WHOOPS: Former Obama Adviser Caught Planning to Manipulate Media For Greece's PR Makeover

A former Obama adviser pitched Greece on how to repair its image.

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Let's say you're a former Obama adviser who describes yourself on your LinkedIn page as "part of the founding leadership team of Barack Obama's successful U.S. Senate race" and you start your own political public relations firm.

And let's say your firm decides to pitch influential Greek Americans on a public relations makeover to repair its country's image and stature to the American public.

So you put together a presentation outlining how you're going to plant op-eds in American newspapers, generate opposition research, mobilize grassroots organization, and provide "rapid response."

Let's say this presentation includes several case studies of your previous behind-the-scenes work, including work for Boeing, Comcast, and NBC. These case studies include claims that you generated "212 op-eds" to be seen throughout print and online media, in order to curry favor for a government contract for Boeing's refueling tankers, which would generate several billion dollars in revenue from taxpayer money.

And let's say you then store that presentation online, allowing anyone access if they have the correct URL. You probably wouldn't want the media to stumble across this presentation, would you?


A presentation by McLeanClark, discovered on Prezi by Whispers, implies that former Obama adviser Joe McLean's PR firm sees the American media as easy to manipulate. In McLeanClark's world, the media appears to be a place where op-eds written with help from the firm—though not necessarily with their byline—will simply be accepted and printed.

[READ the firm’s official response below.]

While current coverage of Greece "has become ever more apocalyptic," McLeanClark says in the presentation, the firm can change that, with a potent mix of targeting Washington D.C. insiders, increasing media pressure, and "distributing prepackaged explanative collaterals" to journalists.

How many of these "prepackaged" stories from the firm make it into print? Perhaps many.

The presentation does not show evidence of published stories that came from the firm. But a slide that displays photos of the front pages of the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal comes several places before another slide that says McLeanClark has "prepared hundreds of written deliverables which appeared in print, online and electronic media."

As evidence of its success, the partners at McLeanClark tell Greece about several of their past big-ticket clients, including Comcast and NBC, for which they "produced independent research" and "editorial templates" to soften critical media coverage after the controversial merger between the cable operator and network.

Another former client was Boeing, which McLeanClark's partners say they swept in to help when a giant tanker lease deal for the aerospace company was canceled. After McLeanClark's partners, in the presentation's words, "placed" 171 stories and press releases, 212 opeds, 189 letters to the editor, and 102 blog posts, Boeing was re-awarded the contract.

In a dramatic finish to the presentation, the firm tells Greece it can do the same for them. The final slide is a picture of the Parthenon below the words: "The time has arrived to restore the legacy of a great nation."

James Berger, a partner at McLeanClark, provided the following comment to Whispers:

"Our firm was approached by a number of Greek-Americans who are concerned that Greece has recently been unfairly and inaccurately portrayed in the U.S. and European media. Although we are currently in discussions regarding a potential public affairs campaign aimed at correcting inaccuracies and highlighting the many positive attributes of Greece and the contributions of Greek-Americans, to date no such campaign has been launched."

"McLeanClark under no circumstances engaged in any astro-turfing nor would it ever do so. Our primary purpose is to assist individuals, politicians and corporations in telling the truth about themselves in the media."

Update, 6/28, 5:08 p.m.: 

The presentation has been removed from Prezi.

Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.