BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
For several years, dozens of articles have appeared in U.S., Israeli, and European newspapers, lavishly praising Azerbaijan and severely criticizing Armenia. Most of these articles are written by non-Azeris who are handsomely compensated by the Azeri government.
One man, Casey Michel, had the courage to expose this scam in a lengthy article titled, “Azerbaijan’s American Media Manipulation.” He had done extensive research, linking several of these pro-Azeri authors to Azerbaijan’s well-financed lobbying activities.
In an attempt “to whitewash its dictatorial image… the autocratic government of Ilham Aliyev has unleashed spin-doctors, duped reporters, and led one of the most brazen pushes to abuse American lobbying loopholes of any foreign government,” Michel wrote.
Some of these hired pens sing the praises of Azerbaijan and mislead the general public by acting as if they are uninvolved third parties who are making objective assessments of the situation in Azerbaijan. Whereas, in reality, these writers are on the payroll of the Azeri regime or its state energy company, SOCAR. Here are some concrete examples:
Former Cong. Dan Burton, who was paid to serve as head of the Azerbaijan America Alliance, wrote at least three op-ed articles in the Washington Post, Washington Times, and Daily Caller on what a wonderful country Azerbaijan is, without disclosing that he was on Baku’s payroll! Fortunately, Cong. Burton quit his job, when Azerbaijan stopped paying him!
Michel then mentions Jason Katz as the most prolific pro-Azerbaijan propagandist, the founder of The Tool Shed Group, a U.S. lobbying firm hired by Azerbaijan. Katz wrote a series of articles in Huffington Post in praise of Azerbaijan’s “democracy,” claiming the country to be “a progressive, cosmopolitan, open, secular and Western-oriented society.”
To his credit, Katz initially disclosed in these articles that he was a “senior advisor to the Republic of Azerbaijan.” However, shortly thereafter, Katz began to conceal his relationship with the Azeri government. Since late 2013, Katz wrote at least nine articles in praise of the Aliyev regime, four of them for Roll Call, and three for The Hill, in one of them foolishly claiming that “the U.S. can learn much from a nation like Azerbaijan,” Michel reported. Katz also wrote an outrageous article in National Review early in 2014, “equating the Armenian government with the Taliban!” In all nine articles, Katz had failed to mention that his firm, The Tool Shed Group, was being paid by Azerbaijan!
Michel went to great lengths to expose Katz by contacting various publications and informing them about Katz’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Azerbaijan. Most of these publications, then added corrections after Katz’s articles were published, noting his close affiliation with Azerbaijan.
For example, the National Review, after hearing from Michel, put a new note under Katz’s name, disclosing that Katz is a consultant to foreign states, “including the Azerbaijani government.” The Hill also inserted an editor’s note after Katz’s name, revealing that “Katz is paid to provide strategic advice to Azerbaijan. This note was added after Katz’s foreign agent registration was brought to the attention of The Hill.”
These articles not only mislead the American readers about Azerbaijan, but cause a further damage when reprinted in the Azeri press as evidence of the high regard Americans had for Azerbaijan!
Switching tactics, Katz’s wife, Mallory Moss, began to write similar anti-Armenian articles on the Artsakh (Karabagh) conflict in mid-2014. She wrote one for the Capitol Weekly and two for the Hill, under the guise of being a nurse! Michel discovered that Mallory Moss had registered under her name the website BakuWoman.com which was reregistered under the name of Jason Katz. “The registrant organization listed for Moss was The Tool Shed Group,” Michel reported. Mallory Moss’s op-eds should have been filed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act of the U.S. Justice Department! When Michel reported to The Hill about Mallory Moss’s association with Jason Katz and The Tool Shed Group, The Hill added an editor’s note under her article: “A firm that is paid to provide strategic advice to Azerbaijan submitted this op-ed. The note was added after information was brought to the attention of The Hill.”
Finally, Michel mentions the case of Prof. Brenda Shaffer who had written pro-Azerbaijani articles for the New York Times and the Washington Post. In both cases, she had failed to mention that she was an advisor or consultant to Azerbaijan’s state-run oil company, SOCAR. Subsequently, both newspapers published an editor’s note exposing her financial relationship with SOCAR!
There are many others who are hired by Azerbaijan to write propaganda pieces in the Western media on behalf of the “Caspian kleptocracy” as Michel describes the country. Unfortunately, we are unable to name these propagandists without a solid evidence of their payoffs from Azerbaijan!