14. Public Relations: Legalized Manipulation and
Source: COVERTACTION, Date: Spring 1993, Title: "Public
Relationships: Hill & Knowlton, Robert Gray, and the CIA," Author: Johan
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appear that journalism and the reporters of the Fourth Estate have been
replaced by the public relations flacks of Madison Avenue.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.
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.
& 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.
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.