Journalism in the Public Interest

From Russia With PR

Commentaries published on and the Huffington Post were written by seemingly independent professionals but placed on behalf of the Russian government by its PR firm, Ketchum.


Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev watch a parade in Moscow's Red Square in May. Russia has paid public-relations firm Ketchum almost $23 million since 2006. (STR/AFP/GettyImages)

Today, Vladimir Putin wrote an op-ed about Syria in the New York Times. The piece was placed by the public-relations giant Ketchum, Buzzfeed reported. On Nov. 16, 2012, we explored how Ketchum placed pro-Russia op-eds in American publications by businesspeople and others without disclosing the role of the Russian government. Ketchum's latest public filing says it was paid $1.9 million by Russia for the six-month period ending May 31, 2013. It received another $3.7 million for its work for Russian energy giant Gazprom over the same period. Here is our original report.

Several opinion columns praising Russia and published in the last two years on CNBC’s web site and the Huffington Post were written by seemingly independent professionals but were placed on behalf of the Russian government by its public-relations firm, Ketchum.

The columns, written by two businessmen, a lawyer, and an academic, heap praise on the Russian government for its “ambitious modernization strategy” and “enforcement of laws designed to better protect business and reduce corruption.” One of the CNBC opinion pieces, authored by an executive at a Moscow-based investment bank, concludes that “Russia may well be the most dynamic place on the continent.”

There’s nothing unusual about Ketchum’s work on behalf of Russia. Public relations firms constantly peddle op-eds on behalf of politicians, corporations, and governments. Rarely if ever do publications disclose the role of a PR firm in placing an op-ed, so it’s unusual to get a glimpse behind the scenes and see how an op-ed was generated.

What readers of the CNBC and Huffington Post pieces did not know — but Justice Department foreign agent registration filings by Ketchum show — is that the columns were placed by the public-relations firm working on a contract with the Russian government to, among other things, promote the country “as a place favorable for foreign investments.”

In at least one case, a Ketchum subcontractor reached out to a writer and offered to place his columns in media outlets. The writer, Adrian Pabst, a lecturer in politics at the University of Kent, said that his views were his own and that he was not influenced or paid by Ketchum.

A spokesman for CNBC, which published the pieces on the Guest Blog section of its website, declined to comment. A Huffington Post spokesman said the column placed by Ketchum did not violate the site’s policy.

Ketchum spokeswoman Jackie Burton told ProPublica that when the firm corresponds with experts or the media on behalf of Russia, “consistent with Ketchum’s policies and industry standards, we clearly state that we represent the Russian Federation.”

Russia, often criticized for human rights abuses and corruption, paid handsomely for the public-relations work. From mid-2006 to mid-2012, Ketchum received almost $23 million in fees and expenses on the Russia account and an additional $17 million on the account of Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled energy giant, according to foreign agent filings.

Op-ed editors interviewed by ProPublica said they work to include full disclosure of relevant financial interests or conflicts — or decline to run pieces that read like advertorial.

“People write op-eds because they have agendas. Separating out what’s an ethical agenda from an unethical agenda is really tough,” says Sue Horton, op-ed editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Horton said the role of the Russian government’s public-relations firm in placing the CNBC and Huffington Post op-eds "absolutely seems like something the reader would want to know.”

The op-eds placed by Ketchum for Russia, according to the filings, are:

