Yesterday we discussed the business of placing phony letters to the editor and OpEds in newspapers --- a real growth industry in Washington, DC. This business, of course, is a subset of whatâs called âastroturfâ organizing, as in companies that are in the business of whipping up phony âgrassrootsâ support for this or that cause --- something we discussed at some length back in the spring of 2002.
Now, the phony letter and OpEd racket comes in many shapes and sizes. But just to get the ball rolling, letâs look at one example from the TPM archives.
Van Kloberg & Associates is a DC lobbying firm which specializes in representing what â¦ well, what would you call them? â¦ letâs say, the most misunderstood of nations. Countries like Burma, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Liberia under Samuel Doe, Zaire under Mobutu, all sorts of good places.
If you look here you can view a November 26th, 1990 letter from Edward van Kloberg to the then-Ambassador of Zaire, Tatanene Manata. The subject of the letter is what Kloberg called the âZaire Program 1991.â
Basically, this was the firmâs program to flack for Zaire by harrying opponents of the Zairian dictatorship in the United States, lobbying congress and getting stories planted in the press about how the mind-bogglingly corrupt and brutal Zairian dictatorship wasnât such a bad place after all.
(For a good run-down of Mobutuâs Zaire --- and thereâs really no other Zaire since Mobutu changed the countryâs name from the Congo to Zaire when he took power and it was changed back after he was run out of the country --- see Michela Wrongâs In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo.)
By all means take a look at the whole thing. It makes for delightfully entertaining reading, in a sort of surreal and amoral sort of way. But note one part of their âpress campaignâ: placing letters-to-the editor and OpEds in newspapers.
âOur press outreach placed dozens of letters-to-the-editor in newspapers across the country,â Kloberg says on the first page of the letter. He later notes how the firm âresponded to criticism of the government of Zaire by drafting and placing letters-to-the-editor and op-ed pieces.â
In mid-2001 an employee of one DC foreign lobbying firm told me that many of these outfits have a few ex-foreign service officers, ex-ambassadors or other luminaries on retainer who can lend a hand by affixing a signature to such letters, or perhaps even writing them.
So this is one part of the racket. Later weâll discuss others.