UAE-Hired Lobbyists Planted Anti-Qatar Stories In US Media
UAE hires PR firm to smear Qatar. If only Doha had some way to defend themselves in the media, like a global television network or something
— Eli Lake (@EliLake) September 25, 2014
Try to act surprised. A familiar cast of characters has been caught writing stories at the behest of lobbyists for foreign governments. According to The Intercept, the government of the United Arab Emirates has been using American so-called journalists to vilify a rival gulf state, Qatar. By planting stories in US media publications UAE hopes to distance US policymakers and the public from its gulf state rival.
UAE hired a lobbying firm, The Comstoll Group, to plant stories within the US media. Comstoll is packed to the brim with seasoned DC operatives including CEO Matthew Epstein who is a neoconservative activist and former Treasury Department official. Some of the people Comstoll chose to use to plant stories on behalf of the UAE are those previously caught writing stories for foreign governments.
The lobbying firm had to disclose who they contacted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
What did Camstoll do for these millions of dollars? They spent enormous of amounts of time cajoling friendly reporters to plant anti-Qatar stories, and they largely succeeded. Their strategy was clear: target neocon/pro-Israel writers such as the Daily Beast‘s Eli Lake, Free Beacon‘s Alana Goodman, Iran-contra convict Elliott Abrams, The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, and American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin – all eager to promote the Qatar-funds-terrorists line being pushed by Israel. They also targeted establishment media figures such as CNN’s Erin Burnett, Reuters’ Mark Hosenball, and The Washington Post‘s Joby Warrick.
In the latter half of 2013, Camstoll reported 15 separate contacts with Lake, all on behalf of UAE’s agenda; in the month of December alone, there were 10 separate contacts with Goodman. They also spoke multiple times with Warrick. At the same time, they were speaking on behalf of their Emirates client with their former colleagues who were still working as high-level Treasury officials, including Kate Bauer, the Treasury Department’s Emirates-based Financial Attaché, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Danny McGlynn.
After the calls from Comstoll came a story from Lake promoting the UAE line that Qatar is funding terrorists. A segment for CNN from Erin Burnett was also produced presenting UAE’s line on Qatar. Mission accomplished, Comstoll earned its pay from UAE.
While it is legal for foreign governments to pay lobbyists to plant stories in the US media – provided they submit records of contact with said reporters – it raises ethical questions when writers do not disclose these contacts. Given that media objectivity is both not possible and not believed by the public, transparency should rule the day. Reporters and presenters should tell their readers and viewers where the information they are using came from – especially if it came from a lobbyist being paid by a foreign government to manipulate US public opinion.