Campus Watch Research
The Saudis' Covert P.R. Campaign
by Daniel Pipes
A range of public figures—former ambassadors, university professors, think tank experts – routinely opine in America about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while quietly taking Saudi funds. They learnedly discuss Arabian affairs on television, radio, in public lectures, and university classrooms. Having no visible connection to Saudi money, they speak with the authority of disinterested U.S. experts, enjoying more credibility than, say, another billionaire prince from the royal family.
Saudi funding for opinion makers has been known but not its exact specifics. I can for the first time expose how the Saudis manage their covert publicity campaign in America thanks to a Saudi-employed public relations firm having incautiously contacted a senior professor at a major research institution. Although the professor did not accept the offer of the speakers, he showed enough interest to document the proposed transaction and then made the details available to me.
An employee at a leading public relations firm in Washington offered the professor Saudi-funded speakers for the lecture program he runs, doing so as part of a program to provide ongoing education to communities around the country about "the importance and value of strong U.S.-Saudi relations. … One of our campaign components is to implement a speaker's bureau program on behalf of the Kingdom that reaches into target markets across the nation. I think there is a wonderful opportunity," she gushed, "to develop a very stimulating event with [your speakers' series]."
The letter invites further inquiries, with the p.r. employee adding eagerly that she is "available to come speak with you in person if possible." The letter then lists five lecturers ready to speak on the Saudi tab. They make for an interesting group.
Because the professor can pay only modest honoraria, he inquired about funding these speakers and was assured that the university need not pay any of their honoraria or expenses. The Saudis would, via the p.r. firm, handle these pesky matters.
The Saudis are engaging in an underhanded propaganda campaign that subverts the U.S. debate concerning Arabian issues. It is vital to prevent such corruption, especially on the delicate issue of Riyadh's self-proclaimed role as America's "friend" in the war against Islamist terrorism. To do so, editors, journalists, radio and television producers, think tank directors, and speaker-series hosts need to ascertain that whoever deals with Saudi issues is not on that country's dole. A simple question, "Are you receiving funds from Saudi Arabia," should do the trick.
Aug. 13, 2004 update: For the Saudi response to this article, the professor's reply, and my analysis, see http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/305.
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