the Hot Seat, Part II: Activism
The Satya Interview
With Ingrid Newkirk
Part One of the Satya Interview with Ingrid Newkirk
Newkirk is co-founder and president
of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the worlds
most prominent animal rights organization. PETA has been a major force
in bringing animal rights and vegetarianism into the consciousness of
mainstream America. Much of PETAs success in exposing the public
to the ubiquity of animal exploitation has been through its eye-catching
and controversialat times notoriousprotests and advertising
Last year PETA launched its anti-dairy campaign, with spoofs on the
industrys famous Got Milk? ads. Two particular ads
sparked heated controversy. The first, Got Beer?aimed
primarily at college-age peopleclaimed that even a glass of beer
has more nutritional value than a glass of milk. Free bottle-openers
emblazoned with the Got Beer? slogan were a hot item and
demand for them exhausted their supply. This campaign outraged members
of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organization that raises
awareness of drunk driving, especially among teenagers. In apparent
solidarity with MADD, it also provoked radio talkshow host Mike Gallagher
to purchase a cow and have him slaughtered on air (see Satya April 2000).
Then there was Got Prostate Cancer? which claimed that dairy
consumption is linked to cancer and featured New York Citys Mayor
Rudy Giuliani sporting a milk mustache (Giuliani was diagnosed with
prostate cancer last year). Talkshows and newspapers condemned PETAs
apparent insensitivity and lack of respect, and Newkirk appeared on
CNNs show Crossfire in which she defended PETAs
position. Not one to shy away from controversy himself, Giuliani held
a press conference where he voiced his outrage at the use of his image
and condition, then downed a glass of milk in front of cameras.
PETAs on-going anti-fur advertisements have included images of
famous models who would rather go naked than wear fur. Last
year, PETA released a more provocative ad to protest the widespread
use of fur trim. Fur Trim: Unattractive features a close-up
of a womans crotch with exaggeratedly bushy pubic hair fanning
out from the panty line. Galen Sherwin, President of the National Organization
for Women-NYC, wrote a letter in which she expressed her outrage at
this apparently sexist ad, arguing that it objectifies and degrades
women. Her letter and Newkirks response were featured in Ms. Magazine
(Is This ad Sexist? April/May 2000).
The following is the second part of a two-part interview (see Part 1,
PETA at 20 Years, in November/Decembers issue). The
conversation continues in which Newkirk explains to Catherine Clyne
some of PETAs more controversial campaigns, and talks about what
its like to represent such ideas.
On the show Crossfire [9/29/00] you were quoted as sayingin
reference to PETAs Got Prostate Cancer? campaign featuring
Mayor Rudy GiulianiWe are desperate. We dont have
the advertising budget of the milk people. Many of our readers
can understand that justification. But one thing you said in the first
part of this interview about PETAs campaigns is that some people
find its not their cup of tea. Since PETA is the largest
animal rights group, whats your response to animal activists who
feel that some of PETAs campaigns are counter-productive or misrepresent
animal advocates or even the truth?
Well, I dont know how the ad campaigns can misrepresent the
truthespecially if you look at something like the Giuliani one.
If anyone bothered to look at PETAs website, for example, which
showed I think 11 studiesbut its something like 20 nowthat
all link milk consumption, like meat consumption, to prostate cancer.
Sadly theres too much cruelty for us to ever need to invent anything.
The facts are probably far worse and numerous than the ones we put out,
because we do have to temper how appalling things are. Theres
stuff that we cant show the public, or theyll turn away.
The thing is, we make them gawk, maybe like a traffic accident that
you have to look at. I think we do embarrass people in our movement
and Im sorry for that, but theres a bigger picture. There
are other people who believe in animal rights but dont have our
style. To them, its not comfortable to find that weve been
successful in making people stop and pay attention. So people will then
criticize something like the Giuliani ad, and all the other animal advocates
then find themselves having to defend it. To them I say please dont
bother to defend it. We dont mind; you dont have to defend
it. You can simply say look, there are lots of different peoplewe
would never do thatbut lets talk about whats wrong
with milk and where veal comes from, and put your own spin on
Theres the lovely feeling that people have that they have to defend
us, when they dont; they simply have to attack the issue in their
own way. No one has to stand behind us; weve never asked anyone
to defend the way we get attention. The fact is we are the biggest group
because we succeed in getting attention. If anyone has a better idea
of how to get attention, please do it, because it embarrasses us sometimes
[laughs], but we havent found a more successful way. The fact
is we may be doing all sorts of things on a campaign but the one thing
that gets attention is the outrageous thing. It simply goes to prove
to us each time, that that is the thing thats going to work; and
so we wont shirk from doing that facetin addition to all
the other things we do that you never hear about because no one cares.
There is a little bit of hypocrisy in some of the commentsespecially
those of non-movement membersabout poor Giuliani.
To me its sort of like in England, where a lot of people are not
in favor of the monarchy anymore, but if you come from Lithuania or
NYC and you attack the queen, well all come out fighting. [laughs]
Everyone in England will rise up and say how dare you? And
I think theres a bit of that with Giuliani. New Yorkerseven
though theyve made terrible fun of him and didnt have any
room for himsuddenly thought Oh look, people are attacking
our mayor and so they got defensive. Thats understandable,
but you know, the fact is Giuliani has taken money from the dairy industry;
he also took money to promote the circus not too long ago.
