PJ Media

The French Connection to the Palin Smears

The Jawa Report’s outing of public relations man Ethan Winner as the poster of a professionally-produced anti-Sarah Palin smear video to YouTube has brought the company Publicis to the American public’s attention.

As Rusty Shackleford and his colleagues have shown, Winner and several other members of the Los Angeles-based Winner & Associates public relations firm — including company CEO Chuck Winner — appear to have been involved in a concerted effort to make the anti-Palin video “go viral” on the Internet. Winner & Associates is a 100% owned subsidiary of French giant Publicis.

And what is Publicis? By its own account, Publicis is the fourth-largest communications group in the world, having generated some €4.7 billion (or $6.9 billion) in revenue in 2007. With its distinctive postmodern headquarters on Paris’ Champs-Elysées just a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe, Publicis also happens to be one of those highly politically-connected French firms that are so characteristic of the upper echelons of the French economy.

The principal shareholder in Publicis is Élisabeth Badinter, the daughter of company founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet. According to the Publicis 2007 financial data (p. 73), Badinter controls some 10% of the shares in the company and nearly 17% of the voting rights. A joint venture between Badinter and the Japanese Dentsu Corporation controls another 5% of the capital and 7% of the voting rights.

Ms. Badinter is well-known in France as a “feminist” philosopher and the author of numerous books. Her husband is none other than Robert Badinter, a renowned French jurist and Socialist Party politician, whose career is closely intertwined with that of the late French president François Mitterrand. From 1981 to 1986, during Mitterrand’s first seven-year term as president, Robert Badinter served as the French minister of justice. In 1986, he was then appointed by Mitterrand to head France’s Constitutional Council, a sort of “committee of wise men” — not all of them necessarily jurists, oddly enough — that is the country’s highest authority on constitutional matters. Badinter is probably best known in France nowadays for having spearheaded the campaign to abolish the death penalty. Although less known to the broad public, he also played an important role in shaping European policy during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s: namely, as the head of the so-called “Badinter Commission,” which was established by the then-European Community to provide legal “opinions” on events in the former Yugoslavia. The rulings of the “Badinter Commission” have been criticized by international law scholars (such, for instance, as Barbara Delcourt of the Université Libre de Bruxelles) for, in effect, dressing up political decisions in pseudo-legal garb. Mr. Badinter is presently a member of the French Senate.

Publicis Consultants, the public relations division of Publicis to which Winner & Associates belongs, counts several French government ministries and the European Commission among its regular clients. Indeed, as Rusty Shackleford notes, Ethan Winner’s bio page on an English-language Publicis Consultants website states that Winner is “presently heading an international team in creating a Europe-wide crisis and communications campaign to promote the European Union.” It must be said that it is rather implausible that Ethan Winner from far off Los Angeles would be attributed such a responsibility. After all, among his European colleagues, there are surely to be found numerous persons who are better situated and better qualified to perform the task. Take, for instance, Philippe Le Corre, who from 2004 to 2007 served as the international and public affairs adviser to Michèle Alliot-Marie, the former French minster of defense (and current French minister of the interior). This raises the question of just what exactly Winner in fact does for Publicis on the European front. His bio goes on to note incongruously, but more plausibly, that in the United States “he is leading efforts to promote gaming and thoroughbred racing in numerous statewide campaigns in order to counter the attendance crisis that is plaguing the industry.”

Publicis Consultants is presently handling communications for the “European Cultural Season” (French link) in connection with the French EU Presidency and on behalf of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture. The advertising division of Publicis, moreover, recently won a major contract to promote the “international image” (French link) of the Franco-German armaments and aeronautics firm EADS. Publicis previously won a major contract to promote EADS’ Airbus 380 “superjumbo” jet. As I have discussed in detail on Pajamas Media here, the French state is one of the principal shareholders in EADS. As so happens, Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy recently served on a high profile commission tasked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy with preparing a “white book” on the priorities of French foreign policy.

As Rusty Shackleford and others have pointed out, the notion that Ethan Winner and his cronies — all of them PR professionals — are just “concerned Americans” who attempted to make the Palin smear video “go viral” out of personal conviction is patently absurd. The obvious question, then, is for whom were Winner and his “associates” working? The most obvious answer is: the Obama campaign. Another and at least equally troubling possibility, however, is that they were working for one of Publicis’s high-powered European clients.

Defying diplomatic custom, European leaders have, after all, made no secret of their preference for Obama. As I discussed on World Politics Review here, Obama’s German-taxpayer subsidized appearance at the “Victory Column” in Berlin almost certainly amounted to an illegal in kind campaign contribution. And even a supposedly “pro-American” European leader like Sarkozy did not refrain from giving Obama his — indeed all of France’s! — tacit endorsement during the latter’s brief stopover in Paris. “If it’s him,” Sarkozy said slyly (French link), “France will be very happy, and if it’s not him, France will be a friend of the United States.”