Richard Berman, aka Dr. Evil is
the force behind several industry-backed nonprofits that share staff and office space with his very for-profit communications and advertising firm, Berman and Company. The firm promises clients it will not ‘just change the debate’ but ‘start’ one, and a range of companies, from Anheuser-Busch to Philip Morris to the casino chain Harrah’s, have signed up for Berman’s ‘aggressive’ and ‘hard-hitting’ advocacy. Some clients pay Berman and Co. directly, while others donate to his nonprofits—but much of the cash winds up in the same place, via hefty management fees the front groups pay to Berman’s company.
Among Berman’s outfits is the Center for Consumer Freedom, which targets critics of fast food, alcohol, and mercury-laden fish. (Seen its commercial in which the “food police” yank an ice cream cone from a little boy?) Berman’s Employment Policies Institute campaigns against minimum-wage increases. And his Employee Freedom Action Committee crusades against unionization.
This Mother Jones article goes on to show several examples in which mainstream news agencies pick up on the press releases of Berman’s organizations, using them in a totally unexamined, uncritical way.
One might view Berman’s method as a form of community engagement, offering appealing names (e.g., “Consumer Freedom”) and prima facie activities to promote a greater good. But it’s the opposite of what Jane Addams meant when she talked about making the entire social organism democratic.