  • A March 2010 CNBC piece by Peter Gerendasi, then managing partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers Russia, that praises the government of then-President Dmitry Medvedev for its “strategic priorities [of] diversification, innovation, promoting small business, supporting families and strengthening the country's financial system so that it can provide the investment capital that will enable business to grow and people to realize their potential.” Gerendasi declined to comment on the piece and PricewaterhouseCoopers said it did not pay Ketchum to place the piece and declined to comment further.
  • An April 2010 CNBC piece by Kingsmill Bond, then chief strategist at the Moscow investment bank Troika Dialog, that ran under the headline “Russia—Europe's Bright Light of Growth.” It called Russia possibly “the most dynamic place on the continent” for investors. Bond, now at Citigroup, told ProPublica he could not recall Ketchum’s role in the piece.
  • A September 2010 Huffington Post piece, titled “President Medvedev's Project Of Modernization,” by Pabst, the University of Kent academic. While acknowledging human rights and corruption problems, the thrust of Pabst’s op-ed was praise for Medvedev’s “transformational vision for Russia's domestic politics and foreign policy.” Pabst told ProPublica he was contacted by a Ketchum subcontractor, Portland Communications, and that he was not paid to write the piece. The piece, as well as another he wrote for a web site run by Ketchum, “reflect my own ideas and arguments,” he said in an email.
  • A January 2012 CNBC piece by Laura Brank, the head of the Russia practice for the international law firm Dechert. Brank praised the Russian government for working to overcome the perception of an inhospitable investment climate “through the implementation and enforcement of laws designed to better protect business and reduce corruption.” Brank did not respond to requests for comment.

While Ketchum maintains it always identifies its client when dealing with the media, the 2010 email sent by Ketchum to Huffington Post pitching the Pabst column did not mention that Russia was the firm’s client. (See the full email.)

“Below is a piece from Adrian Pabst, a leading Russia scholar in Europe,” wrote then-Ketchum Vice President Matt Stearns, who is now at UnitedHealth Group.

Ketchum says that Stearns had in previous correspondence identified Russia as his client to the Huffington Post editor, including to set up "a blog on the editor’s site for a member of the Russian government." The company did not provide that correspondence.

Huffington Post spokesman Rhoades Alderson said the site has a policy requiring bloggers to disclose any financial conflicts of interest related to the issue they are writing about, but Pabst did not violate the policy.

“The job of our blog editors is to make sure all of our posts add value for our readers,” Alderson said in a statement. “Part of that is making judgment calls about the transparency of each blogger's motive, even in cases when there is no technical violation of the disclosure policy. A submission by a PR firm raises flags but is not automatically disqualified if the blog adds value and is in keeping with our guidelines.”

Placement of op-eds is a standard part of the influence game, but it’s rare for readers ever to find out who is behind the curtain.

In 2011, top public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller came under criticism after it asked a blogger to author an op-ed criticizing Google’s privacy standards. Burson was working on a contract for Facebook at the time.

Public-relations firms have also been known to write op-eds and have them placed under the byline of a third party, and even to pay experts to write favorable op-eds. There’s no evidence Ketchum paid any of the authors of the Russia op-eds or that it ghost-wrote them.

Update: This post has been updated with more detail on Ketchum's correspondence with Huffington Post.

HuffinPuffington is a mouth organ for every vile liberal, socalist, communist organization out there.  They are more confused than their owners attempts at speaking english.  Arianna, the communist version of Zsa Zsa.

Well, what do you expect from a communist rag?

Compared to all the Pro-Israel propaganda that constantly appears this seems very tame…lol.

Dog bites man, =/= news.

Man bites dog =/= news.

Now if you find out Huffpo published something *other* than propaganda, that will be newsworthy.

Funny, I’d say the Drudge Report links to Far Right agenda propaganda.

Yuri Bezmenov warned of this kinda thing in 1984.
He was dismissed as “crazy” though.
Anything the left (or right) want to dismiss without true inspection they just result to calling crazy.

Call me crazy.

ProPublica is SHOCKED-SHOCKED that Russia uses operatives to issue favorable comments about Russian politicians and policies, but says NOTHING about the operatives and war rooms that use propaganda (now called “social marketing”) to issue favorable comments on behalf of pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, leftist activists - and the US Government agencies that support them.

Visit the CDC, NIH, HHS or most other government websites and ask any question.  You’ll receive a response not from the agency, but from a “social marketing” firm like, and others.  Click on the bottom of the Gov’t website and you’ll find disclaimers that warn that information received from the third-party websites they direct you to cannot be trusted.  If you still demand answers, they direct you to talk to your doctor, who gets his/her information from the same unreliable sources.

