Howard Bragman Advises Media People

Question: How should journalists interface with publicists?

Howard Bragman: I’m glad I have a journalistic education, a journalism degree, and have worked with journalistic outlets. And for me, what’s most important is that I still respect the journalists. There are a lot of Hollywood publicists who like to have power over journalists and like to intimidate journalists. I’m never been that way, even if I am in a situation where I have a superstar, it doesn’t mean I can’t be courteous and nice to a journalist, because we’re all trying to achieve the same thing, okay? And I’m trying to make friends, not enemies, out there in the world. What I’ve learned is speed, integrity, kindness… And, you know, I had a client recently who was getting a divorce, and this client said to me, “Well, just lie.” And I said, “I will say I’m not going to comment on that because it’s a private matter,” but I said, “I’m not lying. My reputation is something that I’ve achieved over many years in this business, and I’m not going to take 30 years and throw it away when your husband’s living in a hotel and everybody knows it,” you know? So you really have to understand that your reputation and your integrity are what you have, and people know. Don’t think journalists don’t talk to each other. Don’t think they don’t know who the nightmares are versus the people who are smart. And it goes back to my first job in PR, why did I get into PR? People weren’t reading my magazine and I thought, “All you got to do is read the magazine.” I look at that today, I look at people in my office and I’m like, “If you want to pitch somebody in the LA Times, you don’t call the editor-in-chief of the LA Times.” You say, “Well, I want to be in the calendar section and this person writes about TV and this might be the right person because they cover this particular nuance,” you have to do your work and you can’t be a good PR person without being a good consumer of media. And from my friends who are journalists, I would say that not all PR people are [flaks]. A lot of us have a lot of respect and a lot of integrity and a lot of professionalism, and give us a break, too, and communicate with us like we communicate with you. If somebody doesn’t return my e-mail or a phone call, I get frustrated the same way they would if I didn’t return theirs, and we sort of need each other. It’s not going to work for either of us as well without each other, I promise you. Question: How would you advise newspapers as they grow digitally? Bragman: I think there’s one misunderstanding out there and that is that young people don’t care about the news. I think the opposite is true. I see the young people in my office and the young people that I know online, on the web, going to TMZ, going to Perez Hilton, almost multiple times per hour, in a way where we, our generation, would wake up, read the newspaper and go on with our day and watch the news at night. So I wouldn’t mistake it for a lack of interest. I think it’s really the vehicle, and it’s like the trains back in the early part of the last century. They made the mistake of thinking they were in the train business and not realizing they were in the transportation business, and I think newspapers have to understand they’re not in the newspaper business, they’re in the news dissemination business. And if you’re the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times, you’re losing some advertising, you’re losing readers and you have some real challenges. But at the same time, you bring some things to the table in terms of history, in terms of credibility that these bloggers can’t compare to and you have to play to your strengths, and there may be some painful times, but I don’t think they’re going away. I think they may reincarnate themselves. I think they will come out in new forms. When I’m doing a campaign, it really depends who I want to reach. If I want to reach older, more traditional people, I’m going to go for print and traditional broadcast. If I want to reach young people, I’m going to be viral there. And for most campaigns, it’s like food, you don’t just want to eat meat or you don’t want vegetables or you don’t want carbs, you want to mix it up. As I go and promote my book, I have a mix of online, I have a mix of radio, I have a mix of print, I have a mix of broadcast, I have social networking. You want a pretty balanced diet out there to reach the broadest possible audience. Question: Where do you see the New York Times in the future? Bragman: I think the New York Times is going to become something you read on your personal computer device that is your phone and your iPod and all these things at once, and I think they’re going to have to adjust to this reality. At the same time, there are people who are never going to be happy unless they get the paper on their front steps or they buy the paper at the newsstand, and that’s why we’re going through this transition. I think what [Kendall] has done for books really is the future of books. It’s too expensive to print things anymore. It’s bad for the environment to print things, other than my book, which is good for the environment, but most books, most newspapers, it’s bad for the environment. You read this thing for a half-hour, you throw it in the garbage, and you start, again, there’s a lot of waste there. And I just think, economically, we’re not going to be able to afford it. But I don’t think we’re at the place we need to be where you have a beautiful 8-1/2 X 11 reader that has everything clear and it’s thin and it’s transportable. I think we’re just a few years away from that and I think that’s when the New York Times is really going to understand what their future is, as well as the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times. Question: Do we still need mainstream media? Bragman: You know, it’s interesting and there’s a very symbiotic relationship. Sarah Palin kept complaining about the media during the presidential campaign and she said she wanted to operate without a filter. Well, Hollywood celebrities have been starting to do that. Owen Wilson had a suicide attempt last year, and his first interview when he came back was done with his director, and I think it was done on MySpace or Facebook, where he did an interview, and that way, he didn’t deal with a traditional journalist. However, traditional media outlets still got that story out there after he did the interview. And in my own PR life, I worked with Al Reynolds, who is a college professor and a financial expert. Probably well known for being married to Star Jones and we were approached by every mainstream media outlet in the world to do the first interview. And I knew they would sensationalize him. I knew they would sleaze him, so we conducted our own series of interviews, put them on YouTube, and then released him to the mainstream media. And, you know, we needed the mainstream media or we wouldn’t have gotten out there. We were very journalistic in the way we approached the questions and answers with him. We asked all the tough questions [and the outlook] would ask us, which is why we didn’t face a lot of criticism from it. So I think they work together, and you really have to understand that they work part and parcel with each other, and it’s important to understand what’s going to play with mainstream media and which you can get away with on YouTube and MySpace and some of these social networking sites.

