Somoza’s Mad Men

At the end of the Second World War governments from around the world turned to U.S. public relations firms to improve their image abroad and help curry favor with foreign officials, particularly those of the United States. Amongst those foreign governments employing U.S. PR firms were the former Axis power nations if Italy, Japan, and West Germany, as well as many of Latin America’s more autocratic regimes, including that of Anastasio Somoza Garcia in Nicaragua.

Somoza Garcia employed the services of Max Rogel Inc., a “Madison Avenue” – they claimed in their advertisements that their offices were on Madison Avenue but they actually operated out of Newark, New Jersey – firm that serviced both domestic and international clients. In its relationship with the Somoza regime, Max Rogel Inc. acted as the dictator’s voice to the broader world, churning out news articles about Nicaragua and sending them to major U.S. newspapers. These articles largely painted Somoza in a flattering light, but they also provided publicity for foreign governments ignored by the mainstream U.S. media. In this regard, Max Rangel Inc. acted as both publicist and propagandist of the Somoza regime, but that does not mean that the firm was entirely loyal to the dictator.

In selling its services to the Somoza regime, Max Rangel Inc. was not above over promoting or lying to the dictator. The firm claimed that it had “a comprehensive news service that makes it possible to flash a story or photograph to every major newspaper in the United States” and that it was a service extended to them by the Associated Press or United Press International, the two major news services of the post-war era. In fact, what the firm was referring to was the PR Newswire that only operated in New York City and had no affiliation with either the Associated Press or United Press International. Although the politics of Max Rogel are unclear, they clearly had no scruples against working for a murderous dictator, or ripping him off.

On a completely unrelated note, I found a 1954 Wall Street Journal article detailing how the Federal Trade Commission told a subsidiary of Max Rogel Inc., The Charm Institute, to stop making phoney claims. The FTC accused the Charm Institute of making false claims about its “gold medal,” which was an award given to a product that was apparently “judged by famous stage and screen stars to be superior.” However, the FTC found that “famous people neither participated in any judging nor in the companies activities.” In both its domestic and international dealings, the truth was obviously a malleable thing for Max Rogel Inc.

Resources:

Douglass Cater, Power in Washington: A Critical Look at Today’s Struggle to Govern in the Nation’s Capital (New York: Random House, 1964), 214-216.

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