On Sunday, the Boston Globe published a front page exposé on Richard Berman’s network of business front groups, describing his work as “a case study of what critics say is an industry of distortion in Washington.” The article highlights the well-known and well-worn playbook Mr. Berman uses to defend the interests of his corporate donors – shooting the messenger, distorting the facts, and changing the subject.
Particularly enlightening is the description of Mr. Berman’s use of threats and intimidation, bordering on extortion. For example, as part of his long-running efforts to undermine the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Mr. Berman contacted the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) last summer demanding that HSUS’s accreditation be revoked. Instead of simply arguing HSUS didn’t deserve its accreditation, Mr. Berman tried to make the Wise Giving Alliance an offer it couldn’t refuse, threatening to undermine the BBB’s reputation if it didn’t accede to his demands:
Berman’s tool was an unsubtle warning. He threatened to publicize what he called a “pay-to-play” system, in which charities that are rated by the Wise Giving Alliance have the option of paying to display the group’s endorsement.
“You can protect [the Humane Society’s] brand at the BBB’s expense,’’ Berman wrote in a June 27, 2012 letter to the Alliance, “or you can protect the BBB’s brand.”
In a meeting with the Wise Giving Alliance, a transcript of which was given to the Boston Globe, Mr. Berman said BBB would “become collateral damage” in his campaign to tar the HSUS on behalf of the “big companies” for whom he is working. It shouldn’t be surprising that Mr. Berman relied on such a mob-like tactic. In another instance, he once told the Nebraska Farm Bureau, “We can use fear and anger — it stays with people longer than love and sympathy.” According to the Las Vegas Sun, at a 2007 conference during which he announced his plans to go after teachers unions nationwide, Mr. Berman favorably quoted infamous mobster Al Capone: “You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.”
That wasn’t the only time Mr. Berman approvingly quoted Capone. In November 2012, Mr. Berman spoke at the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council’s annual meeting, telling the food and agriculture industry representatives they needed to attack animal welfare activists on a personal level. “We should attack their credibility using ridicule and humor not for what they’ve said but for who they are,” Mr. Berman declared. The Minnesota Agri-Growth Council posted a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Mr. Berman (a slide of which is shown at right) on SlideShare.net, though it has since been removed. One of the slides featured Mr. Berman’s favorite Al Capone quote.
As the Boston Globe notes, the Wise Giving Alliance concluded Mr. Berman’s claims about HSUS were without merit and refused to strip HSUS of its accreditation. As a result, Mr. Berman tried to follow through on his threat against the BBB. In December 2012, Mr. Berman’s anti-HSUS HumaneWatch project highlighted a USA Today article criticizing the BBB’s charity ratings, announcing. “[T]he BBB’s charity rating arm is under fire for taking money from some of the charities it rates.”
H. Art Taylor, the chief executive of the Wise Giving Alliance, explained he had provided the Boston Globe with his correspondence with Mr. Berman because he believes the public needs to know about Mr. Berman’s tactics. In other words, the public should know that Rick Berman’s PR strategy is inspired by one of America’s most notorious mobsters.
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