The Burson-Marsteller Hall of Shame
Burson-Marsteller, the world's largest PR firm, has a rogue's gallery of despotic clients. The firm worked with the Nigerian government to obscure evidence of genocide in Biafra. The company also set up smoke screens for the Argentinian government to continue "disappearing" people, and worked with South Korea's military government in order to prepare the world for the 1988 Olympics, which occurred just a year after the "People's Power" movement finally ousted the dictators. And while some dictators are called red, their money is still green. B-M also represented Nicolae Ceaucescu, Romania's mini-Stalin, until the Christmas revolution broke the back of that regime. Apparently, Ceaucescu forgot that impoverished citizens of command economy regimes tend to not to own televisions (thus, the people missed many of his photo ops). However, the Romanians filmed Ceaucescu's genocide trial, and staged his death for the global media's cameras.
Europa Bio's PR friends BURSON-MARSTELLER: PR FOR THE NEW WORLD ORDER
By: Carmelo Ruiz
The public relations (PR) business is one of the fastest growing industries in the global market economy. In order to face perils like labor unions, organized consumer activists and environmental groups, governments and corporations have come to rely more on slick PR campaigns. The peril to popular democracy posed by PR firms should not be underestimated. Using the latest communications technologies and polling techniques, as well as an array of high-level political connections, PR flacks routinely "manage" issues for government and corporate clients and "package" them for public consumption. The result is a "democracy" in which citizens are turned into passive receptacles of "disinfotainment" and "advertorials" and in which critics of the status quo are defined as ignorant meddlers and/or dangerous outsiders.
Burson-Marsteller (B-M) is the world's largest PR firm, with 63 offices in 32 countries and almost $200 million in income in 1994. Although its name is unknown to most people -- even to many in activist circles -- B-M is fast becoming an increasingly important cog in the propaganda machine of the new world order.
Human Rights, Anyone?
* The Nigerian government during the Biafran war, to discredit reports of genocide.
Ideological barriers are no object. B-M also represented the late communist Romanian despot Nicolae Ceaucescu. Other third world human rights violators that have been represented by B-M include the governments of Singapore and Sri Lanka. Doesn't this bother the consciences of B-M's executives? Not at all. Commenting on his firm's work for Argentina's fascists, B-M founder Harold Burson said that "We regard ourselves as working in the business sector for clear cut business and economic objectives. So we had nothing to do with a lot of the things that one reads in the paper about Argentina as regards human rights and other activities".
B-M's environmental services have benefited industrial polluters, such as the
B-M coordinated the oil industry's campaign to discredit and destroy president Clinton's proposal for a BTU tax. A B-M executive sits on the board of Keep America Beautiful, a front for the packaging and waste hauling industries that lobbies against mandatory recycling laws, especially the passage of a national bottle bill in the US.
B-M's most powerful and influential 'environmental' client is the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD), an eco-capitalist outfit founded by Swiss banker Stephan Schmidheiny. A leading theorist and advocate of neoliberal dogma and corporate environmentalism, Schmidheiny agressively combines entrepreneurship and statesmanship. He is a board member of Nestles, a director and shareholder (5% owner) of B-M client Asea Brown Boveri. BCSD's original task was to act behind the scenes at the 1992 Earth Summit, which was chaired by the current head of B-M client Ontario Hydro Maurice Strong, to neutralize and silence any voices critical of the irresponsible behavior of polluting corporations. In the words of Joyce Nelson, "With the able assistance of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, a very elite group of business people (including B-M itself) was seemingly able to plan the agenda for the Earth Summit with little interference from NGO's or government leaders".
Nowadays BCSD is advocating free markets and unfettered corporate activity as the only salvation of the environment. Its members include the CEO's of Asea Brown Boveri, Browning Ferris Industries, Ciba-Geigy, Dow Chemical, DuPont, BCFA member Mitsubishi, Maurice Strong's Ontario Hydro, Royal Dutch-Shell, and companies from Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Spain, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Thailand and Venezuela.
