnily enough, that is an accurate summary of the situation. Smithfield produces pork for U.S. customers, all of which is processed in this country. Certain cuts that aren’t popular in the domestic market go to the company’s 40 export markets, including Mexico, Japan and Hong Kong/China.

The China angle was more than a passing interest for Bartiromo, however, who then presented this question:

Dennis, I was told that in China, there was this African swine flu that affected so many pigs that there were a million pigs in the river, dead. They didn’t know where to get rid of the pigs that were dead. And then other sources were saying that well, you can’t get sick even if the pig had African swine flu if the pig was dead, so they cut up the meat as well. How are Americans going to believe that the meat is safe if they’re going to China to get slaughtered and packaged? What kind of processing securities do you have in place to assure Americans that their pork is safe?

Johnson/"Dennis Organ" prattled on about the company’s safety procedures — the result, he says, of a bit of “homework” that he’d done on the company.

For the record: The company notes, “Smithfield does not import food from China. Our parent company is a publicly listed and publicly traded company based in Hong Kong." (More from the company here). Misconceptions about Smithfield’s alleged pork imports from China spread earlier this year, triggering this Associated Press fact-check. To repeat: The company does not import pork from China.

How did Johnson make his way onto Fox Business? By concocting “fake contact info,” as Johnson told the Erik Wemple Blog, though he declined to provide specifics about how he spoofed the company’s email address or other identifying information. His only regret from the experience was that he failed to deliver the big announcement that he’d prepared: That Smithfield would soon “transition entirely to plant-based meats."

Correction: The original post mistakenly cited the location of the Smithfield plant as Sioux City, not Sioux Falls.

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