US military-entertainment complex cleaning up Saudi regime reputation
Saudi firms are working alongside US corporations, in tandem with Washington, to wash the slate clean.
The military-entertainment complex is at work, and this time with its most crucial client, Saudi Arabia. The US government and its giant corporation lackeys are working round the clock, along with Riyadh, to clean a reputation tarnished with pariah statuses and human rights abuses to pave the way for future cooperation and normalization - in other words, getting those strategic interests.
Partnerships between celebrities and governments are becoming increasingly popular, and it is not very uncommon for private firms to take on projects to link influencers with foreign governments for some good PR.
Recent times have seen US firms welcome a top-dollar client - Saudi Arabia - that has been attempting to launder a good reputation as it paves the way for normalization with what NATO dubs the "only democracy in the Middle East." Within this framework and logic, "Israel" and Saudi Arabia both work to whitewash a dirty slate of endless crimes, and they'll need to keep doing so to work together at this stage.
"[Mohammed bin Salman] tried to launder his reputation, whitewash it through bringing in celebrities to hold concerts, to sportswash it by buying soccer clubs, and anyway he can sort of try to rehabilitate his reputation and his image,” said Seth Binder, director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “I think to my mind, President Biden’s trip is that sort of final complete rehabilitation.”
An article published in Politico exposed details of a proposal from the largest PR firm in the world, Edelman, which devised a strategy to fix Saudi Arabia's bloody reputation - the proposal is an exhibition of how far Riyadh is willing to go to crumble its pariah status today.
The campaign, which Edelman proposed to the US Department of Justice, is a five-year-long campaign named "Search Beyond", which will include productions with international celebrities from within the Kingdom. A former Edelman employee divulged that the celebrities were chosen strategically, and not in a random fashion.
So the idea comes, according to the article, as follows: What if Riyadh hosted Trevor Noah's "The Daily Show" from multiple locations in the country for an entire week, knowing that Noah is a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights among other humanitarian issues? Or, what if Priyanka Chopra, a staunch supporter of women's rights and feminist activism, hops on board the campaign? Other names included famous DJs Steve Aoki and David Guetta, in addition to Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and social media influencer Olivia Culpo. Even a partnership with world-class music festivals like Coachella is on the table.
The cash set to be paid to celebrities, in many instances, is even far more than what they get from acting in a film. The spokespeople for Edelman themselves are being paid about $787,000 over a year of serving their Saudi clients.
This wouldn't be the first project that Edelman is implementing with or in Saudi Arabia. The PR giant also did PR for NEOM Company - the company developing a utopian city on the Saudi coast, and it has also promoted LinkedIn in Saudi Arabia in a way that markets it as a “platform that amplified the voices of Saudi career women.”
However, "Search Beyond" is one of the most profit-bearing projects among most partnerships at home, according to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings. Edelman broke down the costs of the project into 4 categories: research, planning, and strategy; media relations and strategic partnerships; social media plan development and outreach; and client management and reporting.
Edelman also promised to “monitor online conversations and media coverage to identify ‘friends’ and detractors,” “commence a relationship-building programme of US-based media contacts,” and host “monthly client meetings.”
Ben Freeman, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said using pop culture for their "reputational laundering campaign" is something Riyadh has been trying to do for years, whether it is through sportswashing or through Hollywood connections.
“I think that this lobbying campaign … is a big part of the reason why Biden was able to do this trip, why this was at all possible. It’s because of places like Edelman and the other folks working for the Saudis.”
Edelman filed paperwork earlier this month with the Department of Justice to conduct public relations for an advertising company based in Saudi Arabia, with the contract costing $208,000. The Saudi company works closely with the Saudi Data Artificial Intelligence Agency.
With all these ideas up in the air and on the table, nevertheless, an MTV Entertainment spokesperson said that neither MTV nor the Daily Show were involved in "Search Beyond" and declined to comment on whether they will be willing to work with Saudi Arabia in the future.
Hiring PR firms won't be the first and last attempt, especially when reports arose that yesterday at the Jeddah Summit, questions pertaining to Riyadh's pariah status and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi were censored in the media.