Sep 18th 2013

Ketchum If You Can

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Vladimir Putin’s ghost writers must be gloating.

Vladimir Putin’s first foray into the American op-ed world has produced far more heat than light since its publication Sept. 12.

The 1100-word screed under Putin’s byline was a masterpiece of chutzpah, portraying the Russia president as a God-fearing protector of democracy and stalwart supporter of the United Nations, especially the Security Council where Russia has flagrantly used its veto since the beginning of the Syria conflict. Understandably the reaction in the West has been jaw-droppingly negative.

Anna Neistat, associate director of Human Rights Watch, dismissed the essay as “a compilation of half-truths and accusations.” Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said, “I almost wanted to vomit.”

But the greatest heat in this affair has emanated not from the American public but from the private conference rooms of Ketchum Public Relations, the U.S. agency that actually wrote it for Putin’s team. No original text in Russian has surfaced, most likely because it never existed. The few Russian publications that have picked up the story quote sparingly from the English version.

It is naïve to believe that Vladimir Putin sat down one night at his Kremlin desk and, pen in hand, dashed off this heartfelt opener reminiscent of FDR, “Recent events in Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people …”

One wants to say, “Oh puh-leeeeze.”

Major pronouncements such as this one, especially if placed in a major U.S. newspaper, are almost never written by the people who sign them. This is where the Ketchums of the PR industry come in. Presidents and CEOs turn to such agencies or hire expensive ex-journalists to make up their self-serving pronouncements. You can ignore the Kremlin spokesman’s quaint assurance that Putin actually jotted down the “basic content” for this piece and let his aides flesh them out. He was probably out of the loop until late-stage drafts.

In fact, major op-eds that PR agencies produce are the outcome of long, intense conference calls among highly paid PR hacks billing the client like crazy. Over a period of weeks, multiple drafts zip back and forth. Careers are made or ruined in this arena.

At stake from Ketchum’s point of view was not the 100,000 dead in Syria’s civil war fueled by Russian arms. At stake was Ketchum’s Russian contracts, which are among the agency’s largest and have made Ketchum the mouthpiece for everything from Putin’s fantasies to the Sochi winter Olympics to Kremlin-controlled Gazprom.

I am no innocent observer. I once wrote op-ed pieces for Burson-Marsteller to persuade the public that “second-hand smoke” is good for you, and to promote the brutal Indonesian army in its efforts to crush the East Timor independence movement. Philip Morris and the government of Indonesia were two of B-M’s main clients, bringing in many millions of dollars a year. I was billed out at an incredible $350 an hour, far more than I was worth. With distance of a decade or so, I now see how utterly cynical the PR business had made me.

Perhaps the oddest dimension to the Putin case is the attitude of theNew York Times editorial page editor, the liberal-minded Andrew Rosenthal. His own paper quotes him as saying he found the Putin piece “well-written, well-argued.” He said he disagreed with “many points,” but added that there is “no ideological litmus test” in the op-ed world. Without mentioning that it was a PR handout, he said he found the Putin piece needed “virtually no editing.” He decided to run it because it was a “piece of great news value.” Decoded, this means he knew that if he rejected it the Washington Post would grab it.

Someone at Ketchum, probably an ex-journalist who has lost his moral compass, will get a vice presidency out of this.

If Putin actually endorses the ideas that ran under his name, he might do well to convert his assertions into action. He could start at home where his government arrests human rights activists and threatens to close non-governmental organizations on the grounds of espionage. The Russian legal framework is evolving as a tighter and tighter noose around the freedoms that he professes to defend.

Abroad he might start accepting that the sarin gas attack launched against civilians on August 21 in a Damascus suburb was the work of the Assad regime, not the opposition.

Alternatively, he could go back Ketchum and ask them to place some more op-eds.

Originally published on The American Spectator, posted here with their and the author’s kind permission. To proceed to The American Spectator please click here.


