14. Public Relations: Legalized Manipulation and Deceit

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Source: COVERTACTION Date: Spring 1993 Title: “Public Relationships: Hill & Knowlton, Robert Gray, and the CIA” Author: Johan Carlisle

SYNOPSIS: Edmund Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important by far than them all. So it once may have been. Today it would appear that journalism and the reporters of the Fourth Estate have been replaced by the public relations flacks of Madison Avenue.

Few Americans have ever heard of Hill and Knowlton (H&K). Yet it is one of the world’s most influential corporations with virtually unregulated status, long-standing connections to intelligence agencies, and the power to shape national, if not international, policy. But H&K is just the jewel on the gaudy crown of the propagandists. Altogether, in 1991, the top 50 U.S. – based PR firms charged more than $1,700,000,000 for manipulating public opinion.

As Johan Carlisle noted in CovertAction, “One of the most important ways public relations firms influence what we think is through the massive distribution of press releases to newspapers and TV newsrooms.” A study by Scott M. Culip, ex-dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Georgia, revealed that 40 percent of the news content in a typical U.S. newspaper originated with public relations press releases, story memos, or suggestions.

An analysis of a typical issue of the Wall Street Journal by the Columbia Journalism Review once found that more than half the journal’s news stories “were based solely on press releases.” And while the releases were reprinted “almost verbatim,” many of the articles were given a Wall Street journal staff reporter byline.

Hill & Knowlton’s clients include Turkey, China, Peru, Israel, Egypt, and Indonesia, all well-known chronic human rights abusers. H&K’s executives, such as former Vice President George Bush’s Chief of Staff Craig Fuller, and Democratic power broker Frank Mankiewicz, have run campaigns against abortion for the Catholic Church; represented the Church of Scientology and the Moonies; made sure gasoline taxes were kept low for the American Petroleum Institute; handled the critics of Three Mile Island’s near catastrophe; and mishandled the apple growers’ assertion that Alar was safe.

One of H&K’s better known propaganda coups was on behalf of Kuwait. H&K was hired by Citizens for a Free Kuwait and eventually received nearly $10.8 million to conduct one of the largest and most effective public relations campaigns in history.

Perhaps its most stunning promotion was when it presented 15 year-old “Nayirah” before the House Human Rights Caucus to tearfully testify about Iraqi soldiers taking Kuwaiti babies out of incubators at the al-Addan hospital and leaving them on the cold floor to die. As it turned out, “Nayirah” was the daughter of Sheikh Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait’s ambassador to the U.S. Her story, which was impossible to corroborate, was neatly orchestrated by H&K and coordinated with the White House on behalf of the government of Kuwait.

The problem did not end with the Reagan/Bush administrations. Ron Brown, who was a lobbyist and attorney for Haiti’s “Baby Doc” Duvalier, is President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce. Howard Paster, former head of H&K’s Washington office, directed the confirmation process during the transition period and went on to become director of intergovernmental affairs for the White House. And after managing public relations for the Gulf War, H &K executive Lauri J. Fitz-Pegado became director of public liaison for the inauguration.

SSU Censored Researcher: Kristen Rutledge

COMMENTS: Johan Carlisle, a San Francisco-based investigative journalist, strongly believes that public relations firms and their ability to form public opinion have not received the coverage they deserve. “I don’t think this subject, the incredible power of public relations companies to influence U.S. domestic and foreign policy, is dealt with at all in the mass media,” Carlisle said.

“Since we supposedly live in a democracy, more information about how government policy is shaped and how public perceptions are manufactured would undoubtedly change the way the democratic process works. Public relations and lobbying, in particular, are two elements of our democracy that few citizens know much about. I asked an official at H&K why domestic lobbying and public relations are virtually unregulated. He said that would be a violation of free speech. I think the public has a right to know how these powerful companies affect our lives.

“The large transnational corporations that benefit from the militaristic foreign policy of the U.S. and from the widespread ignorance of Americans about what is really going on in this country and the world,” are the primary beneficiaries of the limited coverage given this issue, according to Carlisle. He believes that public relations practitioners and lobbyists constitute the fifth branch of government-considering their influence and power.