Posts Tagged ‘public relations’

The Karl Roves of Tudor England

Posted in General, On This Day on August 22nd, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

August 22, 1485:  Henry VII Becomes King; Machiavelli and MBAs Get a Role Model

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Bosworth Field. In tribute to the fallen and vilified Richard III, please hunch your shoulder.

History indeed is written by the victors, and the usurping Tudors had some extraordinary flacks in their service. The first “official” biography of Richard III was written in 1518 by an ambitious lawyer named Thomas More. More’s history could have been a Wes Craven screenplay; Richard is depicted as a physical monster. In this portrait, a hunchback may be Richard’s most attractive feature. More grafts upon Richard a withered arm and a limp; furthermore, More’s caricature was born with a full–and threatening– set of teeth. The real Richard had none of these disabilities and distortions, and actually was more attractive than Henry VII–who looked like a constipated actuary.

In 1592 a young playwright named Shakespeare was eager to ingratiate himself to the public and rich patrons, so he wrote a gushingly Pro-Tudor dramatization of the War of the Roses. The four plays, the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III, are a slapdash concoction of convoluted history and overripe melodrama. In “Henry VI, part III”, Richard is depicted as gleefully waging war when, in fact, he was only three years old.  However inaccurate the plays, the audience loved them.  (Indeed, Richard III is still popular–and today is considered much funnier than Shakespeare’s intentional comedies.) Shakespeare would have been gratified–if amazed–to know that his melodrama has become the common perception of King Richard.

Of course, Richard has his defenders. A number of historians and novelists have attempted heroic exonerations of the vilified king; but it remains an uneven match: their facts against St. More’s reputation and Shakespeare’s talent.   You may number me among the vicarious Yorkists. Let’s deal with the most notorious charge against Richard: the killing of the Little Princes.

I think that Richard is innocent of killing his nephews. They certainly were an inconvenience to him (don’t we all have nephews like that!) but he could have found better ways to remove them than an unexplained disappearance. He could even have blamed the Lancastrian/Tudor partisans for the princes’ deaths. In fact, he should have if they really were dead. However, their disposal was not urgent or even necessary. Parliament had already declared them illegitimate; and there was little political support for them. Their mother’s family, the Woodvilles, was hated by the old nobility.

However Henry VII would have had to kill them. His claims to royal lineage were tenuous and illegitimate. (The Lancastrians had proved obligingly sterile, allowing Tudor–a half-second cousin, once removed, from Wales–to represent the dynasty.) Any Yorkist prince or princess was a threat to him. Other than the Yorkist princess he coerced into marriage, Henry had his in-laws executed, imprisoned or cloistered.

Perhaps Richard had already done him the favor of killing the Princes. But Henry’s behavior was suspicious and incriminating.

It is interesting to note that when Henry VII ascended to the throne, he had Parliament issue a list of Richard’s crimes. The murder of the Princes was not cited, a rather surprising omission. Since Henry married their sister, you think that he have noticed their absence when they didn’t respond to the wedding invitations.

Didn’t anyone notice that the Princes were missing? Perhaps the Queen Mother did. For some reason, she was suddenly imprisoned in 1487 for being a supporter of Richard III. Would she really have supported the man who had murdered her sons? That may have been Henry’s reason for imprisoning her.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1495 and the attempted coup by Perkins Warbeck, a charlatan claiming to be one of the Little Princes, that Henry finally announced the deaths of his brothers-in-law. He also ordered the execution of Richard’s henchman Sir James Tyrrell. The one incongruity with that revelation was that Tyrrell had been a favorite of Henry’s and had enjoyed promotions under the Tudors.

Furthermore, although Henry seemed to know the details of the murders, he didn’t make any effort to exhume the bodies and give them a Christian burial. That gesture of decency didn’t occur until the reign of Charles II.

I am inclined to one theory that would explain Richard’s silence and Henry’s reticence. The crime might have been committed by the Duke of Buckingham, a proclaimed Yorkist partisan and a covert Tudor conspirator. The Duke was in charge of the Tower and had the opportunity to kill the princes. He could have committed the crime and then assured both sides he had done it as a favor to them. He may have been expecting rewards from both sides. However, Richard seemed anything but grateful. The King rebuffed his old ally, driving the Duke to rebellion. The Duke lost the battle and his head. However Richard may have felt too incriminated by his past association to announce the murder of the Princes.

Of course, this is just speculation.

Ironically, while I defend Richard’s innocence, I must admit that Henry VII was one of England’s greatest kings and the founder of a brilliant dynasty.

