The American magazine Forbes, best known for its lists of the rich, super rich and fantastically rich, has just published another article on the businesswoman Isabel dos Santos. It opted to hire an Angolan political activist to write the piece.
The issue of having Rafael Marques de Morais as the author of the article is a critical one, when it comes to analysing the contents of that article (as he does nothing more than compile rumours, legends and speculations that were already available from other sources). And from the very beginning, upon being contacted by Forbes, we, as Isabel dos Santos's communications consultants, attached the due importance to this issue.
Let us begin at that "very beginning" which was, in reality, the end. We received the e-mail from journalist Kerry Dolan late on a Friday afternoon in August. It was not addressed to me personally – although there had been prior personal contact between us on various occasions – and gave us the weekend in which to respond to a list of some ten questions (from the origins of a prosaic Christmas tree to the macabre anticipation of the death of the Angolan president – "if he dies in office"), to which the responses would be very complex.
I can safely say that not even an institution with the most sophisticated communications department would be able to respond to such a diverse and abstract request within a period of one weekend – a weekend in August, to boot. (Not to mention the question of the time difference: I was in Germany; Kerry Dolan in California. My last e-mail to her ended with me saying: "and now, sorry, I'm going to sleep").
My first reaction was to comment on the lack of professional justification for the choice of author. My argument went thus: "I find it a controversial choice from your side to co-write a supposedly wealth and business article with the help of someone with a well-known political agenda". Kerry Dolan countered with two arguments: 1. the documentation argument; 2. the accreditation argument. Let's deal with them separately.
The documents. It was explained to me that the chosen author for the piece had been hired by Forbes because he had gathered documents for the dossier that it was going to publish. The wording used was: "I disagree with your assessment of Rafael Marques. He has found documents that back up our claims. The article is going to the printers".
In other words, and to respond to some of the comments I have read, Forbes affirmed that it was in the possession of documents and the sequence of its affirmations allows for the conclusion that those documents were going to be printed along with the article. There is nothing more to say about how false that argument is. One only has to read the Forbes story.
Accredited by the "Committee to Protect Journalists"
Accreditation. My perception that the author of the article was a "political activist" was "refuted" by the journalist at Forbes by her sending me a link confirming the accreditation of the person in question as an "investigative journalist" by the "Committee to Protect Journalists" organization.
Now, this argument from Forbes is, in my view, more stimulating than the prior one, although perhaps less evidently so for those outside the media field.
The aforementioned Committee to Protect Journalists (great branding...) is nothing more, nothing less than a front organization (to use the cautious terminology we in Public Relations apply to puppet organizations) that was set up and financed by George Soros.
There are a number of thorough and reasoned academic works that study the philanthropic relationships between Soros and media organizations. With the help of Google one can find, for example, "The Soros Media Empire/The Power of Philanthropy to Engineer Consent". Some organizations referred to as belonging to the Soros "media empire" are: Article 19, Global Forum for Media Development, International Center for Journalists, International Communications Forum, International Journalists' Network, Media Diversity Institute, The New Press, Project Syndicate, to name just a few, in addition to the aforementioned Committee to Protect Journalists.
Please don't get me wrong: it is good that there are philanthropists who support journalists and journalistic organizations. Without such sponsors journalism would be poorer and some professional journalists – the directors of these organizations, in particular – would be worse off. The problem starts when the support is not given on the basis of journalistic work but political activism. And let me be frank here: it is more likely that a philanthropist will sponsor engaged political activism than independent journalism.
George Soros is a special case because he is a cold and calculating financial speculator who became famous for having earned one billion dollars in a single day betting against the Bank of England. One should add, whilst endeavouring to remain succinct in this piece, that Southern Africa is a region that crops up again and again in Soros's business transactions. So much so that it was there that he started his philanthropic activities.
Rafael Marques has confirmed that he has worked for a Soros foundation
In invoking the status of "investigative journalist" for the hired author, Kerry Dolan could have presented as credentials that he is a member of an Angolan journalistic organization (I haven't the slightest notion if he is or not) or of any other of the scores of national and international independent bodies that give journalists accreditation. She could have. But she did not.
She chose precisely that organization from the Soros "media empire" and not any other one. From this we can conclude that Ms Dolan knows or deals with said organisation with an evident naturalness and that, for her, it carries a certain weight.
Each of us is free to choose their influences and the journalists at Forbes – given the importance of that publication – are probably the most influenced in the world. That is not a crime; nor is it a breach of ethics.
As for me - poor me, as I am no Soros – I can only give my personal testimony that Forbes journalists cannot be influenced: I was unable to influence Kerry Dolan to first meet with the person who is the target of this great "investigative" piece, or to publish any of the information I had provided her with (publishing a rebuttal is a legal formality).
Furthermore, the aforementioned accreditation of the article's author by that organization (the world is such a small place) now goes hand in hand with the knowledge that his political activism has been funded by other organizations financed by Soros.
After I wrote that I would return to the subject of the backers of the author hired by Forbes, he himself confirmed that he worked for 7 (seven) years for the Open Society Foundation, one of the organizations financed by Soros (one can only assume that he suspended his journalistic work when he was being paid by this foundation financed by the philanthropist).
He has not yet informed us – but as a political activist he is obliged to do so – of the amount of funding that was made available to him in that period, or of the funds he received from the same sources in the years following his confirmed exit from the Open Society Foundation.
But please don't get me wrong on this. Being a political activist is a noble thing. Inviting a political activist to write an article can be interesting. For example, I would willingly read an article on Portuguese fortunes if Forbes were to commission one from the likes of Daniel Oliveira, Fernanda Câncio, João Galamba or Ana Gomes, to name just a few of the Portuguese activists who have since disseminated the Forbes story (now there's a fantastical scenario – the Soroses of this world pay no heed to our miseries).
However, I would not expect from such an article a modicum of the objectivity, impartiality and detachment that I think should characterize journalism. And no one would regard such an article as investigative journalism.
I think I have managed to expose my views on the dangerous background to an unfortunate article published by Forbes. It is a story that does not flatter the magazine and also discredits the co-author of the article when she seeks to pass off political activism (the word "militancy" seems to have gone out of fashion) as investigative journalism.
Luís Paixão Martins, PR Consultant
This article will be published in the August edition of the print version of Briefing.