A campaign launched by Monitor Group, a managerial consultancy firm in Massachusetts founded by Harvard professors, to improve the public image of Muammar Qaddafi around the world has underscored the ethical problems that arise when the distinction between lobbying and academia becomes blurred, says the Guardian UK:
The Monitor Group, a 1,500-strong firm of consultants with 29 worldwide offices, apologized for mistakes it had made in the course of a PR campaign it ran on behalf of the Libyan leader between 2006 and 2008. The campaign, believed to be worth about $3m, focused on paying for top academic figures to travel to Tripoli for personal conversations with Qaddafi.
The Monitor Group engaged a number of international studies sending scholars, including Joseph Nye, Robert Putnam, Michael Porter, Francis Fukuyama, Nicholas Negroponte, and Benjamin Barber “to the shores of Tripoli in an effort to burnish the regime’s image,” reports Foreign Policy. “The London School of Economics and some of its faculty were deeply involved with Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, as he earned his Ph.D. there in 2007 with a dissertation on — wait for it — liberal democracy and civil society.”
As the Qaddafi family has morphed from pragmatic strongmen to bloodthirsty killers, the fallout in the academic world has been uneven. . . The Monitor Group acknowledged in a statement that, “We … believed that these visits could boost global receptivity for Mr. Qaddafi’s stated intention to move the country more towards the West and open up to the rest of the world. Sadly, it is now clear that we, along with many others, misjudged that possibility.”
The moral of this story in light of Col. Qaddafi’s current violence against his own people: Branding can be dangerous to a nation’s health, but is good business.