February 11, 2010

An innocent-looking TV ad with a hidden agenda

By CREW Staff

It’s hard to be surprised about anything that is done by Richard Berman, the over-the-top P.R. maven who has attacked the minimum wage, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and various consumer health campaigns. But Americans who care about transparency and economic fairness should be concerned about the innocent-looking, national advertising blitz that one of Berman’s industry-funded front groups is carrying out.

It's unknown how much money is behind the "Defeat the Debt" ad campaign by Berman's Employment Policies Institute (EPI). But the campaign must have very deep pockets because it recently bought a premium-priced, 30-second TV slot during the Super Bowl. The Saints won that game, but there is nothing saintly about Berman's agenda. In fact, CBS's "60 Minutes" reported that Berman takes pride in being nicknamed "Dr. Evil." (Find more about him at CREW's BermanExposed website.)

EPI's 30-second ad aims to raise public fears that America’s growing national debt will mean "higher taxes" and "lower pay." The "lower pay" fear is an odd one for EPI to raise, considering that it has criticized proposals to raise the minimum wage. Berman's EPI wants to make sure Americans know which country (China) holds a disproportionate share of our national debt. But EPI is unwilling to let Americans know which corporate special interests are bankrolling its ad campaign -- and how much the campaign is spending. With the campaign buying both TV and full-page newspaper ads, it’s safe to assume the price tag is hefty.

The "Defeat the Debt" TV ad concludes by giving viewers its web address, but those who bother to visit the ad's website are in for a surprise. According to the online financial site Market Oracle, the Berman ad "postures to 'educate the public about the enormous federal deficit', but the website itself highlights how an inordinate burden of taxation is presently borne by the wealthy."

In addition to the example just cited, there are other reasons why ads or reports from Berman’s EPI should be viewed with deep suspicion. Consider the following: says it's planning a "virtual march on Washington, D.C." That's an appropriate tactic for EPI, whose corporate funders may prefer to use chauffeurs — not their own feet — to travel several city blocks.

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