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Merrill Lynch, Protection Rackets and the “P.R. Firm from Hell”

Courtesy of Pam Martens

Harold Burson.  Public Relations Titan, Served Merrill Lynch Through Six Consecutive CEOs Over Four Decades

Last week Jim Rutenberg penned a column for the New York Times titled Facing Down the Network that Produced Harvey Weinstein. Rutenberg explored the reasons that Weinstein’s decades of sexually harassing women and charges of assaults had not made it to the front pages of newspapers sooner. Correctly calling it “something akin to a protection racket,” Rutenberg defined it as a “network of aggressive public relations flacks and lawyers who guard the secrets of those who employ them and keep their misdeeds out of public view.”

That sentence brought to mind a 2009 Rachel Maddow program on MSNBC where she enumerated the ignominious historical milestones of the monster public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, capping the history by calling it the “p.r. firm from hell.” Among her litany of its p.r. projects, Maddow cited: “…when Blackwater killed those 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, they called Burson-Marsteller. When there was a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island, Bobcock & Wilcox, who built that plant, called Burson-Marsteller…The government of Nigeria, accused of genocide in Biafra, Burson- Marsteller. Philip Morris, Burson-Marsteller. Silicone breast implants, Burson-Marsteller. The government of Columbia trying to make all those dead union organizers not getting in the way of the new trade deal, they called Burson-Marsteller.”

One of Burson-Marsteller’s oldest clients is, of course, Merrill Lynch, a company that has been repeatedly charged with tolerating sexual harassment of women over the same four decades that Burson-Marsteller has been shining up its image as bullish on America and vested in the human spirit.

Earlier this month, Harold Burson, a co-founder of Burson-Marsteller who served as its CEO for more than 35 years, published a book on his career, titled The Business of Persuasion. It includes a number of insights into just how cozy the firm’s relationship with Merrill Lynch was. In the book, Burson says “Burson-Marsteller’s professional relationship with Merrill Lynch was near seamless; we collaborated more as a team than as client and agency.” Burson indicates that he personally worked with six consecutive CEOs at Merrill Lynch over that almost four decade period: Don Regan, Roger Birk, William Schreyer, Dan Tully, David Komansky, and Stanley O’Neal. Paul Critchlow, who became the chief public relations officer at Merrill Lynch during that period, went to that spot directly from Burson-Marsteller according to Burson.

In the book, Burson also relates his trusted relationship with Don Regan, a CEO of Merrill Lynch who became U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Reagan and then his Chief of Staff during the President’s period of declining health. Just who was actually running the Reagan administration has been called into question by the video included in Michael Moore’s documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. In the film, Don Regan is standing by the side of the President as Reagan is giving a speech. Regan quietly, but tersely, barks into the President’s ear to “speed it up.” The President seems to understand who is really in charge and does Regan’s bidding without any show of irritation. (See video clip below.)

Picture: Harold Burson. Public Relations Titan, Served Merrill Lynch Through Six Consecutive CEOs Over Four Decades

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