Russia is simply doing what US companies and agencies do all the time: The difference being that Russia isn’t required to pay $10 billion since 2009 to settle thousands of criminal and civil complaints related to the illegal marketing of drugs that kill or injure 2-4 million Americans annually.

What’s worse, HUFFPO goes the extra mile by deleting comments that contradict their sponsors.

One country’s propaganda is simply another country’s “social marketing” campaign.  It’s an important story but ProPublica (and HUFFPO) doth protest too much, methinks…

You nailed it John G.

Really is this any different than the shilling the Huffington Post does for all Democratic nonsense?  The founder of HuffPo has only gained any semblance of legitimacy as an unofficial voice for the wildly corrupt Democratic Party.  It isn’t news they report but rather simply opinions and rebranded news of real journalists. 

That said, the Republicans have their own political nonsense at places like Brietbart. 

News has become a reflection of the political control that now permeates all aspects of our lives.  And, being news has become politicized it reflects the dumbed-down corporate state.  News is not news but dystopian pablum puke spewed by nonsensical knuckle-draggers with some hidden motive. 

That is why ProPublica must always maintain its transparency and some attempt at objective reporting of facts rather than opinions.  You have a passing grade in that area.  But, needs improvement.

Hey I just met you.
and call me crazy….
but here’s my basement.
I’m John Wayne Gacy!

Errr…Clark, go to the main page.  There’s a story right now about a doctor being used as a pharmaceutical mouthpiece.  They know.  This story just happens to be about one instance.

It is a good point, though, that this article should link to the others, like the Bahrain, the whole “Dollars for Docs” investigation, the Dark Money and Free the Files material, and so forth.  It’s all the same story, at some level.

Liberal SCUM has always been friendly with the enemies of America. It’s time that we purge them from our midst. By any means necessary. Who’s with me?

DeShawn Esquandeau

Nov. 16, 2012, 3:57 p.m.

From the website of the U.S. State Dept;  “Incidents of unprovoked, violent harassment against racial and ethnic minorities regularly occur throughout the Russian Federation. The U.S. Embassy Moscow and Consulates General continue to receive reports of U.S. citizens, often members of minority groups, victimized in violent attacks by “skinheads” or other extremists.  U.S. citizens most at risk are those of African, or those who, because of their complexion, are perceived to be from the Caucasus region or the Middle East. These U.S. citizens are also at risk for harassment by police authorities.”

Hey ObamaPhone welfare blacks, you should tag along with Obama when he visits his love Putin in Russia. He’s going to give away all American military and business industry trade secrets.

reply to Deadguin who wrote “Funny, I’d say the Drudge Report links to Far Right agenda propaganda”

FYI - Drudge Report has a link to the Huffington Post and many others including NY Times, MSNBC, CNN…

So now we know what Obama meant when he whispered into Medyved’s ear that he would have more flexibility after the election.  Maybe the Federal pension fund would like to invest their money in mother Russia!

Claymation Master

Nov. 16, 2012, 4:21 p.m.

To HELL with Obummer and this government!  ANARCHY NOW!

Russia nee Soviet Union has been funding the left since the anti-war protests of the 60’s - 70’s. Their coup de gras was the election of 0 by these aging dinosaurs and the ignorant children they’ve taught over the last 40 years. California used to be number 1 in education; now they are 57th.  They are now retiring and will soon depart for Berkeley in the sky.

