The New York Times op-ed that has much of the country — including Washington — abuzz on Thursday was placed there by Ketchum, a public-relations giant with a long history of dealings with the Russian government.
A spokeswoman for Ketchum confirmed a report from BuzzFeed’s Rosie Grey that the firm submitted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s piece to the Times, and that Putin himself wrote the op-ed.
“The opinion piece was written by President Putin and submitted to The New York Times on his behalf by Ketchum for their consideration,” said Jackie Burton, Ketchum’s senior vice president of external relations. A spokeswoman for the Times also confirmed Ketchum’s involvement.
The op-ed, in which Putin calls out American “exceptionalism” referenced by President Barack Obama in his speech on Syria Tuesday — riled the White House. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it made him “want to vomit.”
Ketchum, which since 1996 has been a subsidiary of the global advertising and marketing Omnicom Group, has an extensive history of working with the Russian government to place items in American publications.
Using filings from the Justice Department, the non-profit ProPublica detailed last November how Ketchum helped place op-eds by “seemingly independent professionals” that praised Russia in outlets like CNBC and the Huffington Post, among others, without proper disclosure.
It is not unusual for a PR firm to work with a government. But Ketchum has been the subject of controversy not only in its work with Russia, but also with the U.S. government.
Ketchum was involved in high-profile controversies in 2004 and 2005. In both cases, the Government Accountability Office determined that Ketchum engaged in “covert propaganda” for the U.S. government.
In 2004, Ketchum produced prepackaged news stories featuring actors posing as journalists that touted Medicare changes under Bush’s prescription drug benefit program, without disclosing government as the source. And in 2005, Ketchum again produced prepackaged news stories around the No Child Left Behind Act.
Pro Publica also detailed in 2010 how Ketchum was awarded a stimulus contract from the Obama administration to promote its push for electronic medical records.
According to ProPublica, Ketchum has a contract with Russia that, among other things, outlines a plan to promote Russia “as a place favourable for foreign investments.”
From 2006 to 2012, Ketchum was paid almost $US23 million in fees and expenses on its Russia account, as well as $US17 million on an account for Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled energy giant. In the first six months of 2013, it was paid $US1.9 million on its Russia account and $US3.7 million on the Gazprom account.
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