Dirty Tricks and Front Groups
B-M's campaign to neutralize the opposition to rBGH included the use of spies to penetrate activist groups. This fact became public when University of Vermont spokesperson Nicola Marro admitted that a mole had been placed in an anti-rBGH ad-hoc group headed by Jeremy Rifkin, a well-known critic of biotechnology and author of several books. Participants in the group singled out a woman named Diane Moser as a suspect. Moser, who attended a Washington DC meeting of the group, avoided small talk and read a paperback during the meeting. Vermont state representative Andrew Christiansen, who attended the meeting, told journalist John Dillon that "She said she represented housewives concerned about BGH...I had suspicions immediately. I've never seen anybody with a paperback coming to a meeting like that". When the activists called the number she left in the sign-up sheet, it rang in the Washington DC offices of Burson-Marsteller. B-M executive Timothy Brosnahan acknowledged that Moser was a B-M employee but denied knowing of any snooping on her part.
A freedom of information act (FOIA) request by activists Tim Atwater and John Stauber, who were then with Rural Vermont and the Foundation on Economic Trends respectively, uncovered a broader pattern of espionage against foes of rBGH. Atwater and Stauber's FOIA request uncovered documents of the quasi-governmental, farmer-funded National Dairy Board (NDB), which promotes rBGH. These documents revealed that the NDB hired the PR firm of Creswell, Munsell, Fultz & Zirbel (CMF&Z). This firm is a subsidiary of communications conglomerate Young & Rubicam (Y&R), which happens to be B-M's parent company. Given that Y&R represents rBGH backer Monsanto, Stauber concluded that "The day-to-day work is done out of Burson-Marsteller and CMF&Z. But I'm sure there's overall coordination with Young & Rubicam". Stauber is now editor of PR Watch, a newsletter that provides critical reporting on the PR industry, and is co-author, along with Sheldon Rampton, of Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry (Common Courage Press, 1995).
B-M works for Hydro-Quebec (H-Q) promoting the James Bay 2 project. If the final stages of the construction of James Bay 2 are finished, it will become the most destructive hydroelectric project in the history of North America, disrupting the ecological balance of an area the size of France and permanently displacing the Cree and Inuit indigenous populations in the area. To undermine grassroots opposition to James Bay 2, B-M created a phony group of concerned citizens called the Coalition for Clean and Renewable Energy (CCRE), which was headed by Harvey Schultz, former head of New York City's department of environmental protection. According to John Dillon, "Schultz, Burson-Marsteller, and (CCRE) have hosted briefing sessions for academics, and business and community leaders -- opinion makers who can carry the good word about Hydro-Quebec back to their institutions".
The state of Vermont has proved particularly reluctant to buy electricity from H-Q because of pressure from local activists. In order to counteract this threat, B-M hired the Vermont law firm of Sherman & Kimbell to lobby the state government in favor of electricity purchases from H-Q. This law firm registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires American lobbyists to list their foreign clients and how much they're being paid to represent them. However, since B-M itself has refused to register as a foreign agent for H-Q, most of its work for the James Bay 2 project remains a secret.
The Contra Connection
Interestingly enough, the OPD was conceived at an August 1983 meeting between then CIA director William Casey and a small group of PR industry executives. The meeting, whose purpose was to create a propaganda strategy for the Nicaraguan contras, was attended by B-M senior vice-president Kenneth D. Huszar and Philip Morris publicist James Bowling, who later moved to B-M. Their advice to Casey included the creation of a communications function within the White House, a recommendation that led to the creation of the OPD.
B-M, Mexico and the Neoliberal Project
However, neoliberal designs for Mexico are endangered by a series of crises, including the blatantly fraudulent elections of 1994, the embarrassing collapse of the peso, revelations of drug-related corruption that compromise the Mexican elite all the way up to the president's office, a spate of political assassinations that seems to be beheading the ruling political party's leadership, and the popularity of the Ejrcito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN). B-M has a lot of work to do in Mexico. In the words of reporter Jon Reed, who investigated B-M's activities in Mexico, "Burson-Marsteller and other Mexican and transnational PR firms have demonstrated their effectiveness by working behind the scenes -- gauging public opinion, counseling government and corporate leaders, shaping media coverage, and facilitating elite-to-elite communications -- in short, guaranteeing that the inevitable upheavals in an authoritarian and unjust society do not interrupt business as usual".