On This Day in 1914: Great Moments in Public Relations

Posted in General, On This Day on June 28th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

June 28, 1914: Belgrade

The Serbian Press Secretary opened the news conference with this statement.

“The Serbian government was sad to learn that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife the Archduchess Sophie shot each other today. We wish that they had found a more peaceful way to solve their marital problems.”

I will now answer your questions.

Reporter: Eyewitnesses report that the couple was assassinated by a terrorist linked to Serbia. Is the Serbian government denying any connection to this terrorist organization?

Spokesmanvic: There have been so many assassinations and it is just pointless and malicious to allege that this government had any knowledge, link or responsibility for the murder of President McKinley.

Reporter: The Austrian government is accusing Serbia of supporting terrorists.

Spokesmanvic: Look, this “event” probably was a carjacking that got out of hand. If the conspiracy-paranoids in Austria need a culprit, they should accuse Mexico. There is no question that the Mexicans killed the Archduke Maximilian, and a Chicano street gang may have killed Franz Ferdinand as a member initiation.

Reporter: I’m Clive Murdoch of the Melbourne Swagman. Got me a two part question. Is it possible that the assassination was the work of bolshevik-anarchists and do you got nude photos of the Archduchess for our page three?

Spokesmanvic: Yes and no. And those were excellent questions. Thank you.

Reporter: Do you feel that the controversial, iconoclastic studies of Freud and the provocative, scathing plays of Arthur Schnitzler offer any predicative insights into the psychology and actions of pre-post-modernist Vienna?

Spokesmanvic: You’re from The New York Times, aren’t you? Yes, the Austrians want to kill us. Interestingly enough, they also want to kill Freud and Schnitzler.

The Art of War and Public Relations

Posted in General on June 10th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Napoleon needed something to do in 1798. The 28-year-old general had conquered Italy and forced Austria to capitulate–but that was a year ago. He sensed that his glory was already fading. The French government–a collection of kleptocrats known as the Directory–did have a project for him. He had been named “General of the Army of England.” Invading England certainly would be exciting; the British Navy would guarantee that. A French platoon was unlikely to make it to shore; and if it had, the English population would not be particularly cordial. No the invasion of England was a certain catastrophe, and definitely not Napoleon’s idea of glory.

A second proposal at least seemed less hopeless: invading Ireland. Allowing for the improbable prospects of a myopic British navy and a competent French one, a French army landing in Ireland would find itself very popular among the oppressed and impoverished victims of English rule. The Irish would have offered all they had to the French: potatoes and volunteer militia armed only with farm implements. Nonetheless, Napoleon might have succeeded in driving the English out of Ireland–and then what? The British navy would have kept him penned up in Ireland. He might have been the de facto ruler of Ireland and its grateful people; but Napoleon did not want the gratitude of a poor people. Generals of the Directory worked on commission, and liberating Ireland just wouldn’t pay.

There was a third idea, however, that promised Napoleon enough wealth and glory to sate his megalomania: invade Egypt. There was a military rationale for this plan. Egypt was the transit between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean; the trade and communication between Europe and the Orient passed along the Suez trail. (Yes, there was talk of building a canal.) A French army in Egypt would have a stranglehold on Britain’s link to India. Of course, there was also an economic incentive for invading Egypt; all that trade was quite lucrative. Finally, there seemed a political advantage as well. No one else seemed to rule Egypt. The country was a nominal province of the Ottoman Empire, but the weak Sultanate was unable to enforce its rule there. Egypt was in the hands of squabbling, medieval warlords–the Mamalukes. What could be more tempting than a rich and defenseless country?

He would invade Egypt with an army of 34,000 men. Never lacking confidence, Napoleon expected a glorious military victory but he also envisioned his campaign as a cultural triumph. He would rediscover Egypt and reintroduce a great civilization long forgotten. So, in addition to his military preparations,(which actually were inadequate; he overlooked the need for water canteens in a desert) he assembled several hundred scientists, historians and artists to accompany his expedition. While he conquered, they explored, discovered and illustrated–inspiring a fascination with ancient Egypt that continues to this day. Our very knowledge of hieroglyphics began with Napoleon, when some French soldiers dug up a very interesting stone at Rosetta, Egypt.