Related article on Facts & Arts:

What Putin Didn't Tell the American People

by Anna Neistat

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "We are feeling the anxiety effects of not one pandemic but two. First, there is the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes us anxious because we, or people we love, anywhere in the world, might soon become gravely ill and even die. And, second, there is a pandemic of anxiety about the economic consequences of the first. These two pandemics are interrelated, but are not the same phenomenon......................a contagion of financial anxiety works differently than a contagion of disease. It is fueled in part by people noticing others’ lack of confidence, reflected in price declines, and others’ emotional reaction to the declines. A negative bubble in the stock market occurs when people see prices falling, and, trying to discover why, start amplifying stories that explain the decline. Then, prices fall on subsequent days, and again and again."
Apr 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Given the shortage of testing kits for COVID-19 around the world, the current testing regimen includes primarily (if not exclusively) symptomatic patients, making the rate of death appear to be worse than it might actually be. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, asymptomatic persons are not routinely tested, so the prevalence of asymptomatic infection and detection of pre-symptomatic infection is not well understood.[i] Similarly, a high percentage of patients who are either elderly or have underlying medical conditions that make them more susceptible to succumbing to the virus may test positive and die, skewing the rate of death among younger, otherwise healthy individuals. Death rates among persons over 80 years of age have been as high as 20%."
Apr 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Whenever the crisis has passed, there will be numerous studies of what happened and why. The hardest question to face, and one that will be long debated, is how many people died needlessly as a result of Trump’s leadership."
Apr 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Locking down the economy is correctly viewed as a way to buy time to expand capacity and reduce the peak-load demand on health systems. But it is not a complete strategy. Even when combined with monetary accommodation and a large fiscal program geared toward protecting vulnerable people and sectors, an economic deep freeze cannot be sustained without eventually imposing unacceptable costs on individuals and society."
Apr 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s behavior over the past two weeks is exactly what’s wrong with America’s response to COVID-19. Paul has a compromised lung, so he decided that he should be tested for the disease out of an abundance of caution. From the time of his test until he was confirmed positive six days later, Paul did nothing to protect those around him. On the contrary, he met with other senators, cast votes on the Senate floor, played a round of golf at a private club, and even squeezed in a few laps at the Senate pool. In the countries that have contained the coronavirus outbreak, such irresponsible behavior has not been tolerated, and even could have landed Paul in jail. As a physician (ophthalmologist), he, more than anyone, should know that if he was concerned enough about COVID-19 to be tested for it, he should have been equally concerned about the risk he was posing to others."
Mar 31st 2020
EXTRACT: "The absence of effective federal oversight and management of the COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly be judged by historians as the biggest US governmental calamity of all time."
Mar 29th 2020
EXTRACT: " South Korea is one of the world’s most advanced countries........... But so, too, is the United States. Why, then, has the US lagged so far behind in its response to the pandemic? The short answer is that the US has a president who is fundamentally unfit for the job, both intellectually and temperamentally."
Mar 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "A large part of the fallout to date – particularly on stock markets – has actually been from negative sentiment rather than real effects."
Mar 24th 2020
EXTRACT: ".........every component of aggregate demand – consumption, capital spending, exports – is in unprecedented free fall. While most self-serving commentators have been anticipating a V-shaped downturn – with output falling sharply for one quarter and then rapidly recovering the next – it should now be clear that the COVID-19 crisis is something else entirely. The contraction that is now underway looks to be neither V- nor U- nor L-shaped (a sharp downturn followed by stagnation). Rather, it looks like an I: a vertical line representing financial markets and the real economy plummeting..............The risk of a new Great Depression, worse than the original – a Greater Depression – is rising by the day."
Mar 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "President Donald Trump and US policymakers have thus far favored piecemeal measures, especially when it comes to the state directing – indeed, reorganizing – the private sector. Their instinctive belief in the superiority of the market and private initiatives, regardless of the circumstances, leads them to recoil from the scale of government intervention needed to save our lives and livelihoods."
Mar 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Back in July 2019, while in Michigan for one of the early Democratic Party presidential debates, I was invited to a small dinner with Bernie Sanders. Toward the end of the meal, those who remained at the table included actor/activist Danny Glover, Dr. Cornel West, former Mayor Gus Newport, Jane Sanders, and a few key campaign staffers. What ensued was a free-flowing discussion of the agents of social and political change, sprinkled with personal recollections of and lessons learned from historical figures – many of whom had been known by my dinner companions.......I came away from that evening seeing Bernie Sanders in a different light. He was, and still is, a candidate for the presidency of the United States. At the same time, he must also be seen as a transformative figure in modern American political history."