Russia is going through the low grade civil wars all over its vast declining territory.  In order to prevent that Russia’s ‘s next move is to abolish ALL republics within Russia, including Chechnia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Tatarstan - de facto, independent state recognized by Yeltsin, run by moderate Muslims wth hugeg minorities of Polish Catholics,  Russian Orthodox, Buddis, etc. Tatarstan, of course, will be turned into Chechnia, with any renewed attempts to gain independence.  In the meantime, Russia continues to destabilize not only Central Europe, especially Poland; after the assassination of the Polish President in Smolensk by Putin, the poliltical assassinations are being committed in the broad day light all over Poland - targeting the pro-western politicians s well as the people who wants international.  Speaking of the Western Europe; every child in Skandynavia knows that the collapse of Iceland was caused by two Russian billionaires who, through the Dutch and British banks invested billions and then, withdrew all investment money causing the total collapse of the country. At the same time, the EU willingly put a noose around its neck by letting Russia to be almost the sole provider of gas and oil.  Europe is heading for a total catastrophy that will end with Russia’s control of the whole continent. Selling and stealing of technology from the West is going on as usual.  So, it seems that Russia is winning… If one looks at Russia closely, though,  one can see the slow disintegration of the old empire just in front of one’s eyes.  Enter Moscow, the Russian capital and you will be entering a CENTRAL-ASIAN MUSLIM CITY [80% of inhabitant are muslim]; Russian army, truly a laughing stock of the world eats dog food, Air Forces and Navy are in total decline On top of that, ecological catastrophy all over Rusia, dying population is truly ‘winning combinaon’.  Russia is just another ‘empire’ crambling and NOTHING will stop it…

When I was a kid, we made fun of the Soviet Union.  There were corrupt officials funneling money to their friends while the citizens starved.  They manipulated the economy to keep people powerless.  They exaggerated real enemies and invented other enemies to excuse abuses of power like bullying people taking pictures in public spaces.  They sunk money and lives into a losing war in Afghanistan.  They tortured political prisoners.

Thank goodness we had the Republicans, here, otherwise we might see things like Wall Street bailouts, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, and voting machines that aren’t accountable.

You can pretend that there’s a left and a right, but if you grow up and open your eyes, you’ll notice that both “sides” use exactly the same tactics with exactly the same goals.  They want to exploit the rest of us, whether they’re commanders-in-chief or captains of industry.

Hint:  Who funded Lenin and Trotsky?  You can’t run an organized revolution without money, and it doesn’t grow on trees.

Or, you know, if you’re really that upset at Obama’s reelection (or the lack of a Romney election, even though the bailouts and ObamaCare were his ideas), then leave.  There are countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia that have exactly the hawkish, anti-populist governments you want to live under.

Shane Von Russell

Nov. 16, 2012, 5:03 p.m.

commie bastards.  I’ll see you in hell.

Who is surprised ?
Communism, Maoism and Marxism are being taught as good things in our schools .
The only problem is they were run the ‘wrong leaders ” .
Todays leaders would make it great professors moronically all say .
Of course there is no mention over 200 Million were Murdered , Starved to death and enslaved , Politically ,imprisoned, worked to death not to  mentioned left as poor as third world Africans .

Communist Goals
# 15 - Capture one or both of the political parties in the United States.
# 20 - Infiltrate the press
# 21 - Gain control of key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures.

The cold war may be over but Communism is still around. Stay alert & be informed - from sources other than HuffPo

I don’t see why they need to bother with “planting” anything like this. They have and the Russia Today channel now carried by Comcast and Dish. It’s slick, weasley leftist propaganda like a video version of Kos. They do permit some financial commentary that is outside the narrow channel permitted on the U.S. news networks, but what does it say that something funded by the Russian government is consistently left wing and engaged is historical revisionism to suit the really far left (one of their shills ,Hartman, was on the other evening disposing of the Reagan administration’s irrational fears and how the Cold War was the product of…U.S. militarism and imperialism. The disturbing thing is there is a generation in college now that is not even dimly familiar with the Iron Curtain or Berlin Wall. One side built a fence to keep their people in, but you are an evil fascist if you want to defend yourself to keep people out.

Curiously a channel called Russia Today seems to be mostly about the U.S. They concern themselves with political dissidents here, not much about Russia or China though. It’s like “Brezhnev Vision”.

time to do a petition to revoke Arianne’s citizenship.

This is news? I am sure that you could include, ABC,NBC,CBS, MSNBC ,CNN, Democrat National Committee and a bunch more.

Let me get this straight. Someone thinks it’s news that Huffington Post would publish communistic propaganda. Is that right…?


Ralph Emerson

Nov. 16, 2012, 8:11 p.m.

