Facebook has been caught secretly paying a major PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, to plant negative stories about Google in the media, according to Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast.
Burson-Marsteller employees Jim Goldman, a former CNBC tech reporter, and John Mercurio, a former political reporter, attempted to get USA Today, the Washington Post and other media outlets to write scaremongering stories about Google’s privacy policies. They even offered to help an influential blogger, Chris Soghoian, write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico and The Huffington Post.
According to Lyons, the plot backfired when Soghoian turned down Burson’s offer and posted the emails that Burson had sent him. You can see it here. It got worse when USA Today accused Burson of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google “on behalf of an unnamed client.”
Palo Alto-based Facebook has since confirmed to Lyons that it secretly hired Burson to go after Google because 1. it believes Google is doing something in the social networking arena that raises privacy concerns and 2. Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service, called Social Circle.
In the aftermath of the revelations, Burson issued a statement saying Facebook asked that its name be withheld “on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media.”
The firm also said withholding the client’s name isn’t standard operating procedure and “against our policies.”
Facebook also issued a statement claiming “No ‘smear’ campaign was authorized or intended” and that it hired Burson to focus on an issue “using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst.”
Goldman joined Burson last year after seven years as bureau chief of CNBC’s Silicon Valley bureau. Before CNBC, Goldman opened TechTV’s Silicon Valley Bureau and was bureau chief for that network in its early days. Goldman got his start in broadcast journalism at KNTV (ABC affiliate at the time) in San Jose after spending three years as a staff reporter for the San Jose Business Journal.
Before Mercurio joined Burson last year, he was executive editor of The National Journal’s Hotline website, according to a Burson press release. From 2002 to 2005, he was CNN’s political editor, where he managed reporters and provided on-air analysis. Previously, he was with Roll Call and the Washington Times.