Monday, December 7, 2015

Teneo handpicking media for FIFA briefer raised a 'fuss', journo complains

On the evening before more arrests were made in the ongoing investigation of alleged corruption by FIFA officials, a controversial firm co-founded by former President Bill Clinton's "body man" and two Hillary Clinton fundraisers - including CEO Declan Kelly, who was appointed US Economic Envoy to No. Ireland by the former Secretary of State now leading Democratic polls as she runs for president again - was accused of handpicking media for a press conference. As I exclusively reported on July 16, Teneo was paid $75,000 for fundraising to lobby FIFA officials with "Honorary Chairman William Clinton" by the USA Bid Committee which lost to Qatar the rights to host the 2022 World Cup.

"Honduran Alfredo Hawit, acting president of CONCACAF, and Paraguay’s Juan Angel Napout, president of CONMEBOL – the two confederations that provide the 16 nations who compete in the Copa America – were picked up in dawn raids at the Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich by Swiss police acting on instructions from the US Department of Justice," UK journalist Charles Sale reported for the Daily Mail on December 4.

The Wednesday evening press conference seemed to center on plans to increase the World Cup field to 40 nations and, perhaps, the news that another firm had secured television rights to another soccer tournament. The timing before the arrests appears to be somewhat convenient, since Teneo has many former US government employees working for it, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch launched the FIFA probe when she began her second term as a U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn in 2010, after being nominated by former Bill Clinton in 1999. As Sari Horwitz reported for The Washington Post on May 27, "In November 2010, former president Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. traveled to Zurich to lobby soccer’s world governing body in support of the U.S. bid to host the 2022 World Cup."

"Sports marketing giants IMG have embarrassingly received plaudits for winning TV rights to the 2016 Copa America tournament from the two FIFA chiefs arrested on Thursday on suspicion of accepting millions of dollars in bribes," Sale reported last Thursday.

Later, in the same story, Sale complained, "PR firm Teneo, who represent the American lawyers now effectively running FIFA, helped perpetuate the divisive atmosphere in Zurich by inviting a few handpicked media to a briefing with acting secretary general Markus Kattner the night before Thursday's press conference. A FIFA spokesman said it was common practice for such briefings to take place with a variety of media."

"There was a fuss," Sale told me on Saturday. When he asked me what would be the motive for Teneo "handpicking" media, I told him that I have been reporting on how journalists use the firm as sources for their stories, without mentioning its ties to the Clintons, and ducking questions related to longtime Hillary Clinton aide - and vice chair of her presidential campaign - Huma Abedin's controversial stint there from 2012 to 2013, while still working for the State Department.

In my September 16 article, "Controversial firm linked to Clintons handles press for $17.7 billion Cablevision deal," I reported, "The New York Times appears to have published a 'scoop' they received from a public relations firm tied to the top presidential candidate - but omitted mentioning either in their article - just to get an exclusive a few hours early. And since it's related to the creation of what will be the '#4 cable operator in the US market', which affects millions of US voters, this omission of news might be disturbing to watchdogs. Teneo sometimes gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a month by clients, and both entities inherently have common ground to make each other look good to the public.
"Teneo is a senior-led advisory firm with deep collective experience working at the highest echelons of the public and private sectors," the Teneo Holdings website states. "Our team has a rich knowledge base and global network of relationships that we bring to bear on behalf of our clients every day."

If that "global network of relationships" includes New York Times reporters, then - in a sense - this rapidly growing international firm, which has been criticized for using government connections across the world to woo clients and accused of milking those links, controls the media on multiple levels. Teneo is especially secretive about their long list of clients - including "the CEOs of many Fortune 100 companies across a diverse range of industry sectors" and "senior leaders of many of the world’s largest and most complex companies and organizations" - and notorious for not commenting on controversies involving itself.
I added, "In their rush to publish an exclusive a few hours early, the reporters didn't even apparently attempt to contact any critics of the deal. And a day later, any story already is in danger of becoming old news. Business journalists reporting on firms that have deep political ties and that will affect how many Americans receive their news should leave room for criticism in all their articles. But not quoting critics might have been a condition of the 'scoop', as well."

Last year, on December 8, 2014, Michael J. de la Merced, "scooped" the world on a story directly related to Teneo, reporting, "Teneo, a corporate advisory firm with an unusually broad array of businesses, has secured backing from the big private equity firm BC Partners, the company plans to disclose this week."

However, Merced's article doesn't make any reference to how he learned about the "company plans". The New York Times reporter doesn't mention a source, named or unnamed, which might be a violation of the paper's rules on journalism ethics.

Merced does paraphrase an exclusive quote he apparently got from one of Teneo's presidents, but, again, there are ethical concerns, if a top business journalist for - arguably - the most important paper in America is publishing stories - that omit key information - based on tips from a powerful P.R. firm. "The investment from BC Partners came about through friendships that some of the firm’s senior executives have with Teneo’s management, according to Richard Powell, the head of Teneo’s communications arm."

I've also reported in two stories after the ISIS-linked attacks in Paris, about how the media rely on Teneo Intelligence consultants for stories, even though the firm is secretive about what oil companies it represents. See "During terror attacks, Teneo Intelligence Managing Director Crispin Hawes reassures oil investors" and "Analysts at consulting firm tied to Hillary Clinton are often critical of military action against ISIS" for more on this, and I will have related stories in the future.

A New York Times reporter who apparently attended last week's "hand-picked" press conference handled by Teneo, left out its connections to the Clintons in his story, but he wasn't exactly fawning of what Kattner said before and after the arrests.

"At a briefing with reporters Wednesday night, Mr. Kattner staunchly defended the right of the executive committee to implement such a change on its own, despite the significance of the decision and despite its lack of consultation with any of the stakeholders it would affect, notably television rights-holders, sponsors and national and continental federations," Sam Borden reported for The New York Times on December 5th.

Borden's story continued, "(He also defended as proper the bizarre inclusion of an item in the proposal that had nothing to do with governance — the imminent expansion of the World Cup to 40 teams from the current 32 — when it seemed to be little more than a sweetener for FIFA members who will vote to ratify these changes at February’s Congress.)"

"Even Thursday, after more reasoned voices on FIFA’s executive committee prevailed and the possible World Cup expansion was separated from the governance items, Mr. Kattner did not seem to grasp the latent hypocrisy that would have come with an executive committee’s endorsing proposals that would reduce its power while, simultaneously, using that power to make a unilateral decision on a huge change to a showpiece event," Borden added.

However, Borden did praise FIFA for hiring Teneo, sometime in late June and early July, a few weeks before the news broke, another UK journalist told me over the summer.

"In recent months, FIFA has hired a well-regarded American public relations firm, Teneo, to shepherd it through this crisis," Borden wrote, instead of calling it controversial due to its tight-lipped connections to governments across the globe and the Clintons. "It was a good decision, but one that cannot be a panacea. FIFA needs to change. Identifying and effecting new structures and policies and functions is one part of that. The other part — a part that, in some ways, is even more significant — is finding the right people to make the public believe in the changes."

Like other New York Times reporters I have criticized for their stories on Teneo clients which don't mention either Clinton, Borden ignored many tweets I made, such as, "I guess when Teneo 'hand-picks' you to attend exclusive FIFA press conference, it's "smart" to call them 'well-regarded' in NYT" and, "I'm sure you're working hard on story on how 'well-regarded' Teneo is probably secretly lobbying US gov't officials for FIFA. ;) @SamBorden."

Last Wednesday's "handpicked" press conference also included reporters from the AFP, Reuters, the BBC and Swiss and German news outlets, according to Lane.

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