Date: Sun, 6 Jul 97 23:02:39 CDT
Subject: BURSON-MARSTELLER: PR FOR THE NEW WORLD ORDER
Subject: BURSON-MARSTELLER: PR FOR THE NEW WORLD ORDER
Date: Jul 6, 1997
From: Reclaim The Streets (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
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?
On the human rights front, B-M has represented some of the worst violators of our age. These include:
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 clearcut 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
For years B-M has been involved in major environmental issues all over the world, not hesitating to give polluters a helping hand when confronted by activist groups and/or government regulations. Many transnational corporations have turned to B-M for help in the creation of a pedantic, elitist and corporate-oriented brand of environmentalism. It is the hope of entrepreneurial sectors and neoliberal demagogues that this type of safe and harmless environmental activism will displace the more militant and agressive grassroots groups.
B-M's environmental services have benefited industrial polluters, such as the following:
represented top nuclear power/nuclear weapons contractors such as General Electric, AT&T, McDonnell Douglas, Asea Brown Boveri and Du Pont. In fact, Canada's first Candu [nuclear] reactor sale to Argentina in the early 1970's was later renegotiated during the reign of the military junta, for whom Burson-Marsteller did an image-cleanup from 1976-1981. In addition to this, since 1993 B-M subsidiary Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly (see sidebar) has been representing Nordion International, a newly-privatised subsidiary of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., Canada's state-owned nuclear power company.
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 NestlE9, and 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.
B-M was hired by the pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly and Monsanto subsidiary Nutra Sweet to promote the use of the genetically-engineered synthetic bovine growth hormone rBGH. This hormone, which increases milk output in cows, is strongly opposed by dairy farmers and consumer and environmental activist groups. Their two main arguments are that 1) There is already a milk glut in the US. To bring more of it into the market would depress prices so severely that small dairy farmers would be run out of business; and 2) the use of rBGH has already been linked to severe health problems in cows and to calves born with grotesque birth defects.
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 a ttended 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
me eting 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
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 America n 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.
In 1990 the Mexican government hired B-M to sell NAFTA to the American public, media and politicians. B-M subcontracted this job to one of its subsidiaries, The Brock Group (TBG), a consulting firm that has done work for American Express, Bell Atlantic, Bacardi, Toyota and the Taiwanese government. TBG is headed by former senator, Republican National Committee chairman, US trade representative and labor secretary William Brock. He was certainly qualified for the job. As US trade representative, Brock engineered the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement, and began the negotiations that would eventually culminate in the signing of the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement.
William Brock co-chairs the Multilateral Trade Negotiations (MTN) Coalition, which was founded in 1990 to 'educate' the public-- and lobby for--the now-completed Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The coalition's members include American Express, General Motors, IBM, General Electric, Cargill, Citicorp, Procter & Gamble and other companies and trade associations. According to Malaysian activist Martin Khor Kok Peng, the MTN Coalition had a big influence on the 1990 G-7 Summit meeting held in Houston, USA, in which GATT figured prominently. At the Houston Summit, MTN held a high- profile press conference and released a report by an 'eminent persons group' on world trade.
One of TBG's top executives happens to be former Miami businessman
and ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich. During the Reagan
administration, the Cuban-born Reich headed the US state
department's Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), whose task was to
disseminate disinformation about the Sandinistas and discourage
reporting critical of the contras. This outfit, whose operations were
later found to be illegal by the US General Accounting Office, was
staffed with five psychological warfare specialists from the 4th
Psychological Operations Group of Fort Bragg. According to John
Stauber and Sheldon Rampton,
the OPD...helped spread a scurrilous
story that some American reporters had received sexual favors from
Sandinista prostitutes in return for writing slanted stories. In
1987, after the US Congress shut down the OPD, congressman Jack Brooks
an important cog in the (Reagan) administration's
effort to manipulate public opinion and congressional action.
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's success in insuring the passage of NAFTA encouraged the Mexican governing elite to retain the firm's services. It now has a luxurious office in the posh Colonia Anzures district on Mexico City that caters to customers like the Council of Businessmen, the National Stockbrokers' Association, the ministry of commerce and industrial development, and the Office of the President of the Republic. In addition to this, B-M parent Young & Rubicam rakes in over $100 million every year from Mexican clients. It is not an exaggeration to say that the credibility of the neoliberal project in the western hemisphere hinges on Mexico. Businessmen, politicians and neoliberal ideologues all over the hemisphere have touted Mexico as a symbol of capitalist success because of its privatization policy and its faithful adherence to the economic formulas prescribed by multilateral development banks (a.k.a. the Bretton Woods institutions). After the massive expenditure of political energy in getting NAFTA passed, business elites in both Mexico and the US are hard-pressed to put on a convincing performance in order to give credibility to future trade agreements. Bringing Guatemala and Chile into NAFTA has already become an agenda item.
However, neoliberal designs for Mexico are endangered by a series of
crises, including the blatantly fraudulent elections of 1994, the
embarassing 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 EjE9rcito Zapatista de LiberaciF3n 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
One of NAFTA's most nefarious consequences will be the dismantlement of Canada's government-run health care system. Since it places very strict limits on what domestic or foreign corporations can do, its more progressive features--such as compulsory licensing in order to control drug costs-- will eventually be challenged as barriers to trade. Once the Canadian system is gutted by NAFTA's notoriously secretive and undemocratic dispute resolution mechanisms, Canadian citizens will have no choice but to turn to the 'free market' for medical services and insurance.
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
The winners of the health care debate in the US were beyond any doubt
the pharmeceutical 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.
The awesome power of the 'manufactured consent' of the mass
media, created in no small part by PR firms like Burson-Marsteller,
can be discouraging to many politically aware citizens. However,
despair is what the PR business sells: despair from even the smallest
possibility of positive social change from below. If we are to
believe that organized citizens cannot effectively challenge corporate
and government power, then the PR flacks will have truly triumphed.
But, as Rampton and Stauber say in their book,
The fact that
corporations and governments feel compelled to spend billions of
dollars every year manipulating the public is a perverse tribute to
human nature and our own moral values.
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.
PR Watch. This quarterly newsletter, edited by John Stauber, provides a progressive and critical perspective on the public relations business. 3318 Gregory Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53711, USA.
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