[News] Burson-Marsteller, Alan Gross, and the light at the end of the tunnel

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 29 10:45:29 EDT 2012

Burson-Marsteller, Alan Gross, and the light at the end of the tunnel

Posted on March 28, 2012

The lesson at the Salpêtrière (1887), by Pierre-André Brouillet (1857 - 1914)

PR as Valium - español, traducido por Manuel Talens, de Tlaxcala


Saltpêtrière is a legendary Parisian 
hospital.  Built in the 17th century, it was 
known as the cradle of neurosciences for having 
hosted great teaching doctors such as Charcot, 
Babinski and Freud.  In the image above, a famous 
painting by Pierre-André Brouillet, the French 
doctor Jean-Martin Charcot is portrayed 
explaining how to diagnose hysteria in a female 
patient whose name has gone down in the annals of 
medical history: Blanche Wittman.

The scene is unmistakably sexist: a roomful of 
men deciding how to treat a woman for a condition 
whose very etymology reveals its sexism.  Simply 
by virtue of the fact that she is a woman, she is 
at the mercy of their decisions. A victim.  The 
two nuns waiting to catch Blanche as she 
collapses are mere voiceless spectators.  The men 
in this image know everything, the women, nothing.

A century and a quarter later, the story behind 
this painting suggests nothing so much as the 
case of Judy Gross, the wife of the USAID 
contractor imprisoned in Cuba. Paternalism 
remains very much alive, and both The New York 
Times and Washington Post confirm this through 
their participation in the inane media campaign 
to pressure Pope Benedict XVI to counsel Cuba to 
exchange Rene González for Alan 
Gross.  Counseling Cuba, as though it were an 
unruly child, not a sovereign country, is 
offensive enough.  But it’s nothing new.  The 
counsel that Judy Gross is receiving on the other 
hand, is another matter.  Instead of being 
treated as an active subject, capable of taking 
her future into her own hands, Judy’s campaign to 
bring her husband home is being managed and 
reported by people who have their own, very different priorities.

Paul Berger’s revelation in The Jewish Daily 
Forward, that the Burson-Marsteller public 
relations firm is behind this silly PR campaign, 
was an unexpected development.  For one thing, I 
wonder, if Berger had not broken the story, would 
The Washington Post ever have admitted it?

A New York Times editorial followed by a 
Washington Post feature story promoting a papal 
solution are not things that appear by 
accident.  At first, I’d imagined it was the 
State Department’s doing, but naturally that kind 
of lobbying would have been unseemly. So this is 
how it really went: Hillary Clinton handed the 
talking points to her good friend Don Baer, who 
is not only the Vice-Chair of Burson-Marsteller, 
but was also Bill Clinton’s speechwriter. Baer 
got the sign-off from Mark Penn 
(Burson-Marsteller’s CEO and chief strategist on 
Hillary’s blundering 2008 campaign) and voilà, 
the machinery at both newspapers (and a few 
others) sprang to life, encouraging a 
González-Gross trade facilitated by the pope.

González is the first of the Cuban Five to have 
been released from prison after serving the 
maximum sentence for failure to register as a 
foreign agent – not, as the Post erroneously 
reported, for “spying.”  There’s a 
difference.  But we can dissect the Post piece another day.

González is currently on probation in Florida, 
while ten Russians who were caught two years ago 
as unregistered foreign agents are already home 
again in Russia, having been swiftly deported 
without facing trial.  The same thing cost 
González more than thirteen years of his 
life.  Obviously being caught as an unregistered 
foreign agent in Miami means something totally 
different from being caught for the same thing in 
New Jersey.  Especially if you’re Cuban.

Alan Gross, on the other hand, is the US citizen 
who is barely two years into his fifteen-year 
sentence in Cuban prison, for working to set up a 
clandestine internet network there, in violation 
of Cuban law. It wasn’t a “humanitarian” project, 
no matter how hard Burson-Marsteller 
insists.  That was the cover.  Cuban Jews already had internet access.