Destroying Health Care
However, American and Canadian pharmaceutical and insurance companies that want to crack open the Canadian market are frustrated by the fact that Canadians are very happy with their health care system. Worse yet, more and more Americans, especially in Vermont, are now calling for the introduction of single-payer health insurance in their country -- a step in the direction of a Canadian-style system. This presents a grave problem for neoliberal demagogues, since it exposes the basic conflict between capitalism and democracy.
Enter Burson-Marsteller's health care unit, whose staff includes "a medical doctor/physician; former FDA (Food and Drug Administration) commissioner; former hospital administrator; former pharmaceutical communications executives; former non-profit communications chiefs; grassroots specialists, and former reporters" according to the senior editor of O'Dwyer's newsletter, which monitors the PR business. B-M has plenty of experience in matters of public health. On behalf of client Philip Morris, B-M created the National Smokers' Alliance (NSA) to fight against smoking restrictions. According to John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, the NSA "is a state-of-the-art campaign that uses full-page newspaper ads, direct telemarketing, paid canvassers, (toll free) numbers and newsletters to bring thousands of smokers into its ranks each week. By 1995 NSA claimed a membership of 3 million smokers". The NSA is headed by B-M vice-president Thomas Humber and its members include B-M executives Pierre Salinger and Kennetz Rietz, as well as Peter Kelly, senior partner of B-M subsidiary Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly (see sidebar). In addition to this, B-M was hired by the A.H. Robbins company when its Dalkon Shield IUD contraceptive injured thousands of women who used it, and it is now currently promoting the 'virtues' of Eli Lilly's anti-depressant wonder drug Prozac.
The winners of the health care debate in the US were beyond any doubt the pharmaceutical transnational corporations (eleven of which are B-M clients) and the major insurance companies (which include B-M clients Met Life, Equitable Life, Aetna, State Farm and Mutal of Omaha). Now both businesses are vertically integrating themselves into superconglomerates known as health maintenance organizations (HMO's). According to Joyce Nelson, "During 1994 both the pharmaceutical industry and the private insurance industry consolidated into even bigger players on the health care scene, with B-M playing a major role in arranging the mergers among its clients". HMO's are not required to cover all illnesses or people, but can instead discriminate against elderly citizens and/or people with health problems in order to reduce operating costs.
What can we do?
The author is a Puerto Rican journalist living in Vermont, where he is a guest lecturer and research associate at Goddard College's Institute for Social Ecology.
Center for Public Integrity. Private Parties: Political Party Leadership in Washington's Mercenary Culture. 1992.
Center for Public Integrity. The Trading Game: Inside Lobbying for the North American Free Trade Agreement. 1993.
Deal, Carl. The Greenpeace Guide to Anti-Environmental Front Groups. Odonian Press, 1993.
Dillon, John. "Burson-Marsteller: Poisoning the Grassroots" Covert Action Quarterly: Spring 1993.
Greenpeace. The Greenpeace Book of Greenwash. 1992.
Khor Kok Peng, Martin. The Uruguay Round and Third World Sovereignty. Third World Network. 1990.
Nelson, Joyce. "The Time of the Hangman" Adbusters: Winter 1989-1990.
Nelson, Joyce. "Burson-Marsteller, Pax Trilateral and the Brundtland Gang vs. The Environment" Covert Action Quarterly: Spring 1993.
Nelson, Joyce. "Dr. Rockefeller Will See You Now" Z Magazine: May 1995.
Nelson, Joyce. "NAFTA's Nuclear Agenda" Z Magazine: June 1995.
Parry, Robert. Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom. Morrow, 1992.
Rampton, Sheldon & Stauber, John. Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry. Common Courage Press, 1995.
Reed, Jon. "Interview with the Vampire: PR Helps the PRI Drain Mexico Dry" PR Watch: fourth quarter, 1994.
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