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#361 - PR Firms For Hire To Undermine Democracy, 27-Oct-1993

Congress will take a final "yes or no" vote November 17th on NAFTA --an
issue that will profoundly affect the environment of the North American
continent for decades or centuries to come.

NAFTA is short for North American Free Trade Agreement, a formal
arrangement to reduce tariffs and other trade barriers between Canada,
the U.S. and Mexico.

It is time for each of us to be asking: What do the people who
represent ME in Congress think about NAFTA? Push has come to shove on
NAFTA and it's time to let Congress know what YOU think.

We have previously written about the environmental destruction that
NAFTA will initiate (see RHWN #303, #304, AND #305). Since then,
President Clinton has added "side agreements" to NAFTA but they are
weak and will be challenged in court, so seem unlikely to change NAFTA
at all.

The Mexican government and Mexican business groups have spent more than
$25 million persuading Congress to say "yes" to NAFTA.[1] It helps to
get the size of this lobbying campaign into perspective. Before the
NAFTA campaign, the 3 biggest lobbying efforts had been these:

**In 1990, Hill & Knowlton (the largest Washington PR firm) was paid
$10 million by the Kuwaiti government to persuade the American people
of the need for military intervention in the Persian Gulf.

**In 1987, after a Japanese company illegally exported high-tech
equipment to the Soviet Union, Japanese corporations spent $9 million
for a lobbying drive to prevent legislative retaliation by Congress.

**In the late 1970s, in a scandal that became known as "Koreagate,"
South Korean rice broker Tongsun Park acknowledged that he had
distributed about $850,000 in gifts and cash to 31 members of Congress
from 1967 to 1977.

Mexico's pro-NAFTA expenditures have already exceeded the combined
resources of these 3 "largest ever" lobbying campaigns.

Whichever way NAFTA goes, it can serve as a "wake up call" to the role
of big-money lobbying by PR firms. There are now 170,000 PR employees
in the U.S. (there are 40,000 more "flacks" than there are news
reporters). These PR flacks work relentlessly to manipulate news,
public opinion, and public policy.

Fortunately, we now have a new tool to help us understand how these
flacks work: a new newsletter has just appeared, called PR WATCH,
published quarterly. The editor is John Stauber, who says,

"The corporate flacks, hacks, lobbyists and influence peddlers, the
practitioners of modern PR... have become a kind of occupation army in
our democracy....

"The ascendancy of the PR industry and the collapse of American
participatory democracy are the same phenomenon. The growing
concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands, combined with
sophisticated marketing techniques and radical new electronic
technologies, have come together in the past decade to fundamentally
re-shape our social and political landscape....

"When the corporate status quo is threatened by 'the rest of
us' (seeking better working conditions, national health care, fair
prices for farmers, safe food, freedom from toxic pollution, and social
justice), the PR flacks, lobbyists and trade associations mobilize to
crush or co-opt the outnumbered, outgunned reformers."

Under the headline "Spies for Hire," the first issue of PR WATCH
highlights one particular PR firm that specializes in gathering
"intelligence" about activists: Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin (MBD) in
Washington, D.C. MBD employs 20 professionals and 14 support staff
keeping track of activists for Fortune 100 clients.

Documents published by MBD contain the following description of the
company in its own words: "MBD assists corporations in resolving public
policy issues being driven by activist organizations and other members
of the public interest community. We help clients anticipate and
respond to movements for change in public policy which would affect
their interests adversely....

"Forces for change often include activist and public interest groups,
churches, unions and/or academia....

"MBD is committed to the concept that it is critical to know who the
current and potential participants are in the public policy process, to
understand their goals and modus operandi, and to understand their
relative importance. To this end, MBD maintains extensive files on
organizations and their leadership..."

According to company documents, MBD routinely monitors subject areas
such as "dioxin," "incineration," and "landfills" and organizations
such as Greenpeace International and Friends of the Earth.

PR WATCH reports that an MBD staff person, such as Kara Ziegler,
"spends long hours on the phone falsely representing herself as 'a
writer for Z Magazine' or a friend of a friend" gathering intelligence
from and about unsuspecting activists. We spoke to Ms. Ziegler by phone
October 26 [(202) 429-1800]; she confirmed that she had read about
herself and MBD in PR WATCH, then excused herself from the phone with a
promise to call us back with comments on its accuracy, but we did not
hear from her again.