Giuliani hasnt listened to any of our polite letters asking to
meet with him or showing him scientific studies making the connection;
and then he goes on television guzzling milk and saying, oh, theyre
just talking about a few ratsthey dont know what theyre
talking about. I think it probably got him more sympathy than
anything hes ever done in his political career. So he probably
should thank us for it.
Why did you apologize for the Giuliani ad?
I apologized because so many of our members thought he was hurt,
and at the time I said I dont believe he is hurt, but I
dont want to hurt you, and if you think hes hurt, Ill
apologize. However, were apologizing if we hurt him; were
not apologizing for the campaign. I think the campaign was a huge
success: more hits in three days than weve ever had on our website,
and more requests for vegetarian starter kits than weve ever had.
But I said to him if we hurt you, then I am sorry, but I
didnt believe that we actually did.
What about the more inadvertent controversies with groups,
like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and their negative reaction
to the Got Beer? ad, and feminists who feel the fur campaigns,
particularly the Fur Trim: Unattractive ad, are exploiting
women? In other words, some people criticize these ads as unnecessarily
alienating groupseven those with whom animal advocates might share
I dont think anyone honestly goes out and has another burger
or buys a fur coat because they dont like our style. Its
very hardwe certainly were quite amazed at how upset MADD got.
It was clear that they hadnt read the campaign materials which
didnt ask children to drink and didnt suggest drunk driving.
We have a lot of respect for MADD; but its rather odd in a way
that every spring break and every college football game are sponsored
by beer people. And yet when we said hey, theres more nutrition
in a glass of beer than there is in a glass of milk, we got slammed.
I think that they thought, PETAs a social advocacy group;
they really dont have any right to use the word beer or to suggestas
we werethat people of drinking age could drink beer.
In the end, we collected money from our staff and gave it to MADD, but
they returned the check, which I dont think is in their interest.
And we invited them to talk about it and they werent interested,
which wasnt in the interest of anybody. So, one does what one
can do, to say youve got your job to do, weve got
The panties thingI just think its a hoot; I think its
amusing in its own way. And I dont think its exploitative;
it could be anybodys crotch. And most people would think Oh
lord, I dont want that showing. Since our exchange, Galen
Sherwin [NOW-NYCs President] and I have agreed to disagree, we
patched that up.
In raising the awareness of people to the various issues of animal
suffering, via activism, educational campaigns and other methods, would
you say the ends justify the means?
I think thats too broad a statement because some ends do and
some ends dont. If its anything thats going to result
in suffering to animals or people, then I dont think it justifies
You mean violence?
Yeah; but then again if you could hurt ten people to save 100 people
and there was no option, what would you do? I cant really address
How do you feel being constantly in a hot seat as the spokesperson
with the message that people love to ridicule or misrepresent?
I feel honored in a way. Ive passed the point long ago where
I felt frustrated at people or personally upset that people had the
need to do that. It isnt a personal matter. Im a human being.
Human beings are slow learners; Ive certainly been a slow learner
and Im sure Im still learning. I have the opportunity to
allow people to ridicule what we do, and me personally, if thats
what they need to do along the road to embracing a concept. Though in
saying that, I recognize that not everyone will. You know, there are
still people who would [use racial slurs] if they could get away with
it; its just that the behavior has become unacceptable. It is
an honor to be able to bear the brunt of that work in progress.
But I do get deeply depressed when people send things in the mail saying
theyre going to hurt animals; people have sent us animal organs
or have left injured animals on the steps. To me, this is the saddest
partthey wouldve probably hurt the animals anyway because
thats what theyre like. The saddest thing is the realization
that a fellow human being is so inured to suffering that they would
try to hurt another fellow human in that way, by taking it out on the
Are you referring to the situation when radio talkshow host Mike
Gallagher bought a cow and had him slaughtered in response to the Got
No, I actually think that was pretty good, because the cow was going
to be killed anyway without people realizing it. That cow was doomed.
No death was added as a result of that. However, it did turn a lot of
people away from eating meat that day and that week, and in some cases
forever, because it gave us a platform to argue with Gallagher; we did
countless radio shows and newspaper interviews. And as a resultagainlots
of people asked for the veggie starter kit or about factory farming
for the first time.
But I think he may have learned something. Im not sure if its
true, but he said that in the end, he couldnt look [as the cow
was being shot]. It may be that he had to confront what happens to animals
every day as a result of his diet.
Its one thing to brazenly talk about something and its
a completely different thing to witness and be a part of it yourself.
Yeah. We had a case where townspeople called us to support them
because they didnt want a slaughterhouse to be constructed in
their town. They wanted it out of town because otherwise the children
would see it. And we said no. We wrote immediately to the council asking
that they please construct it in the center of town; get it out in the
open, please, where everyone smells it, everyone sees it, the children
know what it is.
What other interests or means of relaxation do you have to help you
cope with the intensity of defending animal rights? How do you keep
your sense of humor?
[Laughing] Well, I have to think of the positive; thats how
I cope. But I like a good London Times crossword and a cup of teathat
makes me happy. And I love walking someone elses dog. I dont
have the luxury of having a dog myself because I travel too much, but
I love walking and cuddling somebody elses dog. I just came back
from the shelter today and they let me walk three dogs at lunchtime.
It was great.
To view PETAs anti-fur ads, visit www.furisdead.com
and www.milk sucks.com to see
the anti-dairy ads. To learn more about PETA, visit www.peta-online.org
or call 757-622-PETA.