Offering a virtually free man in exchange for an 
imprisoned one works pretty well as a stalling 
tactic, evidently, but it’s not a negotiating 
strategy.  As the long-time Cuba observer Walter 
Lippmann correctly points out, “Israel traded a 
thousand Palestinians for one Israeli 
soldier.  Washington traded ten Russians caught 
here for four Russians caught there spying for 
the United States.  Why can’t Washington trade 
five Cubans for one US citizen?”  No reason, I 
imagine, except for the fact that Hillary Clinton has been calling the shots.

Berger reported that Judy Gross’s criticism of 
Obama and US policy toward Cuba was part of a new 
approach that “coincides” with 
Burson-Marsteller’s involvement.  Perhaps in 
timing only.  I’m quite sure that the talking 
points Don Baer handed her did not include that. 
Even if it were part of some bizarre contrarian 
strategy, how far could such criticism go when 
Baer is channeling Clinton, who still works for 
Obama, until she quits to run against Jeb in 2016?

I have no inside information but I’m willing to 
bet that Judy’s well-founded criticism of Obama 
was a case of the client escaping the 
Burson-Marsteller corral and speaking her mind. Well, it happens.

Oddly enough, I think it reveals a tiny point of 
light at the end of the tunnel.  Clinton, Penn, 
Baer, and Burson-Marsteller are producing a 
miserable script for the Gross family: as tragic 
victims and wrongly persecuted Jewish do-gooders 
dependent on a miracle from a Catholic 
pope.  This campaign is nothing more than a way 
of stalling for time, blowing smoke up the 
Gross’s backside until Obama’s election is out of 
the way.  To the extent that Judy Gross becomes 
impatient with the official script, and lets her 
real frustration show, she’s one step nearer the 
exit.  The pope as her last hope?  Really?  I 
certainly hope not.  There are other options.

Playing nice and waiting for Obama and Clinton to 
run out the clock for their own electoral desires 
should not be one of them, however. Media 
pressure on the US Government combined with some 
adept social media work and clever alliances, on 
the other hand, could actually accomplish 
something, but it almost goes without saying that 
any PR firm taking dictation from Hillary Clinton 
has no incentive to provide this.

Alan and Judy Gross

In fact, as long as Burson-Marsteller is running 
the show, the two sides will continue to talk 
past one another.  Closing the gap that separates 
Alan Gross’s friends and family from the friends 
and family, indeed, the millions in the 
international community, who want to see the same 
for the Cuban Five is one way – possibly the only 
way – to move closer to a solution.  And as it 
happens, an opportunity is approaching.

With miraculous timing, the International 
Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 has 
scheduled several days of activities in 
Washington in a few weeks (April 17-21), complete 
with an all-star list of guests.  It would be 
tragic if at least a few people from the Gross 
camp didn’t escape their Burson-Marsteller 
minders to see what that’s all about.

Stephen Kimber is one of the stars on the 
agenda.  Kimber kindly provided me with an 
advance copy of his soon-to-be published book, 
“What Lies Across the Water” and it’s magnificent 
– meticulously researched, honest and 
impartial.  For anyone who wants to understand 
exactly what the Cuban Five were doing in Miami, 
and the subsequent tragedy of their unjust 
convictions and incarceration, it is the 
definitive source.  Not to mention, a compelling 
read.  I wish it had been published ten years 
ago.  If there’s one book the Grosses and those 
who truly care about finding a solution for their 
dilemma need to read, it’s this one.

Cindy Sheehan is coming!  What a 
gift!  Honestly, if Judy Gross doesn’t go just to 
talk to Cindy, who wrote the book on how to 
pressure a president, I’ll have to conclude that 
Burson-Marsteller is holding her hostage to prevent it.

Finally, there’ll be a picket/rally in front of 
the White House.  Let me just suggest that if the 
Gross camp were to take the opportunity to join 
with the Cuban Five camp at this rally, it would 
be a normal PR executive’s dream come true.  The 
press would find it irresistible.  It would be a 
sign of real movement, and it sells 
itself.  Naturally, for all those reasons, the 
Clinton-Baer-Penn-Burson-Marsteller crew will say no.

All the more reason for Judy Gross to toss the 
Blanche Wittman role on the rubbish heap, and do it.

Machetera and Manuel Talens are members of 
Tlaxcala, the international network of 
translators for linguistic diversity.  This 
article and translation may be reprinted as long 
as the content remains unaltered, and the source, 
author, and translator are cited.

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