If the federal government were not full of Marxists, Arianna Huffington would be answering to charges of treason.  Her efforts to turn this country into one patterned after USSR or Communist China are dispicable.  Shame we just re-elected the first Marxist President.  This country is committing national suicide right before our eyes and it is people like those at HuffPo that are working day and night to bring about the end of the USA and substitute the USSA.

HuffPo = Pravda

There is no one entity any better than the Russians in successfully tossing piles of propaganda and making it stick. Up until now,  the Russians and the KGB have been the undisputed Kings and have been for decades. Probably their most successful scam is the one that had the main stream media believing and portraying J Edgar Hoover as a pervert and a cross dresser.  Although never corroborated,  most of the public familiar with the allegations, still believe them to be true.
Sadly, the Russians have yielded the number one propagandist position to our own American born and ill informed Main Stream Media. Witness the recent re-election of one of the worst presidents in history.

What’s new? They’re just communists anyway, they wouldn’t notice if something about Russia was part of their daily wallow. They spend all their time trying to bring down America anyway.

George Schwarz

Nov. 16, 2012, 10:25 p.m.

This is the tip of the iceberg on how PR firms push the media to either publish their clients’ political views or how PR firms try to get free advertising by providing “information.” When you call the PR people on it, they either lie, run and hide or deny. Here is something I send back to them when they are so obvious:

An open letter to PR firms and publicists

Here’s a perspective from a working journalist. Most press releases from PR firms are crap. They try to push something that should be an advertisement. By trying to get a freebie, in the long run, they undercut the business model that is already in enough trouble as is. In cannibalizing the system, also in the long run, they are eventually going to kill the information channel that gets the word out about whatever they are touting.

I’ve gotten into heated discussions in which PR people say a quid pro quo is unethical. Really? More unethical than some of the stuff PR firms pull?

If you’re putting out a release about a new legitimate service (for example, a new program at a hospital or something similar), and the news outlet picks up on it, don’t turn around and stab the news outlet in the back over advertising later. Example: A local PR firm that put out a news release on a new senior day care program. We picked up on it and did a story. A few weeks later, at a board meeting, one of the board members suggested including our outlet in the advertising campaign and the PR firm killed off that advertising. Now anything that firm puts out — worthy or not — is ignored. Truth is, it’s all a quid pro quo, and if the news outlet is important enough for a press release, it’s important enough for advertising.

And, in touting something, don’t send out an “alert.” Alerts from public safety agencies and similar news releases are appropriate. From PR firms, not so much.

Then, if you fax or email something, don’t follow with a phone call to ask if we got the fax or email. Maybe we’re considering your information; or perhaps ignoring it. If we’re interested, we’ll probably call for more information. Let it be. And, for God’s sakes, don’t “circle back.” That is such a stupid phrase and makes you sound like some kind of jargon jockey. Keep that stupidity in your own shop.

Similar advice goes for op-ed pieces. The first helpful thing for you to do is know the outlet. I get crap from a variety of conservative outfits that send us pieces that are 180 degrees opposite of our positions. Usually I respond with a one-word “pass,” but a week later get an email asking if we had a chance to read the piece and if we’re running it. If I’ve already passed on it, what part of the word “pass” do you not understand? And don’t tell me it’s a “both sides of the issue” thing for our editorial pages. It’s our outlet and if you want to pander the opposite of our views, we have a large corporate out-of-town-owned daily here that spews plenty of right-wing garbage. They’ll not only help spread the spew but will spin the news for you. We don’t.

And my final thought on this lovely dose of reality: Don’t call me by my first name when you send me stuff if you don’t know me. It’s disrespectful. And spell my last name right. That not only shows respect, but that you’ve done your homework. And every communication I’ve gotten from a PR firm is signed “all the best.” All the best what? How about something more neutral and businesslike? “Sincerely” or “respectfully” work fine.

If you think this is all harsh, fine. It’s a reality.

George Schwarz, publisher and editor
The Amarillo Independent

It figgures!!!! I am sure you dont really expect anything more form this rag!!!!

