This is the first part of our new series on the murky world of astroturfers, corporate hacks, reputation managers, and paid professional trolls who seek to undermine and deter grassroots activism on behalf of well-heeled clients.
Ever since his friend and client Rush Limbaugh smeared Sandra Fluke for the crime of understanding how birth control works, Brian Glicklich has tried every tactic he could think of to shut down StopRush, the grassroots movement that coalesced in the wake of his friend’s three-day tirade. But it hasn’t gone very well. Instead of encouraging his client to apologize to the lost advertisers, Glicklich tried to shame them, causing a stampede of companies from his show — and from talk radio altogether. This made it remarkably easy for StopRush to succeed, so if you were wondering who is responsible for the current junk-bond status of iHeart Media, you can start with Limbaugh and his pal Brian Glicklich. Their helpful intransigence is the reason that 48 of the biggest 50 advertisers specifically exclude Rush from their radio orders.
Desperate, Glicklich turned to Twitter last year trying to ‘name and shame’ StopRush activists — especially women — who use the social media channel. He posted their email addresses, encouraging Limbaugh’s fans to contact the “cat ladies” with curses and threats. When that didn’t work, he started posting their home addresses and calling them at 2 AM. Then as I began reporting on his activities, Glicklich tried extorting me into silence — because he’s such a hero of free speech.
Of course, Glicklich’s actions were clear violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service, so his account has been suspended four times since January. But rather than learn from his debacle, Glicklich has floated a ridiculous conspiracy theory in the pages of USA Today:
Twitter acknowledges its responsibilities to police content in shockingly modest ways. Anyone can report a bad post, and a machine algorithm makes an initial decision whether to suspend an account if it looks like illicit or spam behavior, even if it belongs to a legitimate Twitter user making legitimate comments. Too often it doesn’t work. Extremists “game” this non-human system to suspend accounts fraudulently, and it usually takes days to unwind these wrongheaded tactics.
Get that? If you report Brian Glicklich for breaking Twitter’s rules about not harassing other people, you become an “extremist” using “fraud” to chill his free speech — because when he tweets your address and encourages followers to contact you with threats and abuse, it’s “legitimate,” whereas heckling and ridicule aimed at Glicklich become “vile threats.” Quick, somebody call this man a waaahmbulance for his chapped butt cheeks!
Activists did it to me, then used that period when I was rendered silent by their illicit suspension to start tweeting a false claim that I had “put (a woman) in the hospital,” which was picked up by the “Anonymous” collective, and tweeted to 336,000 people. This resulted in a vile outpouring of hatred and threats of physical harm to me, which I was powerless to correct. A law enforcement investigation continues.
In fact, Glicklich did cause one StopRush activist so much stress that she did wind up in the emergency room, and when the story hit Twitter one of the big Anonymous accounts understandably took offense to Glicklich’s harassment of her. Glicklich’s revision of this history is rich with irony: during the last three years, while StopRush activists were being threatened, stalked, and pestered by the same delightful half-dozen Rush fans who now enthusiastically follow and retweet Glicklich, we discovered that law enforcement is quite unresponsive to pleas for help fighting online abuse. The assertion that police have jumped to vigorously investigate his claims is a ludicrous insult to victims of real online harassment who don’t have PR and legal firms at their beck and call like Glicklich does.
Big friends in low places: the legendary Sitrick PR firm
When Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez finally got in trouble for his obvious use of performance enhancing drugs, he turned to the company where Glicklich works. The Sitrick firm immediately threatened the careers of two other major league players — Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun and Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli — by linking them to Biogenesis, the doping business which had supplied Rodriguez with his muscle boosters. This attempt to deflect attention from Rodriguez with scorched-Earth tactics backfired in spectacular fashion when a federal judge ordered Michael Sitrick, the firm’s founder and Glicklich’s boss, to turn over documents and testify in Rodriguez’s courthouse appeal of his suspension. The same judge later decided not to hold Sitrick in contempt while he appealed the ruling, but then the player wisely switched legal teams, dropped his lawsuits, and accepted a season-long suspension. Rodriguez now apologizes for his aggressive tactics in 2013.
Named for its founder Michael Sitrick, the firm is famous for taking clients that sensible people wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. When NFL quarterback Michael Vick was arrested for his role in a dog-fighting ring, he paid the Sitrick firm $111,000 to rehabilitate his image. The PR game plan, which has been described by gossip site TMZ as “the greatest image makeover in NFL history,” involved finding friendly media outlets and supportive personalities to excuse his sadistic and illegal mistreatment of animals — for instance, there was actress Whoopi Goldberg:
“He’s from the South, from the Deep South … This is part of his cultural upbringing,” Goldberg said of the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, whose recent fall from grace has been one of the most stunning in the history of U.S. sports.
[…] “For a lot of people, dogs are sport,” Goldberg said on the show. “Instead of just saying (Vick) is a beast and he’s a monster, this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned.”
I’m also from the Deep South, where we do have laws against dog-fighting, after all, so I call bulls**t. And if you’re wondering why Whoopi would have anything to do with Michael Vick, or why she would spout such nonsense, the answer is that both of them are involved in Scientology. (Whoopi never discloses this when she defends the cult on television.)
The Sitrick firm, which often uses one Scientologist to support another in its PR campaigns, infamously claims the world’s best known mafia organization-pretending-to-be-a-religion as a client. In fact, right now Sitrick’s employees are busy doing damage control because of Alex Gibney’s forthcoming HBO documentary about the organization, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.
