If you’ve found your way to this page, there’s a good chance that you’re a journalist who has just had the pleasure of meeting an unusually aggressive PR flak named Jim McCarthy.
First off, relax. If anything, the fact that you’ve run into Jim may be a good thing. This guy has represented some major league Wall Street crooks, so there’s a chance that you’re on to something.
CounterPoint’s current and former clients include:
- Elliott Broidy, a wealthy California investor who pleaded guilty to paying $1 million in bribes to influence former New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.
- Ira Rennert’s Renco Group and its Doe Run subsidiary St. Louis, the largest lead producer in the Western hemisphere. Jim does not want you to watch this video about the company’s operations in Peru.
- The Formaldehyde Council
- The National Fisheries Institute (Think mercury)
- Bond insurer MBIA.
- The College Sports Council
- Hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, who was convicted of securities fraud. (Update: Raj Rajaratnam was sentenced to 11 years in prison.)
- Dallas-based Kosmos Energy, majority-owned by private-equity firms Blackstone Group and Warburg Pincus.
I had the pleasure of dealing with Mr. McCarthy a few times when I was investigating one of those crooks, a guy named Elliot Broidy, so I decided to put together this handy-dandy guide for the perplexed:
Jim is president of CounterPoint Strategies, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. that specializes in an aggressive, combative style of crisis management. Jim is the real-life version of the fictional tobacco flak in Christopher Buckley’s novel Thank You For Smoking. His job is to make your story about you.
He’s the son of liberal journalist and peace activist Colman McCarthy. The acorn fell pretty far from the tree in this case, although the dynamics of that relationship must be pretty interesting. Young Jim registered as a Republican at age 18.
Early in his PR career, Jim handled a variety of Fortune 500 and foreign government accounts for two public relations agencies in Washington, Ruder-Finn and Nichols-Dezenhall, the “brass-knuckled boys” of DC’s PR world.
In 1994, McCarthy started a boutique public relations agency, McCarthy Communications. McCarthy Communications reportedly billed one client, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe of central Michigan, $280,000 for a media campaign designed to force out the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Replying to a BIA spokesman who said he had never seen such tactics, McCarthy said, “I say to Mr. Hackler, welcome to the Beltway.”
A confidential McCarthy Communications proposal was obtained by The Washington Post. (See William Claiborne, “Tribe PR Drive Targeted BIA Head”, The Washington Post, Aug. 16, 1999)
McCarthy was hired by the Augusta National Golf Club in 2002 when the men-only club was under pressure by activist [[Martha Burk]] to admit women. McCarthy advised a “pugnacious” approach. “My clients appreciate that I like to get in the arena, take off the gloves and throw down,” McCarthy told Alan Shipnuck, who wrote a book about Augusta’s battle to keep women out. (See Taking on the Times”, Sports Illustrated, April 6, 2004.)
It’s the first time I’ve done this kind of media criticism as part of an overall strategy for a client, and I don’t know of any other PR firm that has done it. It’s pretty cutting-edge. Big PR firms are like large corporations in that they have always been afraid to take on the press directly, because there is this belief if you create an adversarial relationship, you will never be treated fairly again. But for a venerable institution like Augusta National to embrace that strategy, well, that has certainly opened some eyes. Now I’m trying to build media-crit-driven crisis management into stand-alone business. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be snapped up by a big, deep-pocketed PR firm.
In 2004, McCarthy co-founded Public Interest Watch, a Washington nonprofit heavily funded by Exxon Mobil. According to BusinessWeek, McCarthy’s ex-employer, renamed Dezenhall Resources, helped create PIW in 2002 specifically to prod the IRS to go after Greenpeace.
Just as McCarthy had hoped, deep pockets did find him. McCarthy Communications was hired in 2004 to represent investor Kenneth Langone, who was named in a lawsuit by then-New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer. On Langone’s behalf, McCarthy has repeatedly attacked the credibility of Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize winning business journalist for The New York Times, saying businesspeople regarded her with “pure contempt.” Apparently, Langone didn’t like it that Morgenson pointed out how Langone was a poster boy for executive overcompensation.
In 2008, McCarthy co-founded CounterPoint Strategies. McCarthy is the oversized face of CounterPoint, but behind the scenes is CounterPoint’s chairman, David “Nick” Nichols, a former investigative journalist who went on to found Nichols-Dezenhall, McCarthy’s old stomping grounds.
Before forming Nichols-Dezenhall, Nichols served as a campaign press secretary for New York City Mayor John Lindsay and then headed to Wisconsin where he served as a legislative staffer. Nichols also served for several as a senior media spokesperson for the Cuban-Haitian Task Force, which was charged with dealing with the thousands of refugees from Castro’s Cuba in the Mariel boat lift.
Share your McCarthy horror stories below:
My scoop was very short-lived. Two days later — and one day after The Washington Post’s SpyTalk picked up the item — Perino’s employer, Hamilton Place Strategies LLC filed notice that it was no longer taking up the cause of the mysterious Mina Corp./Red Star.