John, it’s so rich how you tell us there’s no left or right and that both sides are bad. You then proceed to slam Republicans and tell us to leave because we aren’t licking Obama’s boot. Why don’t YOU leave and put us all out our misery you moron. Just admit what you are, another Socialist sympathizer disguised as some moderate, give us all a break.


Nov. 16, 2012, 11:17 p.m.

Deadguin, let me educate you since no one else in your life seems to have bothered. Drudge links to ALL sites, not just one side like most of your ILK. You cannot be this stupid, can you?

Fascinating, and thanks for the eye-opening look at scallywags we may have missed.
But now I’m curious about the 27 or so American newspapers which ran editorials, their papers backing Romney. Who paid them? Not all the VA local papers that just went under via Buffet. It must be the ones too big to not save that are still open for business. Was it part of the Obama back-up catch-all for a sympathy vote.  Ain’t politics something else and a half.

If it came from the Huffington Post or any part of NBC then it can only be a bunch of lies.

Call the office.

Huff-Po is Irresponsible Journalism personified ... Arianna is a total Dingbat !!

Golly gee whiz. Ketchum Public Relations does fake journalism for so many sketchy organizations….Like Putin’s communist Russia…IBM…and the U.S. Army.

Save your boring, endless outrage, right-wingers.  If you think American Spectator, Fox News, or World Nut Daily don’t run blatant PR pieces by amoral corporate spinmeisters, you’re delusional.

Having lived in Moscow and attending its “finest” schools, nothing has changed in that decrepit shithole.  Thugs everywhere and drunks pissing themselves in the Metro.  Plus, now we have a former KGB doink running the place with guns and threats.  Nothing is new under the sun.

visions de paix

Nov. 17, 2012, 5:15 a.m.

Is anyone similarly tallying China’s op-ed strategies ?

They’ve already used BLJ to create a counter-narrative on Tibet and operate through US text books (paragraphs near the end:)

Also, who’s following China’s shareholder influence strategy ?

HuffingtonPost is but a propaganda tool for the oligarchy so why should we be surprised?  Putin is fixing Russia’s PR problems in the United States so his buddy Obama can be more even “flexible” with this thug after the election. Nothing is hidden that shall not be revealed.  But Burnam Wood is moving in.

Huffington post just like Newyork times is a puppet for a faceless party. And the proof is in their old days 1way communication style.

Fools think everyone is fool.

DAMMIT ANARCHY NOW!  This is crazy!

Well big DUH!

How could anybody read some of the pablum hp tries to sell and not see Russian propaganda behind it?

My granddad left Czechoslovakia in the early 1900s, when he was a kid. All I know about the USSR is what he told me, and before he died at 103 in 1997 he said he was glad. He said could see the U.S. turning into the USSR faster than he expected.

No word yet on the endless streams of pro-US (either slanting from the left or right, depending on which is in power at the time) and pro-Israeli propaganda dished out on a much larger scale in the majority of our media. I don’t care if it’s MSNBC, FOX, or everything in between, I wish the media would stop trying to tell us what we should think, and just start telling us the truth for a change; just give us the facts, and we’ll make up our own minds.

LOL! Other commenters here actually think Putin is a communist. It’s even more laughable than the HuffPo being busted as the frauds that they are.

It proves that Media is still in the grip of unscrupulously wealthy thugs. People often die in thousands of head count in some part of the world as a result of human Brutality or Natural disaster. (e.g. Bangladesh, Srilanka, Nigeria etc.) and no outcry even in the cases of Saudi-Arabian type beheading atrocity.
And sometimes death of only 100 becomes big deal like WW3
e.g. 50 semites die in retaliation of a death of 1 single terrorist of semitic origin and all the top media get flooded with news, images and pictures in ways to brainwash ordinary folks with the impression of a exploded hell that doesn’t even in the cosmos.
Dumb practice but who cares for it in this rapid communication era?

Use of common sense is now better than the judgments of old style warlords and a few nards with knowledge based on memorized words of stinky law books of outdated old.

HuffPo printing Russian propaganda? When did they not print it?

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