Public Relations for Dictators

Friday, June 15, 2012


The New York Times reported this week that the Assad family employs Western PR firms to polish its image for the rest of the world. A few years ago, Harper’s contributing editor Ken Silverstein went undercover and approached PR firms as a fake representative of a tyrant who needed to improve his image. He talks to Bob about what he learned.

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Ken Silverstein

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [11]

ahmad mohammed badamasi from Abuja, Nigeria

What is good for the goose they say, is equally good for the ganders!!!

Jun. 22 2012 06:16 AM
Freedom House from Washington DC

Very informative piece - one of our experts also touched on the same topic in a blog post back in March 2012, which your followers might find of interest:

Jun. 19 2012 12:07 PM

If you are interested in academics hired by PR firms, Silverstein names a number in Turkmeniscam and at least when it comes to Eurasia, they haven't changed much since the book was published.

Jun. 19 2012 09:42 AM

"We also supported the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia"--Jay


The US was opposed to the Pol Pot regime, but decided not to take action against them because Nixon was wooing the Chinese. The US wanted to use the Chinese as leverage against Russia at that time. China was the biggest and most important backer of the Khmer Rouge, and Nixon and the rest of the US government didn't want to jeopardize relations with China by taking action against the Khmer Rouge. The USSR was perceived as a much bigger threat to the US at the time.

When the Khmer Rouge government was allowed a seat in the UN, American representatives stood up and walked out in protest. However, the US didn't take an active role in opposition for the above reasons.

This is chronicled in detail in Nayan Chanda's book, "Brother Enemy: The War After The War".

Asserting the US supported the Pol Pot regime is incorrect and probably based on a lack of knowledge of the region. Everyone needs to remember the Khmer Rouge's biggest supporter has always been China. China provided the Khmer Rouge with most of their weapons and logistical support.

Jun. 18 2012 10:27 AM

Oh the irony - this piece was followed by an ad for a company that helps other companies maintain their online reputations. Ken Silverstein concludes that this publicity is ineffective. I disagree. These op eds justify the US's support of repressive regimes. Don't forget, the US was allied with Saddam Hussein and helped him target Iran with chemical weapons. We also supported the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, probably one of the most brutal regimes in history, killing somewhere between 20% and 40% of the population of Cambodia. Rios Montt who pursued a genocidal campaign in Guatemala, was trained in the infamous School of the Americas and has had Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as friends. The list goes on and on.

Jun. 17 2012 07:51 PM

I agree with Richard Davies on this issue: how about a follow up story on academics who can easily be bought.

Jun. 17 2012 01:49 PM
J. from Washington DC

Bad P.R for Cranbrook? Maybe. Bad P.R. for Mitt? Who can say...

Jun. 16 2012 05:58 PM
J. from Washington DC

The readers of this blog and listners of this podcast may be interested to know that Gabriel Nguema Lima, son of President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea (1979–present) and Vice-Minister of Mines and Energy for Equatorial Guinea (arguably one of the most oppressive branches of government) graduated in 1993 from the very highschool, Cranbrook Schools, Mitt Romney graduated in 1965. (In full disclosure: I am a graduate from 2007) Source:

Jun. 16 2012 05:44 PM
Richard Davies from New York

Your interview with Ken Silverstein of Harpers briefly mentioned academics who are paid by PR firms to write in praise of dictatorial regimes. Thiis is worthy of a follow up segment. What about business school professors who were hired by the financial industry to give credence to unregulated derivatives trades? There may be many other examples. At least one quite prominent economics professor does national TV ads for a copier company. Should collegs and universities be more transparent? It's worth asking if professors and lecturers should be required to list any sources of income that could potentially conflict with their academic research and teaching.

Jun. 16 2012 12:21 PM

It is not teenagers that such propaganda appeals to put "progressive" middle-aged elitists who read liberal publications and love puff peices about "strong women" regardless of the atrocities committed around them.
These supposedly sophisticated and progressive readers fall for propaganda all the time.
Just review the media treatment of Bush and Obama and the Tea Party and the Occupy movements and the facts tell a different story than the progressive propaganda narrative peddled in the media.

Jun. 16 2012 07:41 AM

Israel has used thuggish, oppressive techniques and committed crimes against humanity against Palestinians for decades. Does anybody doubt that Israel lobbies very 'successfully'?

Jun. 16 2012 07:22 AM

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