Rick Berman, the king of corporate front groups and propaganda, has been caught on tape detailing his attacks on public interest groups in the labor and environmental movements, including on efforts to increase the minimum wage for workers.
As noted in a new story by Eric Lipton at The New York Times, Berman met with energy company executives at the posh Broadmoor Hotel earlier this year to raise money from them to attack groups representing citizens concerned about clean water, clean air, and the future of the planet. But Berman’s “win ugly” tactics apparently did not persuade all of his prospective clients for his lucrative business of creating tax-exempt non-profit front groups that then contract with his for-profit PR firm to give corporations cover for his attacks on their opponents. The way Berman profits from this arrangement has spawned a legal complaint to the IRS.
An audio tape of Berman and his associate, Jack Hubbard, has been provided by a person at the Broadmoor event to the Center for Media and Democracy, which publishes PR Watch and has long tracked Berman’s deceptive PR operations.
Berman Explains His Playbook
Preaching to his audience, Berman’s remarks reveal a kind of Ten Commandments from the Dr. Evil playbook:
- “Screw” your enemy. Berman boasted about his obsession with unions and his attack on their efforts to raise the minimum wage for American workers: “I get up every morning and I try and figure out how to screw with the labor unions.” Listen to this clip here.
- “Marginalize” your opponents. Berman described his tactics against public interest groups: “wherever possible I like to use humor to minimize or marginalize the people on the other side.” Listen to this clip here.
- “Demolish the moral authority” of powerful public interest voices: “I got George McGovern to come out and say that unions were wrong. I represent some alcohol companies, I got Candy Lightner, who started Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to come out and say that MADD was overreaching and that she endorsed our position, our client position, rather than the MADD position. That is a demolishing of moral authority.” Listen to this clip here.
- “Make it personal.” Berman’s associate Hubbard described how they go after concerned citizens who dare to challenge their clients: “we do have a section on every single activist. Their rap sheets, their criminal records they have. We’re really making this personal. We’re trying to make it so they don’t have any credibility with the public, with the media, or with the legislators.” Listen to this clip here.
- “Brand” whole movements as “not credible.” Berman & Co. detailed their game plan to try to marginalize people concerned about fracking, as noted by Bloomberg media: “what we wanted to do is that we wanted to brand the entire movement behind this as not being credible, and anti-science.” Listen to this clip here.
- Being “nasty” wins. Berman shakes off concerns that his activities are too nasty or aggressive, saying “you can either win ugly or lose pretty.” Listen to this clip here.
- Push “fear and anger.” Berman talked about pushing people’s emotional buttons on fear, love, anger, greed, and sympathy, stating: “you could not get into people’s heads and convince them to do something as easily as you could get into their hearts or into their gut to convince to do something. Because, emotions drive people much better than intellectual epiphanies.” Listen to this clip here.
- Treat public policy as “endless war.” Berman recognized that the public interest groups are appealing to the American people: “If you think about it these groups, the Sierra Club, who is the natural enemy of the Sierra Club? Who is the enemy of Greenpeace? You know at the surface, you would love to be a group like that because everyone should be in favor of you, who could be against you? That’s very difficult to over come and they play on that, and they trade on that, and that’s our opportunity and also our challenge. So it is an endless war.” Listen to this clip here.
- Give corporate cash “total anonymity.” Berman reassured his audience that he can keep their role in these tactics secret: “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us. We’ve been doing this for 20 something years in this regard. And to the degree to anybody is concerned about that I will tell you there are all sorts of ways, all sorts of firewalls that have been established to get this done on an anonymous basis.” He added: “I am religious about not allowing company names to ever get used. At least I’m not going to allow them to get used. And I don’t want companies to ever admit that because it does give the other side a way to diminish our message.” Listen to this clip here.
- Tear down celebrities who speak out. Berman’s associate Hubbard noted that taking down celebrities who speak up is a key part of their strategy because: “the problem is that the public really does have a celebrity worship culture. But the good news is that there is nothing the public likes more than tearing down celebrities and playing up the hypocrisy angle.” Listen to this clip here.
Meanwhile, Berman and Co. attack public interest groups for their donors and try to label opponents as “hypocrites” whenever possible even as he goes to great lengths to hide the money trail between him and some of the dirtiest industries on the planet.
The tape reveals more about Berman’s targets beyond Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and unions, such as Food and Water Watch, the Park Foundation, the Humane Society, and Rep. Jared Polis. But they are in good company as Berman’s targets alongside activist leaders like Robert Redford, Randi Weingarten who leads the American Federation of Teachers, and Tom Steyer, who is publicly known for funding efforts to protect the environment. Other Berman celebrity targets include Lady Gaga and Yoko Ono. (CMD—which launched ALECexposed.org and publishes PRWatch.org, SourceWatch.org, KochExposed.org, OutsourcingAmericaExposed.org, NFIBexposed.org, and other investigative sites—is also one of the groups targeted by Berman and his buddies in recent months.)
Undoubtedly, there will be more to come on Berman’s tactics and operations.