Friday, March 11, 2005

The Return of Ruder Finn (Background on a "Pro Bono" Advisor to Kofi Annan)

A few posts ago, writing about the Al-Dura/France 2 affair, I cited James Harff, an American public relations expert, to the effect that “What counts is just what is said first. Subsequent denials are completely ineffective.” The quote comes from an interview that Harff gave to the French journalist Jacques Merlino in 1993, when as the director of Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs, Harff’s clients included, notably, the newly independent and embattled Republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Here is an extended excerpt from Jacques Merlino’s interview with James Harff. The interview was published in Merlino’s 1993 book Les vérités Yougoslaves ne sont pas toutes bonnes à dire. The translation is mine.


But in all of this work of what are you most proud?


Of having succeeded in getting Jewish opinion on our side. This was a very delicate business and the dossier included a very great danger in this respect. Because President Tudjman had been very imprudent in his book The Wastelands of Historical Truth. On reading these writings, he could be accused of anti-Semitism. From the Bosnian side, things didn’t look any better, because President Izetbegovic, in his Islamic Declaration published in 1970, had taken a very strong position in favor of an Islamic fundamentalist state. Moreover, the past of Croatia and Bosnia had been marked by a real and cruel anti-Semitism. Several tens of thousands of Jews had been done away with in the Croatian camps. There was every reason then for Jewish intellectuals and organizations to be hostile to the Croats and Bosnians. Our challenge was to reverse this state of things. And we succeeded in masterly fashion. Between the second and the fifth of August 1992, New York Newsday came out with the affair of the camps [the reference is to Newsday reporter Roy Gutman’s allegations concerning Serb-run concentration camps in Bosnia - JR]. We pounced on the matter immediately. We brought around [avons circonvenu – note that in French this expression has the strong connotation of “tricked”, though, of course, the original interview was presumably conducted in English – JR] three important Jewish organizations: the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress. We suggested to them that they publish an advertisement in the New York Times and organize a protest demonstration in front of the United Nations. That went perfectly. The entry into the fray of Jewish organizations on the side of the Bosnians was an extraordinary move. All at once, we were able to make public opinion equate Serbs and Nazis. The dossier was complex, nobody understood what was going on in Bosnia. To be frank, I would say that the great majority of Americans wondered in which African country Bosnia was to be found. But in one stroke we were able to present a simple matter, a story with good guys and bad guys. We knew that t
he business would be played out on this terrain. And we won by targeting the right audience, the Jewish audience. All at once, there was a very clear change of language in the press with the employment of terms with a very strong emotive value, such as ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, etc., all evoking Nazi Germany, the gas chambers and Auschwitz. The emotive charge was so strong that no one could go against the dominant current, except on pain of being accused of revisionism. We hit the bulls eye.


Maybe. But between the second and the fifth of August 1992, you didn’t have any proof that what you said was true. You only had articles from Newsday.


Our business is not to verify information. We’re not equipped to do that. Our business, as I’ve already told you, is to accelerate the circulation of information that is favorable to us, to aim at targets judiciously chosen. That’s what we did. We didn’t assert that there were death camps in Bosnia, we let it be known that Newsday asserted it.


But that’s an enormous responsibility. Are you aware of the responsibility?


We’re professionals. We had work to do and we did it. We’re not paid to practice morality. And even if the discussion was put on this terrain, we’d have a sound conscience. Because if you want to prove that the Serbs are poor victims, go ahead: you’ll be all alone.

An article published in Wednesday’s New York Sun under the title “Advisor to Annan Triggers Concern” now reveals that David Finn, the chairman of Ruder Finn, has served as a “pro bono” advisor to Kofi Annan since he became UN Secretary General in 1997. Furthermore, the article reveals that Kofi Annan’s nephew Kobina was employed as a paid intern at Ruder Finn – “Kofi Annan asked David Finn if he would give some guidance to his nephew, Kobina Annan,” a Ruder Finn spokesperson is quoted as saying – and that “Ruder Finn's publishing arm is selling Mr. Annan's 2001 Nobel Peace Prize lecture as a hardcover book”. “At the same time that Ruder Finn employed Mr. Annan's nephew,” the article notes,
two senior Ruder Finn officials, Anne Glauber and Dena Merriam, who is Mr. Finn's daughter, were hired as outside contractors by the U.N. Development Program to revamp its communications office. They were paid $30,000 for two months' work, according to a UNDP spokesman, William Orme.

I do not want here to discuss James Harff’s assessment of the relative responsibility of the warring parties for the ravages of the Bosnian Civil War. But I will recall that it was in Bosnia that the UN essentially lost its innocence and, for better or for worse, abandoned the impartiality among warring parties that had hitherto been the sine qua non for UN peace-keeping operations. The most spectacular event in this process of transformation was the 1995 bombing of Bosnian Serb positions by NATO forces in connection with – though in fact not quite under – a UN mandate. The go ahead for the operation on the part of the UN bureaucracy – which was supposed to hold one of the two “keys” that had to be “turned” to initiate NATO air strikes in Bosnia – was given by none other than Kofi Annan in his capacity as then Under-Secretary General. Richard Holbrooke, in his notably self-aggrandizing account of the Bosnian conflict To End A War (New York: Random House, 1998), goes so far as to claim that it was thanks to this act of indulgence toward NATO that Annan would later become Secretary General: “in a sense Annan won the job on that day” (p. 103).

In his book Dubious Mandate: A Memoir of the UN in Bosnia, Summer 1995 (Durham and London: Duke, 1999), Phillip Corwin has written on the developments in question as follows:
If NATO wanted to declare war against one of the parties to the conflict in Bosnia, then it should have done so under a NATO flag, not under a UN flag. It was disingenuous to enter a country as a peacekeeping force and then to wage war against one of the parties.

Corwin was the UN’s chief political officer in Bosnia. In his book, he also recounts, incidentally, how a Bosnian government official “threatened his life” when he proposed to visit Srebrenica following its fall to Serb forces in July 1995. Shortly after the meeting in question, Corwin would be the target of sniper fire that, he claims, came from Bosnian government positions.