Such a massive undertaking could not have escaped the attention of the British. However, they assumed that the General of the Army of England was a literal title. The British navy was patrolling the English Channel and the western Mediterranean while the French fleet was heading toward Egypt. On the way, the French stopped at Malta to seize the island. By doing so, the French had finally revealed their whereabouts, and the British guessed Napoleon’s real intentions. The British navy sailed immediately to Alexandria and arrived before the French. In view of the French absence, however, the British now wondered where the French might be headed. Was Malta a feint and Napoleon was heading past Gibraltar to sail to England? So, the British fleet raced northwest while the French fleet lolled southeast to Alexandria.

However, the British had not reached Gibraltar, let alone Penzance, when they learned that the French had actually arrived at Alexandria. Turning around–again, His Majesty’s Ships now raced east. In the intervening month, the French army had disembarked in Alexandria, defeated the Mamalukes in a battle picturesquely near the Pyramids and now was in Cairo. The French fleet was at anchor at the mouth of the Nile, in Abukir Bay. Late in the afternoon of August 1, the British fleet attacked. The French were in a good defensive position, the ships aligned close to the shore and with the added protection of darkness. Who would attempt to navigate narrow gaps between the French ships, skirting the Egyptian shore in the dark? Did I mention that the British commander was Horatio Nelson? He could have assured you that it is easy to sail at night when you have burning French ships to light your way. Most of the French fleet was either sunk or captured, and the French army now was stranded in Egypt.

The Ottoman Empire did not grieve over the Mamalukes, but it did not consider the French control of Egypt as an improvement. Assured of British support, the Sultan declared war on France. Napoleon was not one to wait for an attack. He marched into Syria, expecting the conquest of that province would compel the Turks to cede Egypt to France. Although he had just 15,000 men, his campaign began with its customary success. The Turkish forces were equipped to fight a 16th century war. Napoleon even began to entertain the notion of taking Constantinople. However, his triumphal march did not get past the fortifications of Acre–in what is now northern Israel. The garrison’s Turkish gunners had the benefit of European training and the aided assistance of the British navy. Napoleon found himself outgunned and ill-prepared for a siege; worse, bubonic plague broke out in the French camp. Although unaccustomed to retreat, he had no choice.

Napoleon now realized that the Egyptian campaign would inevitably fail; however, no one else in France seemed aware of it. Bonaparte really should be considered one of the pioneers of public relations. He dictated communiques–press releases–telling the public exactly what he wanted it to believe. Napoleon was never shy about self-aggrandizement; every victory was magnified, any defeat was minimized if not omitted. (Despite its ability to do so, the British navy never bothered to impose a complete blockade on Egypt, so individual French ships could manage to go back and forth carrying Napoleon’s communiques.) The French public was convinced that the Egyptian campaign was a complete triumph. Ironically, however dubious or pyrrhic those victories, that was the only good news that the French public heard at the time.

With Napoleon in Egypt, Austria felt emboldened to resume the war. Aided by a Russian army, Austrian forces had recaptured most of Italy and now threatened France itself. Feeling endangered, the French wanted their best general back home to defend them. Since the public demanded it, Napoleon was willing to save France–and flee his hopeless situation in Egypt. Of course, he did not tell his abandoned army or even his second-in-command of his French itinerary. That was a surprise. Just as surprising was the fact that the French army held out for another two years, contending with Turks, Bedouins and disease. By 1801, the acting French commander was half-mad but he still managed to get generous terms of surrender. What was left of the army–its 17,000 ragged, sickly survivors–was repatriated to France. (The British did confiscate many of the ancient artifacts that the French had found; that is why the Rosetta Stone is at the British Museum.)

The survivors of the Egyptian campaign found that France had considerably changed in their absence. The corrupt, unpopular Republic had been replaced by a less corrupt, much more popular dictatorship–and guess who the dictator was. He had proclaimed the invasion of Egypt to be a glorious campaign–and who were they to disagree?

October 19, 1987: The Bulls, the Bears and the Fleas

Posted in General on October 19th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Today is the anniversary of the Worst Day in the Stock Market.  At the time, I was a speechwriter at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and so a witness to a surreal day in the markets. From TheStreet.com, here are my recollections of that dramatic day and its ridiculous aftermath.

The cleric, statesman and rogue Abbe Sieyes was once asked what he did during the French Revolution. He succinctly replied, “I survived.” In the aftermath of Oct. 19, 1987, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange could have expressed the same grim satisfaction.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 508 points, or 22%, that day. A panic-stricken market literally could not sell stocks fast enough; the New York Stock Exchange lacked both the technology and the nerves for the onslaught. Its stocks opened late, and throughout the day, NYSE stock quotes were either old or wishful thinking.

