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IRI, former Jeb Bush spokeswoman tells all as she allows Raw to 'listen in'

Larry Womack
Published: Friday June 9, 2006

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Calls made by RAW STORY to the International Republican Institute for comment on the recent story by Muriel Kane went unreturned. During one such call, however, group spokesperson Lisa Gates left the phone line open while she explained to an associate why she intended to ignore the call.

"This guy called," she said, "[and] he left me this message that was all very, 'Oh, hi! We're so interested in what you're doing right now, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan!'" This was in reference to a message left by a RAW STORY Managing Editor on Gates' voicemail.

"Right," she told the unidentified male. "You should see the site."

Gates continued her meeting as if the phone line was not open. While discussing the unintelligible other party’s upcoming trip to Liberian capital Monrovia, the group's spokeswoman warned him strongly against talking to the media.

One IRI representative on a foreign assignment, Gates explained, had recently spoken to the media: "Not--not even what she says gets reported. The next thing we know, we have the assistant to the foreign ministry sending out a press release."

"They've used this as an excuse to try to clamp down on us," she warned him. "What you say in one place at one time ends up being something completely different. Keep this in the back of your mind."

"It happens," Gates elaborated, "Mostly with all the stuff in Afghanistan and Iraq. They're clamping down on the office in Russia because of all these things they're seeing elsewhere -- 'Oh, we saw what you did over there, you're not doing that here.'" She acknowledged accusations of attempts to "overthrow" governments, but seemed to imply that they were baseless.

Gates' statement appeared to be a reference to a law signed last January by Russian President Vladimir Putin, restricting activism by non-governmental organizations on the grounds that such groups "cannot be used as a foreign policy instrument by one state on the territory of another." IRI President Lorne Craner said in commenting on this law, "It used to be that groups like ours could fly somewhat under the radar. That certainly is not the case anymore."

As the conversation turned, Gates explained to her associate that IRI actually engages in very few media projects.

"There are other organizations," she explained, "that do a better job of that. Lorne is on the board at Internews."

"There are a couple countries where we do some media stuff. There's a project in Asia, in, is it, Bangladesh? A couple of years ago, somewhere in the Europe division -- in Croatia or something -- I think they did a media program. There are some, it's just not something we're generally a part of."

Subsequent research by RAW STORY revealed that IRI President Lorne Craner is, in fact, on the board of directors for Internews, another group created at the same time as IRI and with a similar mix of government, foundation, and corporate funding. Although more genuinely non-partisan than IRI, Internews has been criticized for attempting to impose a U.S. agenda on the new media it sponsors in other nations.

Another reason not to talk to the media, Gates explained, is that some outlets -- "Usually your ethnic type of publications," she claims -- give the group the shake-down. "Yeah, we'll print that story, and we need an ad buy…"

"Ethnic-type publications" weren’t the only party that the former Jeb Bush spokeswoman announced her contempt for.

As the two attempted to determine if they had met before, Gates recounted her work history. When conversation turned to the state of Florida, a laughing Gates was clearly no longer the official voice of its Governor.

"I hated it," she said, "I’m a big city girl, and once you get outside of Tallahassee…" she drifted off.

"And it’s all union, everywhere," she said somewhat abruptly, before launching into a short tirade about union presence in grocery stores.

Finally, when asked another unintelligible question, she seemed to be referencing the campaign of Katherine Harris. "She's gonna lose -- she's gonna get her ass kicked in the Senate race, and she's gonna get poor doin' it."

In all, RAW STORY was allowed to listen in on the conversation for approximately 15 minutes--the remainder of a 17-minute phone call. IRI did not answer subsequent calls from RAW STORY.

Muriel Kane provided research for this article.