The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- How did Howard Rubenstein accumulate such power'

Looking for the first use of the telegraph, I remembered a passage in Aeschylus's Agamemnon which described the use of fire signals to convey the news of the fall of Troy. Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's queen, described it thus:

From Ida's top Hephaestus, lord of fire,

Sent forth his sign; and on, and ever on,

Beacon to beacon sped the courier-flame...

So sped from stage to stage, fulfilled in turn,

Flame after flame, along the course ordained,

And lo! the last to speed upon its way

Sights the end first, and glows unto the goal.

And Troy is ta'en, and by this sign my lord

Tells me the tale, and ye have learned my word.

This is the well known 1909 Morshead translation. But then I came across an unfamiliar recent translation by Howard Rubenstein. Intrigued, I tried to find out who this new classicist was. I discovered that he was also author of two Jewish religious books. And that he was a talented photographer. He once exhibited black-and-white photos he had taken in Antelope Canyon, in Northern Arizona; they are masterpieces of surreal art. But these were his leisure pursuits; for he is a flack, as they say in New York. He is the founder of Rubenstein Associates, a New York public relations firm with billings of $30 million a year, about 450 accounts and an unusually low client-to-staff ratio of 2.6 (and they do not employ peons in New York). 'We are creators of innovative publicity opportunities and communications solutions that support the full range of client objectives. In addition, we are expert at crisis management and financial relations, and serve as counsellors on image management and corporate citizenship...From public affairs to consumer marketing, financial services to entertainment concerns, special events to crisis management, legal services to the fine arts, we have over 45 years experience achieving quantifiable results for our blue-chip clientele.'

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of his firm, Howard Rubenstein threw a party on June 7 at Tavern on the Green in Manhattan. This trendy, Victorian Gothic banquet house was built in 1870 as a sheepfold; by day the sheep had free run of Central Park opposite. Then it was turned into a restaurant in 1934. Today it has a 40-foot bar and a 13,000-sq ft kitchen, and fourteen rooms which can seat over 5,000 guests or entertain over 8,000 in receptions. Rubenstein hosted 3,000, who feasted on gravlox, carved roast beef, pasta and strawberries dipped in chocolate.

Amongst Howard Rubenstein's guests were Hillary and Chelsea Clinton (Bill did not come), Governor George Pataki, Cardinal Eegan, Speaker of the House of Representatives J. Dennis Hastert, New York's mayor Bloomberg and three ex-mayors, Rupert Murdoch with his third wife, Wendy Deng, Larry King, Leona Helmsley, Duchess of York, Tina Brown, Cindy Adams, and Regis Philbin, who comperes the American How to be a Millionaire. In his speech, Pataki joked that had Mr Rubenstein been around to represent the rats during the bubonic plague, the headlines would have read, 'Rodents Unfairly Accused of Mild Rash.' Donald Trump was apparently not there; Rubenstein had represented him in his divorce battle with Ivana Trump, who was represented by John Scanlon.

Scanlon said about Rubenstein on another occasion that his doctor had given him an ethical bypass, and that he was the greatest carrier of water on both shoulders since Rebecca at the well. People like Scanlon who have had occasion to clash swords with Rubenstein hate his guts; even Pataki paid him a left-handed compliment. In politics, the dislike and fear a man inspires are a measure of his power; it is not so different in public relations. How did Rubenstein accumulate such power'

The obvious source is media management for clients. Thus Sarah Ferguson, the divorced wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, had a problem. She was divorced and had boy friends, and was a good source of gossip. No wonder she was hounded by newspapers ' amongst them by Rupert Murdoch's. She contacted Rubenstein, who happened to have represented Murdoch. He arranged a meeting between her and Murdoch, and the sledging stopped. No wonder she is grateful to him for life, apart from whatever he earned for his services.

Another source is his political connections; and in America, there are public, standard ways of building those connections. The way you do it is to fund candidates for elections. You do not have to do it entirely with your own money; a better idea is to get a number of rich people to contribute. A well known technique is dinners to attend which people pay a big sum ' say, $1,000. It is also possible to give larger contributions. The contributions are reported to the government, and are a measure of the candidate's obligation to the giver ' an obligation that the giver can cash in in the form of access if the candidate wins. This is how four mayors of New York as well as the Governor turned up at Rubenstein's party. Funding a candidate is dicey; for if he loses, the winner too will be able to find out that you funded his opponent. So what Rubenstein does is to fund some candidates of both the major parties.

A third source is the general impression that the opponents of those whom he represents get into trouble. Thus he was representing George Steinbrenner, the owner of New York Yankees against one player, about whom a story came out in the press that he had given another player's mother venereal disease.

In a divorce case of Ronald O Perelman, whom Rubenstein represented, there were leaks in the press that a psychiatric report called Patricia Duff, the wife, histrionic, paranoid and narcissistic. Finally, he is a match-maker. He brings warring parties together; if an understanding emerges, they are grateful.

The relations between blacks and Jews in New York are not good; Jews are generally rich landlords and estate agents, whilst blacks often have trouble paying their rent. In 1991, a car in a rabbi's motorcade struck and killed a black child; in the riots that followed, a Jewish student was killed. A black was accused of killing him, but was acquitted. The relations between the two communities sank to a new low. Rubenstein got the black mayor Dinkins to meet Jewish leaders in his house. Not much ice was broken; but when they went out, the press was there in full strength. Their getting together was news itself.

What struck me was the way he handled Michael Gross, a New York Metro journalist who wrote a critical story about him in 1999. He first rang up Gross and asked him to go and talk to him after Gross had finished interviews. He called Gross over and took him around his office. Then he began having daily conversations with Gross; he would tell Gross which of Gross's interviewees had contacted Rubenstein, whom he should be talking to, and Rubenstein's side of the stories Gross was uncovering. At one point he also mentioned that he knew the owner of New York Metro. In the end he got a story which, though critical, was not all that unfavourable. He did quite well as his own PR man.

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