Yet, at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the S&P 500 futures pit opened on time. Its traders braved the deluge of sell orders and maintained a market for stock index futures. Trading volume set a record; it was twice the daily average. Frantic investors short-sold the futures, trying to protect their stock holdings against further declines. Aggressive investors also short-sold the futures; they hoped to make a profit in a collapsing market. The CME staff worked 19-hour shifts to process the transactions. By the end of that tumultuous week, a relieved CME was planning a self-congratulatory T-shirt for its traders and staff. But, while the worst was over, the absurd was just beginning.

Someone had to be blamed for the stock market crash. The media demanded it. Of course, the obvious suspect was the NYSE. Elderly Democrats still blamed the New York exchange for the Depression. So, in a wily pre-emptive strike against its detractors, Wall Street proclaimed itself the unsuspecting victim of the ruthless Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The NYSE had a rather apocalyptic interpretation of the CME action in futures that fateful week. To its mind, Henry James had been mugged by Al Capone: The selling of the futures created a cascade of plunging stock prices. Machiavellian investors shorted the futures and then sold their stocks, pressuring more investors to dump their portfolios, panicking the rest of mankind to sell everything at any price. In this way, the NYSE compared its wholesome, time-honored stocks to Chicago’s venal, reckless futures. The trust funds of innocent orphans were ruined while the brutish traders of Chicago chortled.

The media pandered to this narrative of the refined old New York market bludgeoned by a neanderthal CME. Television’s stock footage always showed the front of the NYSE, its facade of a classical temple. The public imagined the exchange as an elegant private club; amid its Edwardian decor, an Astor and a Vanderbilt might negotiate a stock price when not reminiscing about hangovers at Yale.

In contrast, the CME had a vulgar image. Stock footage depicted a pit of frenzied traders, lunging at the camera as if they could reach through the television and assault viewers. Those flailing hand signals might be amusing, but wary onlookers inferred obscene or satanic meanings. In the wake of the ’87 crash, the integrity and purpose of stock index futures were attacked. The Wall Street Journal sneered at “Chicago’s ‘Shadow Markets,’ ” a blunt aspersion of the exchange’s integrity. The public did not understand futures or options, but it knew one thing for certain: If those markets were respectable, they would have been in New York.

The CME was not an obliging scapegoat. It held a series of press conferences and seminars to justify the value and efficiency of the futures market. Free food was provided to entice media attendance. Confronted with the CME’s detailed explanation and ponderous evidence, the reporters were bored stiff. Imagine the exchange’s predicament: Trying to teach the Black-Scholes formula for financial derivatives to an audience of English majors. The CME was asking to be hated.

Having made no favorable impression on the media, the CME was driven to irrational desperation: It hired a public relations firm. The exchange thus entrusted its reputation to flacks: people who lack the stamina for journalism, the creativity for advertising and the coordination for three-card monte. The CME chose Hill & Knowlton, a firm famous for “crisis management.” In other words, Hill & Knowlton assisted the notorious, including the Teamsters and the Church of Scientology. (As corporate luck would have it, the NYSE was also a client of the New York office of H&K. Of course, the Chicago office of H&K dismissed any possible conflict of interest.)

According to the official history of the CME (Bob Tamarkin’s The Merc: The Emergence of a Global Financial Powerhouse), H&K advised its hapless client to play the repentant sinner — namely, by confessing to an unintentional role in the crash and making an earnest plea for more federal regulation of the futures markets. Being traders, the CME leaders knew how to cut their losses in the market; however, they were not prepared to misrepresent themselves and grovel, even if that strategy would gratify the media’s prejudice.

While (according to Tamarkin) “Merc officials had lost faith in the outside public relations effort,” the exchange still hoped to make itself presentable to the doubting public. CME’s traders generally appeared as howling slobs, but the exchange’s chairman, Jack Sandner, was articulate and dapper. Taking over where H&K left off, CME’s media department booked Sandner on national television, where he could beam a congenial image of the CME across the land. This strategy was sound, but the scheduling was indiscriminate. Jack Sandner thought that he would be appearing on ABC’s Nightline. There was a significant change in format, however, and Sandner found himself on a show with the Muppets.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange gave up on public relations and resigned itself to being ugly and misunderstood. It would never be as popular or as pampered as the New York Stock Exchange.

But at least the CME stopped being the scapegoat for the October ’87 crash. A presidential task force released the Brady Commission Report in January, 1988, and its harshest criticism was leveled at the New York Stock Exchange. The elegant old club had succumbed to panic: “As with people in a theater when someone yells ‘Fire!’ these sellers all ran for the exit in October, but it was large enough to accommodate only a few,” the report mused. Yet, the media never pilloried the NYSE. And one can see why: With such grandeur, who needs competence?

copyrighted: TheStreet.com

The Karl Roves of Tudor England

Posted in General, On This Day on August 22nd, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Bosworth Field. In tribute to the fallen and vilified Richard III, please hunch your shoulder.