Mar 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Why are we more scared of what is less likely to kill us? The psychological principle that makes us fear swine flu, avian flu, or COVID-19, but not the common flu is called fear of dread risks. It is easy to elicit fear of episodes in which many people die within a short interval, such as plane crashes or epidemics. But when just as many or more people die over a longer period – as with car accidents or the seasonal flu – it is difficult to scare the public into wearing seatbelts or getting vaccinated."
Mar 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "But if containment measures fail – as we are seeing in Italy just now – the banks may still end up in trouble. They may also stop lending again, in which case the asset bubbles would collapse and a long-term recession would become a certainty. Central banks and governments would have to step in with more assistance: as well as further interest rate cuts, they look likely to try more QE and potentially bailouts like in 2007-09 if necessary. But given the limited scope this time around, if the global economy stalls for the long term, these measures might still fail and central bankers could potentially lose control of the marketplace altogether. In such a situation, we would be in truly uncharted territory." PICTURE BELOW: WORLD DEBT.
Mar 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Russian resistance appears to have derived from fears that if they cut back exports and OPEC managed to keep the price high, US petroleum firms using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) would simply rush in to grab Russian markets in Europe........So the theory that Russia provoked the price fall to harm US fracking companies is incorrect. They provoked it to avoid being harmed by the American producers, as they saw it."
Mar 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "I was recently walking along East 29th Street in Manhattan, after visiting a friend at Bellevue Hospital, when I was roused from my thoughts by a middle-aged white male screaming at an old Chinese man, “Get the fuck out of my country, you piece of Chinese shit!” The old man was stunned. So was I, before I bellowed back (deploying the full range of my native Australian vocabulary), “Fuck off and leave him alone, you white racist piece of shit!”  The pedestrian traffic stopped. A young white guy with dark hair came storming toward me. As a non-pugilist by instinct and training, I braced for what was coming. He stopped just short of me and said, “Thank you for standing up for him. That’s why I fought in Iraq; so that people like him could be free.” "
Mar 6th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Dreyfus was originally arrested and convicted on charges of selling military secrets to Germany – France’s historical enemy. But because he was a Jew, his guilt was assumed from the start, particularly by most of the French officer corps. To ensure that the charges would stick, various conspirators fabricated evidence against Dreyfus, including a secret file that only the judges who handed down the conviction and prison sentence were allowed to see........In the Dreyfus Affair, a savagely right-wing press fanned the flames of anti-Semitism and intrigue among elites, just as Fox News does today against Trump’s enemies. Owing to these malign efforts, truth itself becomes blurred,........Most depressing of all, though, is the fact that no senior figure in the US has come forward to stand alongside Vindman. There has been no Zola to issue the equivalent of the famous “J’Accuse!” pamphlet, shaming the country’s complicit elites for their lies and corruption. Instead, men like former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and former National Security Adviser John Bolton have put their personal interests first, remaining mostly silent......"
Mar 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "After nearly four years of inveighing against the US intelligence officials and analysts who revealed Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump is finally acting fully on his paranoia by carrying out a purge. "
Mar 3rd 2020
EXTRACTS: "........the next global recession could be around the corner – and that it may look a lot different from those that began in 2001 and 2008.........unlike the two previous global recessions this century, the new coronavirus, COVID-19, implies a supply shock as well as a demand shock. ..........In contrast to recessions driven mainly by a demand shortfall, the challenge posed by a supply-side-driven downturn is that it can result in sharp declines in production and widespread bottlenecks. In that case, generalized shortages – something that some countries have not seen since the gas lines of 1970s – could ultimately push inflation up, not down."
Feb 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "The EU must ask itself if it is prepared to do what is necessary to remain an independent player, united in the common interest of all Europeans. Otherwise, Europe’s viability as a democratic, sovereign entity in control of its own destiny will be called into question – and therefore tested by adversaries – like never before."
Feb 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The world economy has clearly caught a cold. The outbreak of COVID-19 came at a particularly vulnerable point in the global business cycle. ...........This matters little to the optimistic consensus of investors. After all, by definition shocks are merely temporary disruptions of an underlying trend. While it is tempting to dismiss this shock for that very reason, the key is to heed the implications of the underlying trend. The world economy was weak, and getting weaker, when COVID-19 struck. The V-shaped recovery trajectory of a SARS-like episode will thus be much tougher to replicate – especially with monetary and fiscal authorities in the US, Japan, and Europe having such little ammunition at their disposal. That, of course, was the big risk all along. In these days of dip-buying froth, China’s sneeze may prove to be especially vexing for long-complacent financial markets."