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The U.S. Public Relations industry is one which is very high profile, but is a tiny, close knit industry, with only perhaps 75 American PR firms having more than 50 employees (i.e. enough scope/influence to represent a foreign government or foreign interests). Over lunch recently, one of my peers, who like me owns one of the 25 largest US PR agencies, explained why his firm would no longer work with Jewish organizations and pro-Israel concerns. He explained there is simply too much money working for Arab organizations and interests, and between front groups, organizations and projects, from a business perspective, he was no longer working for pro-Israel or Jewish organizations. It’s a trend which will grow – and will see Arab interests even more positively portrayed in American media.
In the latest news, Bahrain in the last 12 months has hired at least ten public relations companies since last year. Yes, you read it right – ten – including Qorvis, the Washington company hired by Saudi Arabia to salvage that kingdom’s reputation abroad after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The regime of Bahrain, which tortures its own citizens, has an awful human rights record and doesn’t recognize the existence of Israel, also hired Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, and Sanitas International, whose partner Christopher Harvin is a former Bush White House aide.
In the “new” Middle East a lot has changed – except recognition of Israel, and millions are spent by Arab interests on professional public relations campaigns:
- Harbour Group, a Washington D.C. lobbying firm has been hired by the new Libyan government. As the Hill recently revealed, Harbour recently signed a new $15,000 per month contract with the Libyan embassy. Patton Boggs, another large K Street lobbying group, is also now representing the new Libyan regime. They previously worked with Gadhafi, alongside the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Monitor Group and held a hefty $250,000 per month contract with Tripoli, recruiting prominent American academics to praise the Libyan government.
- It’s nothing new in the Middle East – Arab governments spend lots of money on public relations. The Syrian regime continues to butcher thousands of their people in the streets – and its by and large missing from the mainstream media (and one of the things a good crisis PR agency is able to do is ensure negative stories never be printed). One day we will read about who is working for Syria now. A few months ago hackers released hundreds of e-mails from Syrian President Assad’s office, which revealed a document preparing Assad for his December 2011 interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters.
- This week, the glowing profile and stunning full-page picture of Asma al-Assad, Syria’s First Lady, which appeared in Vogue in February 2011 with the titled: “Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert” was quietly removed from Vogue’s website. Vogue wouldn’t comment on why the story was removed – but the story which described her as “glamorous, young, and very chic – the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” ran as the Syrian government was butchering anti-regime protesters. A PR firm, Brown Lloyd James, worked for Syria to arrange the story in the past.
Brown Lloyd James worked in the past to boost the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadaffi. They said, “…we assisted the Libyan government in its efforts to reach out to the international political community through the United Nations and to the U.S. political and university community.”
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