MBD co-founder and vice president Ronald A. Duchin gave a speech to the
1991 convention of the National Cattleman's Association. His talk was
titled, "Take an Activist Apart and What do You Have?"[2] The talk
described how corporations can defeat public interest activists.

Duchin says activists fall into 4 categories: radicals, opportunists,
idealists, and realists. To defeat activists, Duchin says, corporations
must use a three-step divide-and-conquer strategy. The goal is to
isolate the radicals, "cultivate" the idealists and "educate" them into
becoming realists, then co-opt the realists into agreeing with

Here are excerpts from Duchin's talk, as reported in the June, 1991,

"[T]he activists we are concerned about here are the ones who want to
change the way your industry does business--either for good or bad
reasons: environmentalists, churches, Public Interest Research Groups,
campus organizations, civic groups, teachers unions, and 'Nader-ites.'"

The Radicals

"[Radical activists] want to change the system; they have underlying
socio-economic/political motives; [are] anti-corporate--[they] see the
multinationals as inherently evil; winning is unimportant on a specific
issue; [they] can be extremist/violent; [their] involvement in a
particular issue can be a diversion from pursuit of their real
(unarticulated) goals."

The Opportunists

"The public policy process breeds opportunists because the process
offers visibility, power, followers and, perhaps, even employment....
The key to dealing with opportunists is to provide them with at least
the perception of a partial victory.... [Opportunist activists] exploit
issues for their own personal agendas; [are] only involved in an issue
if personal gain [is] available; can be, but not normally,

The Idealists

"Idealists want a perfect world and find it easy to brand any product
or practice which can be shown to mar that perfection as evil. Because
of their intrinsic altruism, however, and because they have nothing
perceptible to be gained by holding their position, they are easily
believed by both the media and the public and, sometimes, even the

"Again, because of their altruism, the idealists are hard to deal with.
As long as their motivation remains pure their credibility for the
positions they support will be viable. Idealists must be cultivated and
one should respect their position. It has been arrived at through a
sense of justice. They must be educated.

"Certain of the idealists,... e.g., churches,... have a vulnerable
point. If they can be shown that their position in opposition to an
industry or its products causes harm to others and cannot be ethically
justified, they are forced to change their position.

"Once the idealist is made fully aware of the long-term consequences or
the wide ranging ramifications of his/her position in terms of other
issues of justice and society, she/he can be made into a realist.

"Without support of the realists and the idealists, the positions of
radicals and opportunists are seen to be shallow and self-serving.

"Thus, while a realist must be negotiated with, an idealist must be
educated. Generally, this education process requires great sensitivity
and understanding on the part of the educator."

The Realists

"[Realists] can look beyond the issue at hand; understand the
consequences; can live with trade-offs; [are] willing to work within
the system; [are] not interested in radical change; [are] pragmatic.

"The realists should always receive the highest priority in any
strategy dealing with a public policy issue. It is very important to
work with and cooperate with the realists...

"In most issues, it is the solution agreed upon by the realists which
becomes the accepted solution, especially when business participates in
the decision making process. If business opts out of the policy
process, the voices of the idealists and the radicals take on more
strength.... [R]ealist leaders and groups are the best candidates for
constructive dialog leading to mutually satisfactory solutions.
Idealists often can be convinced over time to take a more realistic
view. If your industry can successfully bring about these
relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and the
opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy

Grass-Roots Organizations

"The Grassroots Organizations... are very important... due to their
commitment to a radical change in the way America governs itself....
These organizations do not trust the... federal, state and local
governments to protect them and to safeguard the environment. They
believe, rather, that individuals and local groups should have direct
power over industry. Not only does this make these groups difficult to
deal with, it makes it impossible to predict with any certainty what
standards will be deemed acceptable. I would categorize their principle
aims right now as social justice and political empowerment--using the
environment as a platform."

GET: PR WATCH, 3318 Gregory Street, Madison, WI 53711; phone (608) 233-
3346; fax: (608) 238-2236. $60/yr. for individuals and non-profits;
$300 for corporations.

--Peter Montague


[1] Charles Lewis and Margaret Ebrahim, "Can Mexico and Big Business
USA Buy NAFTA?" THE NATION Vol. 256 (June 14, 1993), pg. 826.

[2] Joel Bleifuss, "PR Spies," IN THESE TIMES September 20, 1993, pgs.

Descriptor terms: public relations; pr; nafta; mexico; trade barriers;
non-tariff barriers to trade; pr watch; environmental movement;
mongoven biscoe and duchin; backlash; wise use movement; intelligence;
spying; john stauber;