Sunday, December 18, 2011

#Qorvis & #BellPottinger Working Together

In August, news came out --- notably through the blogger Brian Whitaker --- that the major American public-relations firm Qorvis had signed a $40,000/month contract with the Bahraini regime. Soon it emerged what Qorvis was delivering for their money : the company was trying to place a series of press releases, posing as "news", on the pages of American and international newspapers and websites (see separate feature).

Not long after that, the blogger Chan'ad Bahraini placed Qorvis within a larger story, setting out a Top 10 List of American and British firms and individuals with PR contracts with the Kingdom. Included on the list were a former top Democratic Party strategist, Joe Trippi, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Chris Cooper, and a USA Today journalist dismissed for alleged plagiarism, Tom Squitieri. 
And now we have more to consider --- on Friday, Chan'ad Bahraini noted the latest Foreign Agents Registration document of Qorvis. This is a form, required every six months by the US Justice Department, declaring the company's organisation and its relationship to and work for its clients.

The entire form deserves reading. It is much bigger than just Bahrain, given Qorvis's roll-call of individuals and governments --- including the Saudi Embassy in the US and Ellam Tam, "Palestine's first strategic communications company" --- but here we will focus on Qorvis's favourite little Kingdom.


Up to now, I had treated each of the Bahraini regime's PR outlets as separate. The Potomac  Square Group did its bit, and Tom Squitieri's TNS chipped in with his "journalism". Britain's Bell Pottinger --- whom we have profiled this week for their activities on behalf of regimes like Uzbekistan, their manipulation of Wikipedia entries, and their braggadocio about access to the highest levels of British politics --- provided big-name advice.

Not so. The Qorvis form indicates that it got to the Bahraini regime via representation from Bell Pottinger. In July, Bell Pottinger also subcontracted work for the Yemeni regime, for $30,000, to Qorvis. The two companies, in other words, are not necessarily rivals for business; they work hand-in-hand.

And, as we noted yesterday, Tom Squitieri --- the independent "media analyst" placing his pro-regime slant in outlets like The Huffington Post --- is not even independent in his business operation. The registration form makes clear he is actually employed by Qorvis.


Qorvis declares that it "coordinated media and press activity on behalf of  the Kingdom of Bahrain". Under that heading, it lists almost 120 articles distributed, via PR NewsWire at a cost of $116.60 per piece, to newspapers and websites. So, in the name of news, Qorvis distributed "Prime Minister of Bahrain Works to Implement National Dialogue Political Reforms", "U.S. Optimistic About Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report and Reform Implementations", "U.S. Navy Committed  to Bahrain says State Department", as well as "Bahrain  to Host Charity Golf Tournament for Disabled".

That output is almost the entire English-language production of the Bahraini regime's Information Affairs Authority.


Qorvis, however, is far more than the Information Affairs Authority's US branch. The company also arranged access for Crown Prince Salman to Washington's elite in May and June, including a gathering at the White House.

The Crown Prince sat down with leading members of Congress, while hands were shaken and words were exchanged with columnists like David Ignatius of The Washington Post --- who has been a prime outlet for good news about Bahrain's leadership --- analysts of think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations and RAND, and former Government officials such as Elliot Abrams. 


Facebook also gets a big name-check in the Qorvis reports --- dozens of payments of $50 to $100 were made to the social networking site from April to October.

Read the full Foreign Agents Registration Document....