Pando

The PR rep for Somalia wants to lecture Silicon Valley on lawlessness

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on December 22, 2015

From The Disruption Desk

Earlier this week, a curious little guest post cropped up on the New York Observer's website.

Written by PR consultant Brad Chase of something called “Capitol Media Partners,” the thrust of the column appeared to be that Silicon Valley is doomed to fail because it refuses to play nicely with the government. 

I say “appeared to” because Chase’s argument lurched from stool to stool never really stopping long enough to set down its pint.  What was clear, however, is that many of Chase's complaints about Silicon Valley simply don't reflect reality. He even managed to flub an attack on Uber: An impressive accomplishment given how easy it is to find fault with that particular company. 

Chase framed his post as a critique of daily fantasy sports (DFS) sites but quickly pivoted to the lawlessness of Uber and Airbnb who, Chase complains, still refuse to take the “pragmatic approach” of working with lawmakers. He also claims that the tech industry has created almost no new jobs. 

As any Pando reader knows, the idea that the Uber or Airbnb still suffers from a lack of political pragmatism is laughable: As we’ve reported time and time again, the business strategies of both Uber and Aibnb are now largely set by political insiders, recruited from the upper echelons of government.

Uber has recruited the former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, along with Obama’s former campaign strategist, and the former comms head of the McCain campaign. Lyft’s comms and policy department is run by Bill Clinton’s former opposition researcher-- and, as everyone in the Valley knows, the company is embarrassingly close to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and his partner-in-totally-not-crime Ron Conway (a Pando investor!) These, remember, are companies which previously declared their fierce opposition to lobbyists and political cronyism. Pragmatism in action!

While readers were still puzzling over that, Chase’s post had already lurched off in a new direction, arguing that Uber is actually failing because Lyft has grabbed “nearly 50%” of the ridesharing market in San Francisco. He then abruptly changed course again to hail Uber and Airbnb as “two of the greatest success stories of the decade.”  

There are plenty of signs that Uber is in trouble -- China, unions, lawsuits, you name it -- but to draw that conclusion from its San Francisco market share is plain silly. (According to Chase's own source, the correct share for Lyft is 40%, by the way.)

Perhaps the strangest part of Chase’s column, though, came when he made the unsourced and deeply suspect statement that, thanks to the bad behavior of companies like Uber, “thousands of entrepreneurs are forced to endure a grueling battery of attacks and investigations. Consequently, new companies are moving their business overseas, taking tax dollars and jobs with them.”

Capitol Media is based in LA, but that’s no excuse for being so spectacularly out of touch as to think that Uber and Airbnb have prompted fewer “disruptive” startups to set up shop in Silicon Valley. As a San Francisco renter I dearly wish that were true.

But fine, fine: It’s the holiday season and an editor at an otherwise good east coast paper decided to fill some space by having a dopey PR flack write a few hundred words of Silicon Valley bashing. Worse things have happened, and even the smart PR folks outside the valley can’t be expected to understand the complicated relationship between tech and politics, or to get their facts entirely right when it comes to Silicon Valley entrepreneurship.

Except...

As it turns out, Chase isn’t just any old PR dope. In fact he likes to position himself as an expert in both tech and politics, and has made a hobby out of attacking the tech media (yep, including Pando) for being too friendly with the Valley and clueless when it comes to covering politics.

“Ignorant hilarity,” indeed.

More importantly, Capitol Media Partners isn’t any old PR firm.

The company has since scrubbed its client list from the web, but a dig through the Internet Archive shows that past Capitol clients include the ultra-Conservative political site News Max and…. the nation of Somalia.

Yes, that’s right, the PR person for SOMALIA is lecturing Silicon Valley on lawlessness.

Chase and Capitol Media also have no excuse for not understanding the real relationship between Silicon Valley and DC. Chase’s business partner at Capitol is Richard Grennel, whose name will be familiar if you followed the Romney Campaign, or really take any interest in DC politics.

Here’s a snippet from Grenell’s official bio:  

Grenell was appointed in 2001 by President George W. Bush to serve as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy for the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations. In this role, Grenell advised four U.S. Ambassadors – John D. Negroponte, John C. Danforth, John R. Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad – on the formulation and articulation of United States policy at the United Nations. Grenell was also appointed by John C. Danforth in 2004 as an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the UN Security Council with full voting rights and privileges. Grenell is the longest serving U.S. spokesman at the UN in history….

Grenell previously served as a spokesman for New York Governor George Pataki’s Administration, San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, Congressman and former Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford and Congressman Dave Camp – now the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Grenell has also served as the spokesman for many state and federal political candidates and on two Presidential campaigns.

Chase may be far less accomplished than his partner,  but he too fancies himself as an expert in politics and tech. In a (since deleted) 2011 blog post, Chase accused President Obama of cowardice for not supporting such warm and fuzzy initiatives as... fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline.

In that same post Chase also ranted on the subject of  kidney dialysis and how too much treatment is covered by medicare, thus reducing the flow of cash to healthcare providers. Unfortunately he neglected to disclose the years he spent as Director of Communications for DaVita Inc, a $7 billion private healthcare company that specializes in Dialysis services. DaVita is also a Capitol Media client.

More interestingly, Chase’s 2011 blog post also expressed despair at the problems facing the tech industry. Specifically the fact that Silicon Valley has created too many high paying jobs with not enough trained workers to fill them…

[T]here’s a huge demand for geeks in Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle and other tech hotspots around the nation.  Computer science majors are in high demand and get impressive salaries out of college but there still aren’t enough of them to meet the demand.

The answer to this problem, according to Chase in 2011? For government to get out of the way of Silicon Valley disruptors...

America has long been the world’s leader in supporting ingenuity and entrepreneurship.  Silicon Valley and Hollywood have been successful in growing multi-billion dollar industries from nothing.  The best way to spur job creation is to let Americans create and think and take risks.

That’s right: Brad Chase (2011) is frustrated that tech has so many unfilled job vacancies and is being prevented from creating even more by politicians who won’t get out of the way and allow disruptive entrepreneurs to “create and think and take risks.”

By contrast, Brad Chase (2015) is furious that tech has created almost no jobs whatsoever, and is refusing to ask politicians for help, preferring instead to take too many risks and be too disruptive.

It's easy to get confused about the relationship between tech and politics. And even easier to pick the wrong side in the debate. But it takes real talent to totally and publicly flip one’s public position on the subject in such a short space of time, and still end up on the wrong side.

Actually, I’ve only ever seen that talent so clearly displayed in one other organization. If Chase ever gets bored flacking for Somalia or healthcare giants, there’s surely a job waiting for him at Uber.