Howard Bragman explains the mutualism that binds journalists and publicists and makes some predictions for the New York Times.

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Sponsored by Lumina Foundation
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  • Systemic historic factors have contributed to inequality in the education system. Lumina aims to close those gaps in educational attainment.
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What was it like to live in a Japanese concentration camp?

During World War II, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps throughout the West.

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Now that the issue of concentration camps in the U.S. has once again reared its head, it can be beneficial to recall the last time such camps were employed in the U.S.
  • After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps, ostensibly for national security purposes.
  • In truth, the incarceration was primarily motivated by racism. What was life like in the U.S.'s concentration camps?

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized and directed military commanders "to prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion." Under the authority of this executive order, roughly 112,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent — nearly two-thirds of which were American citizens — were detained in concentration camps.

How did the camps get their start?

With the benefit of a nearly 80-year perspective, it's clear that the internment of Japanese Americans was racially motivated. In response to Japan's growing military power in the buildup to World War II, President Roosevelt commissioned two reports to determine whether it would be necessary to intern Japanese Americans should conflict break out between Japan and the U.S. Neither's conclusions supported the plan, with one even going so far as to "certify a remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among this generally suspect ethnic group." But of course, the Pearl Harbor attacks proved to be far more persuasive than these reports.

Pearl Harbor turned simmering resentment against the Japanese to a full boil, putting pressure on the Roosevelt administration to intern Japanese Americans. Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who would become the administrator of the internment program, testified to Congress

"I don't want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."

DeWitt's position was backed up by a number of pre-existing anti-immigrant groups based out of the West Coast, such as the Joint Immigration Committee and the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. For many, the war simply served as an excuse to get rid of Japanese Americans. In an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Austin Anson, the managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Administration, said:

"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the White man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. ... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks because the White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."

Ironically for Anson, the mass deportation of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 meant there was a significant shortage of agricultural labor. Many Caucasians left to fight the war, so the U.S. signed an agreement with Mexico to permit the immigration of several million Mexicans agricultural workers under the so-called bracero program.

Life in the camps

Japanese American concentration camp

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Circa 1943: Aerial view of a Japanese American relocation center in Amache, Colorado, during World War II. Each family was provided with a space 20 by 25 ft. The barracks were set in blocks and each block was provided with a community bath house and mess hall.

For the most part, Japanese Americans remained stoic in the face of their incarceration. The phrase shikata ga nai was frequently invoked — the phrase roughly translates to "it cannot be helped," which, for many, represents the perceived attitude of the Japanese people to withstand suffering that's out of their control.

Initially, most Japanese Americans were sent to temporary assembly centers, typically located at fairgrounds or racetracks. These were hastily constructed barracks, where prisoners were often packed into tight quarters and made to use toilets that were little more than pits in the ground. From here, they were relocated to more permanent camps — replete with barbed wire and armed guards — in remote, isolated places across the seven states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.

Many of these camps, also known as War Relocation Centers, were little better than the temporary assembly centers. One report described the buildings as "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Again, overcrowding was common.

As a result, disease became a major concern, including dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. This was problematic due to the chronic shortage of medical professionals and supplies, an issue that was not helped by the War Relocation Authority's decision to cap Japanese American medical professional's pay at $20 a month (about $315 in 2019 dollars), while Caucasian workers had no such restriction. As a comparison, Caucasian nurses earned $150 ($2,361) a month in one camp.

The U.S. government also administered loyalty questionnaires to incarcerated Japanese Americans with the ultimate goal of seeing whether they could be used as soldiers and to segregate "loyal" citizens from "disloyal" ones. The questionnaires often asked whether they would be willing to join the military and if they would completely renounce their loyalty to Japan. Due to fears of being drafted, general confusion, and justified anger at the U.S. government, thousands of Japanese Americans "failed" the loyalty questionnaire and were sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake. When Roosevelt later signed a bill that would permit Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship, 98 percent of the 5,589 who did were located at Tule Lake. Some apologists cite this an example of genuine disloyalty towards the U.S., but this argument clearly ignores the gross violation of Japanese Americans' rights. Later, it became clear that many of these renunciations had been made under duress, and nearly all of those who had renounced their citizenship sought to gain it back.

Since many children lived in the camps, they came equipped with schools. Of course, these schools weren't ideal — student-teacher ratios reached as high as 48:1, and supplies were limited. The irony of learning about American history and ideals was not lost on the students, one of whom wrote in an essay --

"They, the first generation [of Japanese immigrants], without the least knowledge of the English language nor the new surroundings, came to this land with the American pioneering spirit of resettling. ...Though undergoing many hardships, they did reach their goal only to be resettled by the order of evacuation under the emergency for our protection and public security."

Potentially the best part of life in the camps — and the best way for determined prisoners to demonstrate their fundamental American-ness — was playing baseball. One camp even featured nearly 100 baseball teams. Former prisoner Herb Kurima recalled the importance of baseball in their lives in an interview with Christian Science Monitor. "I wanted our fathers, who worked so hard, to have a chance to see a ball game," he said. "Over half the camp used to come out to watch. It was the only enjoyment in the camps."

The aftermath

When the camps finally closed in 1945, the lives of the incarcerated Japanese Americans had been totally upended. Some were repatriated to Japan, while others settled in whichever part of the country they had been arbitrarily placed in. Those who wished to return to the West Coast were given $25 and a train ticket, but few had anything to return to. Many had sold their property to predatory buyers prior to being incarcerated, while theft had wiped out whatever else they had left behind. Many, many years later, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act mandated that each surviving victim be paid $20,000, though that seems like a small fine to pay for irrevocably changing the courses of more than 100,000 lives.