Sitrick doesn’t just ‘work for’ the cult of Scientology; many of their everyday tactics seem to come straight from the David Miscavige playbook for “suppressive persons,” i.e. opponents of the church or people who have fled its abuses and could potentially harm its image. In order to maintain access to family members who are still inside the cult, former members like author Neil Gaiman keep quiet about what goes on there — and allegedly even pay off the organization — to avoid being labeled as “SPs.” It’s easy to see why: Scientology regards its critics as “fair game” for wiretapping, smearing, framing as criminals, and vexatious litigation. Until 1985, the cult actually maintained that these activities were constitutionally-protected acts of religious faith akin to ‘shunning’ in Amish communities.
If those tactics seem familiar, it’s because Brian Glicklich has been using some of them against StopRush activists lately.
Public relations as ideological combat: a case study in Google smears
Let’s get back to StopRush activist Carol. Already alarmed by Glicklich’s connections to unsavory characters and organizations, when he was suspended for posting her name and address on Twitter she decided to seek a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in the State of California. That process is intentionally difficult, with a high burden of proof, and after a few days she decided to drop the effort. Yet as soon as Glicklich learned about it, he transformed the incident into a “lawsuit” — one aimed at shutting down his free speech — and found a myriad of ways to repeat that theme across the internet until it took on a life of its own.
First, he filed an anti-SLAPP action against Carol. (There has been a hearing and we are waiting for the court to issue a decision.) Glicklick even had his lawyers get the court to resurrect her TRO application for this purpose. Then he put the Sitrick machine into overdrive, roping as many websites as possible into his publicity scheme, the purpose of which is to negatively impact Google results for Carol’s name with a ginned-up story about a nonexistent lawsuit. Glicklich is completely open about this, even posting a document on LinkedIn titled titled “Controlling Search Engine Results in Adversarial Communications” to brag about his exploits. I’m mentioned in it, too. I’ve been smeared by trolls before, but this is a professional troll:
The problem in controlling Matt’s search results is different. He has a common name, and spends a lot of time writing all over the Internet. He’s a self-styled Internet expert, as well. Simple article placement was inadequate.
So the technique was different. In my research, I found that a singer in Canada sharing his name had sadly passed away in 2004, and thus ended ownership of the “MattOsborne.com” website. As is common, the registrar had simply held it, rather than putting it back in the domain pool for purchase. All it took was a quick email and a short, inexpensive negotiation to become it’s new owner.
Why does this matter? Google uses hidden “signals” to determine search rank, and one of the most powerful is when a search (“Matt Osborne”) is an exact match to a website’s URL (“MattOsborne.com”) So owning it was a big advantage.
It’s important to note that Glicklich constantly claims that StopRush “harasses” advertisers, though he has never produced a single example of this alleged harassment, while every volunteer doing direct advertiser contact calls is constantly reminded to remain polite and civil. (In fact, most of these companies are unaware their ads are playing on Limbaugh’s show.) On Twitter, however, activists do often express their displeasure with companies that still advertise on the program — which is their right, after all, because this is still America. But Glicklich considers this free speech “harassment,” in turn justifying his own harassment of activists as “free speech.” See how that works?
Glicklich is a master of meta-propaganda: falsehoods used as building-blocks to construct bigger falsehoods and invert realities, transforming himself into a noble David instead of the evil Goliath. Carol’s abortive attempt to gain a civil order of protection becomes a “lawsuit” against him, which he then adds to the collective narrative of evil, horrible activists “harassing” advertisers to hurt poor innocent Rush Limbaugh.
Happily, Twitter hasn’t been persuaded by Glicklich’s denials of responsibility for his own tweets, or by this long and deluded letter that his lawyers sent to the social network’s General Counsel (a failure which he is still whining about). But Twitter’s cooperation isn’t necessary for his primary purpose, which is smearing activists through Google results. For that job, he has an entire staff who work with media outlets every day to push stories and get them prominently placed at any number of websites. Thus, “StopRush harasses advertisers” takes on a life of its own, whether or not it’s the least bit true.
With online reputations becoming more valuable than money or power these days, Glicklich’s strategy is to destroy and damage his enemies with the biggest falsehoods he can dream up. Remember, this is a guy who willingly works for a cult which claims the Nazi Holocaust was committed by Jewish psychiatrists.
TL;DR SUMMARY: Brian Glicklich, Rush Limbaugh’s fixer, attacks the social movement that has killed advertising revenue for his friend in five key ways.
- Accuse the accusers. Claim that you are a free speech hero, while the other side is a tiny group of evil people trying to shut down your free speech rights. Pretend they use nonexistent “illicit software” to conduct a criminal conspiracy, steal your private photos, etc. Call them names.
- Build a small, like-minded core following in social media to amplify your message. Pretend they represent a huge ‘silent majority.’ Constantly claim that victory is close at hand and that you have “exposed” your targets.
- Harass your enemies in social media until you get suspended, then pretend that you are the victim of an imaginary criminal conspiracy to stifle your speech. File phony lawsuits and fraudulent DMCA takedown notices.
- Call them in the middle of the night and rant about third parties whose names they don’t know. Encourage your following to send threatening and harassing communications, then project the behavior on your targets.
- Brag. Detail everything you do to them in a pseudo-professional format so that it seems like you’re not just an overpaid troll with a law office and a PR firm backing you up.