Richard Berman is the kind of unethical public relations executive who gives the PR profession a bad name. His métier is to use right-wing money to establish and operate so-called think tanks that spew out spurious and misleading position papers, opinion articles and reports that support his clients’ positions on issues.
His Employment Policies Institute (EPI), for example, works diligently against raising the minimum wage, health care mandates for employers and mandatory sick leave. Berman tries to hide both the fact that his think tanks are propaganda machines and the names of his clients. This deception often works, as he provides fodder for Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing media.
Berman and EPI hit a new low in a full-page article in the New York Times that takes the form of an open memo to President Obama about the 600 economists that the President cited as favoring raising the minimum wage. The memo essentially repeats quotes from or about (we’re never sure) eight of the 600 economists that suggest that they are Marxists or anti-American. The first six are identified as Marxists, where as the seventh makes the mistake of criticizing U.S. foreign policy and the eighth questions the official account of 9/11. A legend at the bottom of the ad says, “Many of the 600 economists you rely on are radical researchers or full-time employees working at union-backed organizations.”
Calling opponents communists, Marxists or socialists is an old trick of the right wing that predates Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, who provoked the country into a massive witch hunt against so-called communists and fellow travelers in the late 1940s and early 1950s with lies about identifying huge numbers of communists working in government positions. McCarthy’s red baiting resulted in large numbers of teachers, film professionals, lawyers and others losing their jobs because at one time or another they had joined or went to meetings of left-wing organizations. It took a lawyer for the U.S. Army to jolt the country out of this “red terror” with his comment that McCarthy had lost all sense of shame by accusing the army of harboring communists.
The ad is odiously misleading on many levels. Let’s start with the simple fact that there is nothing wrong with having socialist or Marxist leanings. It doesn’t mean that you are anti-democratic or anti-American. It also doesn’t mean that your economic research or analysis is suspect. Samuel Bowles, Immanuel Wallerstein, Richard Wolff and David Gordon are all well-known 20th-century Marxist economists or economic theorists who have published viable research.
But even if you accept that Marxist economics is not a viable alternative to classical economic theory, the ad still smells like yesterday’s tilapia. For one thing, there’s the conflation of “radical researcher” and “union-backed groups.” Both radicals and unions are thrown into the same grouping. The not-so-hidden message is that there is something radical and inherently bad about labor unions.
Moreover, there is the use of the word “many” to describe the numbers of suspect economists on the list. Why can’t Berman’s group give us an exact number? They found eight to smear, but that’s 1.33% of the 600. Take them off the list and there are still 592 economists who support raising the minimum wage. The ad is able to stipulate 45% as the exact percentage of those economists not labor specialists who support the minimum wage increase, leading me to believe that if there were many more than eight who had Marxist leanings, the ad would have used that number.
The ad’s implied accusation, of course, is that anyone who is on the left, has ever criticized U.S. policy or works for a union will “cook the books” in their research. All we have here is repellent name-calling, and is often the case, the name-callers are guilty of the crimes they accuse others of committing. Reputable academics have frequently found EPI’s research to be misleading or based on skewed or cherry-picked data.
What’s most interesting about Berman‘s pot pointing out the dirt smudges on the leftists’ kettles is that the people the ad implies are distorting their research all freely and openly admit the names of their organizations or political sympathies. Berman and his clients hide behind several layers of organizations.
This smear ad reflects the desperation felt by the right-wing and corporations. They know that the current minimum wage must increase by 47% for it to have the same purchasing power as it did in 1968. They know that a good part of the increased profit margins and profits that corporations enjoy compared to 30 and 40 years ago comes from squeezing down the salaries of all workers by suppressing adjustments to the minimum wage for inflation, killing unions and privatizing government jobs. They know that once the minimum wage goes up, they’ll have to give raises to other employees. They like the current arrangement in which a growing part of the income pie goes to owners and executives and a shrinking share goes to employees. They can see that people are fed up with the gutting of the middle class and ready to embrace a higher minimum wage. They understand that a higher minimum wage is probably inevitable.