Bush adviser’s PR firm running defense for West Virginia coal mine

By Daniel Tencer
Monday, April 26, 2010 15:46 EDT
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The company that runs the West Virginia coal mine where 29 workers died earlier this month has hired a PR firm run by a former top adviser to President George W. Bush to help fend off bad publicity in the wake of the disaster.

With some groups calling for the arrest of Massey CEO Don Blankenship, and a shareholders’ revolt brewing over the April 5 disaster, Massey Energy has turned to Austin, Texas-based Public Strategies Inc. for advice on how to handle the firestorm of criticism.

The company’s president and CEO is Dan Bartlett, a veteran of President Bush’s communications team who was linked to efforts to expose the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame in the Plamegate affair. Public Strategies’ hiring was first reported by the Wall Street Journal last week, and flagged by Zachary Roth at TalkingPointsMemo.

The PR firm “has been brought in by the mining company’s board in recent days to advise it on how to respond to questions about the company’s governance and the board’s general oversight of the company,” the WSJ reported. The newspaper describes the PR firm as being “politically connected.”

On its Web site, the company indicates that it uses public opinion pressure and “grassroots marketing” operations to promote the political agendas of its clients.

“Our approach to government relations integrates direct advocacy and public opinion marketing to influence decision-makers,” the company’s Web site states. “Once we determine the appropriate message, we build a solid infrastructure of supporters to back the public affairs initiative through a combination of grassroots marketing and third-party ally recruitment.”

“The Bush administration was known to be friendly to the mining industry,” TPM’s Roth reports. “It appointed a mining executive to run the federal agency that oversees mine safety, and President Bush received generous campaign contributions from the industry.”

Bartlett had been with Bush for much of the former president’s political career. He began at age 23 as a campaign worker for Bush’s 1994 Texas gubernatorial run, eventually ending up as President Bush’s White House communications director.

Following former ambassador Joe Wilson’s editorial questioning the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had acquired uranium, Bartlett was said to have been among White House advisers who pressed the media towards revealing the identity of Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame.

President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy Sunday for the 29 coal miners who died in the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, on April 5, saying that they had died in pursuit of the American dream.

“All the hard work. All the hardship. All the time spent underground,” Obama said. “It was all for their families. For a car in the driveway. For a roof overhead. For a chance to give their kids opportunities they never knew; and enjoy retirement with their wives. … It was all in the hopes of something better.”

Following the disaster, it emerged that Massey’s Montcoal mine had a litany of security violations, 57 just in the month of March alone.

On Monday, Bobby Inman, a member of Massey’s board, assailed unions for what he called a “big lie” about the company trading safety for profits. Reuters reported:

Asked during a press conference whether miners’ safety was compromised because the company used nonunion workers, Inman said no. “My anger is centered around the allegation that we traded safety for profit.

“And where did this big lie come from? It was first mentioned by a plaintiff’s lawyer, then the president of the (labor federation) AFL-CIO, then the head of the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) and even the president of the United States.”

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