History indeed is written by the victors, and the usurping Tudors had some extraordinary flacks in their service. The first “official” biography of Richard III was written in 1518 by an ambitious lawyer named Thomas More. More’s history could have been a Wes Craven screenplay; Richard is depicted as a physical monster. In this portrait, a hunchback may be Richard’s most attractive feature. More grafts upon Richard a withered arm and a limp; furthermore, More’s caricature was born with a full–and threatening– set of teeth. The real Richard had none of these disabilities and distortions, and actually was more attractive than Henry VII–who looked like a constipated actuary.

In 1592 a young playwright named Shakespeare was eager to ingratiate himself to the public and rich patrons, so he wrote a gushingly Pro-Tudor dramatization of the War of the Roses. The four plays, the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III, are a slapdash concoction of convoluted history and overripe melodrama. In “Henry VI, part III”, Richard is depicted as gleefully waging war when, in fact, he was only three years old.  However inaccurate the plays, the audience loved them.  (Indeed, Richard III is still popular–and today is considered much funnier than Shakespeare’s intentional comedies.) Shakespeare would have been gratified–if amazed–to know that his melodrama has become the common perception of King Richard.

Of course, Richard has his defenders. A number of historians and novelists have attempted heroic exonerations of the vilified king; but it remains an uneven match: their facts against St. More’s reputation and Shakespeare’s talent.   You may number me among the vicarious Yorkists. Let’s deal with the most notorious charge against Richard: the killing of the Little Princes.

I think that Richard is innocent of killing his nephews. They certainly were an inconvenience to him (don’t we all have nephews like that!) but he could have found better ways to remove them than an unexplained disappearance. He could even have blamed the Lancastrian/Tudor partisans for the princes’ deaths. In fact, he should have if they really were dead. However, their disposal was not urgent or even necessary. Parliament had already declared them illegitimate; and there was little political support for them. Their mother’s family, the Woodvilles, was hated by the old nobility.

However Henry VII would have had to kill them. His claims to royal lineage were tenuous and illegitimate. (The Lancastrians had proved obligingly sterile, allowing Tudor–a half-second cousin, once removed, from Wales–to represent the dynasty.) Any Yorkist prince or princess was a threat to him. Other than the Yorkist princess he coerced into marriage, Henry had his in-laws executed, imprisoned or cloistered.

Perhaps Richard had already done him the favor of killing the Princes. But Henry’s behavior was suspicious and incriminating.

It is interesting to note that when Henry VII ascended to the throne, he had Parliament issue a list of Richard’s crimes. The murder of the Princes was not cited, a rather surprising omission. Since Henry married their sister, you think that he have noticed their absence when they didn’t respond to the wedding invitations.

Didn’t anyone notice that the Princes were missing? Perhaps the Queen Mother did. For some reason, she was suddenly imprisoned in 1487 for being a supporter of Richard III. Would she really have supported the man who had murdered her sons? That may have been Henry’s reason for imprisoning her.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1495 and the attempted coup by Perkins Warbeck, a charlatan claiming to be one of the Little Princes, that Henry finally announced the deaths of his brothers-in-law. He also ordered the execution of Richard’s henchman Sir James Tyrrell. The one incongruity with that revelation was that Tyrrell had been a favorite of Henry’s and had enjoyed promotions under the Tudors.

Furthermore, although Henry seemed to know the details of the murders, he didn’t make any effort to exhume the bodies and give them a Christian burial. That gesture of decency didn’t occur until the reign of Charles II.

I am inclined to one theory that would explain Richard’s silence and Henry’s reticence. The crime might have been committed by the Duke of Buckingham, a proclaimed Yorkist partisan and a covert Tudor conspirator. The Duke was in charge of the Tower and had the opportunity to kill the princes. He could have committed the crime and then assured both sides he had done it as a favor to them. He may have been expecting rewards from both sides. However, Richard seemed anything but grateful. The King rebuffed his old ally, driving the Duke to rebellion. The Duke lost the battle and his head. However Richard may have felt too incriminated by his past association to announce the murder of the Princes.

Of course, this is just speculation.

Ironically, while I defend Richard’s innocence, I must admit that Henry VII was one of England’s greatest kings and the founder of a brilliant dynasty.