Congress wants to know whether the sole-source, classified contracts awarded to Mina Corp., Ltd., and Red Star Enterprises Ltd., were a vehicle for the U.S. government to deliver payoffs to the family of Kyrgyzstan leaders who were ousted amid charges of corruption linked to the Manas air base.
Senate lobbying disclosure forms show that on July 12 Mina Corp. hired public affairs firm Hamilton Place Strategies to lobby Congress and the Defense Department. Hamilton Place filed its notice of termination on July 28. The firm’s income from Mina was less than $5,000.
Mina also lost the services of Tony Fratto, another former Bush White House spokesman, and W. Taylor Griffin, a McCain/Palin adviser.
Did former chairman and chief executive Carly Fiorina play a role in the spying scandal that tarnished the once sterling reputation of Hewlett-Packard Corporation?
Revelations in 2006 that company investigators, using private and confidential information provided by HP, had posed as board members and journalists to obtain private phone records and e-mails created a public uproar. HP officials were hauled before Congress and California filed criminal charges against several company officials, including former Chairman Patricia Dunn.
There’s no evidence to suggest that Fiorina knew or condoned this practice, known as “pretexting” (aka lying). The HP board fired Fiorina more than a year before the scandal broke. Fiorina’s own phone records were obtained by HP investigators after she had left the company.
But that’s not the complete story. A look at the record shows that HP’s leak investigations began under Fiorina, who is now running as a Republican to unseat U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, and employed the same security firm who worked for HP during Fiorina’s entire tenure as chairman. Furthermore, the board member Fiorina suspected as the source of the leak became the focus of the investigation.
In January 2005, Fiorina approached attorney Larry Sonsini, the board’s outside lawyer, for advice. Fiorina was extremely upset by a Wall Street Journal story that detailed sensitive internal board discussions about Fiorina’s performance.
Patricia Dunn, who succeeded Fiorina as chairman, testified under oath to Congress:
MS. DUNN: The first inquiry into leaks actually began under the administration of Carly Fiorina, who was Chairman and CEO until February of 2005. She asked Mr. Sonsini to talk with every director one-on-one about the functioning of the Board, and to seek the confession of whoever the person or persons were that were leaking this confidential information, as well as to reassert their commitment to confidentiality going forward. The reason why the Board, by the time I got involved, was so deeply concerned was because they knew that no one had come forward to admit their culpability.
After Fiorina’s ouster, seven of nine HP board members saw the case of the boardroom leak as “unfinished business” by a majority of board members, Patricia Dunn, who succeeded Fiorina as chairman testified to Congress.
Dunn enlisted the services of Security Outsourcing Solutions, a little-known private detective firm in Needham, Mass. SOS had done work for HP during Fiorina’s entire tenure as chairman. About half the company’s work came from HP.
The initial work done by SOS in the pretexting scandal, Dunn testified, “was authorized — by whom I do not know specifically — as an extension to a pre-existing work order under which he was performing various investigative assignments for Hewlett-Packard.” (emphasis added)
Did any of these assignments involved pretexting?
Fred Adler, head of IT security investigations at HP, testified that one of the company’s investigators involved in the pretexting scandal had complained to his manager on previous occasions about the practice.
In her 2006 book, Tough Choices, Fiorina doesn’t mention pretexting or whether she ordered spying on journalists and board members. She did write in Tough Choices that she remained deeply suspicious of another board member, George Keyworth, who was not the source for the Journal article.
A 20-year HP board veteran, Keyworth was a driving force behind the board’s divisive efforts to remove Fiorina, who had aggressively championed a bitterly contested $19 billion merger with Compaq in 2002 that led to a proxy fight, court battle, wrenching layoffs, some cost savings but little in the way of profits.
Keyworth subsequently became a target of the pretexting investigation in a move that likely reflected the lingering bitterness over Fiorina’s ouster.
I’ll be on Investoradio this Saturday, Aug. 21, talking about Ray Lucia and high fees. You can listen online through this link. Just like Lucia, Investoradio hosts Tom Cock and Don McDonald run their own investment advisory, but their fees are less than 1 percent, compared to as much as 2.9 percent for RJL Wealth Management.
Here’s a link to the show.
McCain/Palin campaign spokesman W. Taylor Griffin is coordinating the public relations response to Mina Corp., the secretive defense contractor that is the subject of a congressional investigation into its fuel contracts for a U.S. airbase in Kyrgzystan.
Griffin is a partner in Hamilton Place Strategies LLC, the PR firm that, as I reported yesterday, employs former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and her former colleague, Tony Fratto.
As part of the Palin team, Griffin led a crisis communications team that dealt with the “Troopergate” affair.
Griffin was part of the communications team for the 2000 and 2004 Bush presidential campaigns, and did a stint in the Treasury Department’s Office of Public Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.