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Fake tree group tries to build up artificial credibility

Published on December 24, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on January 21, 2011 7:38AM

Carl Sampson

Carl Sampson



Capital Press

Journalists just want to be fair. As they report on stories of public import, most go the extra mile to seek out a variety of viewpoints.

That is only fair. Especially in matters of public policy, there is more than one point of view. A balanced story will include several viewpoints.

However, a problem arises when a source says he is something that he isn't or when an organization sets itself up as representing a larger group than it really does.

On its website, the American Christmas Tree Association says it is "a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public with factual data to help consumers make intelligent decisions about Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry."

The organization represents the real and artificial tree industries, according to its spokeswoman, Jami Warner, who operates a public relations firm in the Sacramento area.

"I don't think so," said Bryan Ostlund, executive secretary of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association. His organization represents nearly 1,000 Christmas tree growers in Oregon and Washington and has nothing to do with the American Christmas Tree Association.

Warner said her group is sometimes seen as representing only artificial importers -- the vast majority of which come from China -- because it is the only group that does.

And it does that in a not-so-subtle manner. Some headlines from its website:

* "An artificial Christmas tree can make the holidays even brighter -- real Christmas trees cost three times more than artificial trees."

* "Study indicates that artificial Christmas trees are better for the environment than farm-grown Christmas trees."

* "Live Christmas trees and holiday fire safety concerns."

* "Allergic to the holidays? Maybe it's your tree..."

A cursory review of the website shows that the association promotes only artificial Christmas trees.

Yet newspapers such as the New York Times and the television show and website "Market Watch" and others have been led to the incorrect conclusion that the organization represents the entire Christmas tree industry.

So who are those guys?

"We don't give out that information," Warner said. She would not say who runs it, how many members there are or anything other than "some are publicly traded companies."

The association's IRS Form 990 lists Thomas Harman as the association's president. He is also founder and CEO of Balsam Hill Tree Co., an importer and retailer of artificial trees. Balsam Hill did not respond to an e-mail request for information by deadline.

Rick Dungey knows Harman. As the public relations manager of the of National Christmas Tree Association, Dungey has debated Harman on several radio programs over such subjects as whether artificial trees manufactured in China are better for the environment than trees grown by American farmers.

"The National Christmas Tree Association represents growers, not Chinese manufacturers," Dungey said.

"It's a delicious irony that the association is named the American Christmas Tree Association but all of its products come from China," Dungey said.

It's clear what the association does -- promote fake Christmas trees. That's fine, but it should say that and not pretend be something it isn't.

Just to be fair.


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