Press Yawns As U.S. PR Firm Flaks for Venezuela's Oppressive Government

October 4th, 2015 11:11 AM

Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro presides over a country which is falling apart thanks to the socialist policies of his government and that of his predecessor Hugo Chavez. The Economist describes the period since Chavez took over in 1998 as that of "authoritarian misrule" characterized by "by shortages of everything from poultry to pharmaceuticals, by inflation approaching 200% and by rampant corruption and crime."

It also cites the country's "dwindling cash reserves." Given the situation, the fact that a U.S.-based PR firm has recently and eagerly taken on the task of trying to make Maduro look good should be seen as appalling. But that hasn't been the case. The apparent silence of some of this PR firm's leftist clients arguably indicates that they tacitly support obvious oppression as long as the one engaging in it is a socialist. What little press coverage there has been of this firm's association with Maduro has been neutral to mildly laudatory.

Of course there are left-leaning and right-leaning PR firms. FitzGibbon Media proudly promotes their orientation:

FitzGibbon Media is a progressive, movement-focused communications firm of grassroots organizers, campaign veterans, creative thinkers, policy wonks, and communications experts.

But FitzGibbon emphasizes that they aren't just cashing checks in the name of providing competent client service:

  • "We only work on projects we believe in and issues we care about."
  • "At FitzGibbon Media we only work for clients whose causes we truly believe in."

So let's be clear. FitzGibbon, based on their own statements, "believes in" Nicolas Maduro and his government as it issues press releases on behalf of and provides other services to "the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."

An item in the quite left-leaning Daily Beast a week ago (HT American Thinker) catalogs several of the things about Venezuela's government and Maduro himself FitzGibbon clearly must "believe in":

Has Venezuelan President Maduro Gone Insane?
His regional warmongering may be a ploy by a desperate politician, but the successor to Hugo Chavez has grown so erratic some are calling him “the South American Hitler.”

Is Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, once a mild-mannered bus driver, steering the world’s 13th-largest oil producer straight off a cliff?

Within the last few weeks he’s come to the brink of war with not one but two neighboring countries. ...

... While experts warn that such risky behavior could destabilize the entire region, Maduro himself accuses Bogotá and Washington of being in league to overthrow him—and also boasts of having spies in the White House.

... Maduro has overseen the swift and profound decline of Venezuela—from an oil-rich, leftist powerhouse under Chavez to an Orwellian dystopia, complete with the highest inflation rate in the world.

... He has cracked down on opposition leadership—handing out a 14-year-prison sentence to popular opposition leader Leopold Lopez this month over trumped up charges. And he’s repeatedly authorized the use of deadly force against demonstrators he sees as a threat to his regime.

... Isaacson says Maduro is scared witless about upcoming mid-term elections, scheduled for December 6, because Maduro's Chavista party is likely to take a shellacking at the polls—and his fear is the key to understanding the method behind his recent madness.

“You’ve got leaders of the opposition being locked up. You have almost no independent media anymore. You have a deeply unpopular president, but people generally are too afraid to protest—and everybody with their eye on these December 6 legislative elections,” Isaacson explains.

“So [Maduro] has been playing the nationalist card more, in order to rally the armed forces as well as the people behind him.

Meanwhile, FitzGibbon is doing its part to make this madman look like a statesman, as seen in their September 29 press release wherein, among other things, Maduro (not kidding) "Calls for Diplomacy of Peace at (the) U.N." to "stop the terror in Syria." Here are excerpts:

Comparing the situation in Syria with wars waged in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, he remarked: "We need to ask ourselves: did the war in Afghanistan bring peace or more misery?"

“Nobody has the right to judge and undermine the political regime that has been decided upon by another country.”

... On the upcoming parliamentary elections:

“As Jimmy Carter said, the Venezuelan electoral system is the most transparent and complete election system he has seen in the world.

I would ask the world to be very alert to any attempt to interfere in the political process in Venezuela - participatory democracy. We have our constitution, adopted by our people in 1999. Our call is for peace, for democracy, peaceful approaches, we will continue strengthening our system for independence, for dignity.”

News reports seen here and here appear to have used FitzGibbon's release as a primary source.

FitzGibbon's client list includes prominent human-rights outfits like Amnesty International, which has serially denounced developments in Venezuela as that country has descended into near-tyranny. Is Amnesty really down with their own PR firm trying to make Venezuela and "South America's Hitler" look good? How about the legion of other do-gooder organizations which FitzGibbon clients?

To the extent the firm's work has made it into the news, the coverage has been perfunctory and mildly laudatory:

  • In mid-July BuzzFeed drily noted a FitzGibbon release trumpeting how the United Nations Human Rights Council “has recognized Venezuela’s humane treatment of refugees, acknowledging its global leadership by allowing refugees to benefit from its social programs and by not having refugee camps, thus easing the integration process into Venezuelan society.”
  • O'Dwyer's, a PR industry-tracking site, reported that FitzGibbon's contract is for six months and $150,000, and that another firm, "Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications also works for Venezuela under a one-year contract worth $420K."
  • Politico noticed the BuzzFeed item but didn't comment on it, apparently because it didn't consider supporting Maduro particularly problematic.

Stalinist Russia had to work hard to covertly recruit true believers to push its communist line in the press, because the blowback against overt PR efforts would have been fierce. Today, an oppressive tyrant can hire PR flaks with apparent impunity.

Correct that: A leftist tyrant can hire PR flaks with impunity.

I guess this is part of the "new normal" we're supposed to just accept.

Cross-posted at