The PR Firm Behind WHO’s Celeb Endorsements

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

Story at-a-glance

  • “Soft power” is a term that refers to stealth influencing using celebrities and other social media influencers
  • In May 2020, celebrities and social media influencers agreed to “pass the mic” by allowing the World Health Organization and other pandemic response leaders to use their social media accounts to share their messages
  • The WHO paid PR firm Hill and Knowlton Strategies $135,000 to seek out influencers to help build trust in the WHO’s coronavirus recommendations
  • As noted by Corbett, Hill and Knowlton Strategies was also the PR company responsible for crafting a powerful enough campaign to get Americans to rally together in support of the war against Iraq
  • Hill and Knowlton is also the very same PR firm that the tobacco industry used in 1950 to carry on a 50-year successful strategy to have the public believe that cigarettes were not addictive and did not cause cancer


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

While the United States halted funding to the World Health Organization mid-April 2020,1 and terminated its relationship altogether at the end of May,2 the WHO is still seeking to influence Americans about pandemic responses to COVID-19.

In the Corbett Report3 above, investigative journalist James Corbett discusses Event 201, a pandemic tabletop exercise to illustrate preparedness hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2019.

At the time, they discussed ways to limit and counter the spread of expected “misinformation” about the pandemic. In addition to outright censorship, this also included the use of “soft power.”

Soft Power Plays for Hard-to-Swallow Dictates

Soft power is a term that refers to stealth influencing using celebrities and other social media influencers. Corbett presents the case of Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, who both reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 early on in the pandemic.

They dutifully “modeled” the desired behavior to get tested, self-quarantine and submit to continued observation for as long as necessary to ensure they didn’t spread it to anyone else. That’s one example of soft power.

Celebrities also put on a virtual “One World Together at Home” benefit concert to raise money for the WHO and rally the citizens of the world around the idea that we can get through this if we all just follow instructions and stay home.

In May, celebrities and social media influencers agreed to “pass the mic” by allowing the WHO and other pandemic response leaders, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, to use their social media accounts to share their messages.

If you thought all of these things occurred more or less organically, you’d be wrong. The Daily Caller spilled the beans in the July 17, 2020, article4 “World Health Organization Hired PR Firm to Identify Celebrity ‘Influencers’ to Amplify Virus Messaging.” According to The Daily Caller:5

“The World Health Organization hired a high-powered public relations firm to seek out so-called influencers to help build trust in the organization’s coronavirus response.

WHO paid $135,000 to the firm Hill and Knowlton Strategies, according to documents6 filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act … The contract earmarked $30,000 for ‘influencer identification,’ $65,000 for ‘message testing,’ and $40,000 for a ‘campaign plan framework.’

Hill and Knowlton … proposed identifying three tiers of influencers: celebrities with large social media followings, individuals with smaller but more engaged followings, and ‘hidden heroes,’ those users with slight followings but who ‘nevertheless shape and guide conversations.’”

Hill and Knowlton Has Sold Us Other Lies

As noted by Corbett, Hill and Knowlton Strategies was also the PR company responsible for crafting a powerful enough campaign to get Americans to rally together in support of the war against Iraq.

The ensuing propaganda campaign even included the fake testimony of “Nayirah” before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, October 10, 1990, in which she claimed she’d witnessed Iraqi soldiers coming into the Kuwaiti hospital where she was volunteering and taking babies out of the incubators, leaving them to die on the floor.

As noted by Corbett, “It’s difficult today to understand just how important this testimony was in setting the tone of the debate about whether America should commit military forces in Kuwait.”

What we do know is that in the lead-up to the war, her testimony, which was eventually revealed to be entirely untrue, was repeated on the evening news, in presidential speeches, and by Congressional and Senatorial leaders.

In 1992, it was revealed Nayirah’s gut-wrenching speech had been written for her by Hill and Knowlton Strategies, which had been hired by Citizens for a Free Kuwait, a Kuwaiti government astroturf organization, to help them sell the Gulf War and enlist American support. Even the “Congressional Human Rights Caucus” was found to be a Hill and Knowlton creation.

Hill and Knowlton Connection With the Tobacco Industry

As early as the 1950s, there was a powerful consolidation of scientific evidence showing smoking led to serious respiratory and cardiac diseases. Yet it took 50 years before health concerns about smoking became pervasive enough for smoking rates to drop significantly. How did we stay in the dark for so long?

The tobacco companies’ guiding light through it all was the very same public relations firm they hired in the 1950s: Hill and Knowlton Strategies. Rather than play the losing game of simply denying facts, Hill and Knowlton proposed brilliant strategies. It is revealing to review the bullet points below from a leaked document outlining the objectives of tobacco company Brown & Williamson at the time:

  • Objective No. 1 — To set aside in the minds of millions the false conviction that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases; a conviction based on fanatical assumptions, fallacious rumors, unsupported claims, and the unscientific statements and conjectures of publicity-seeking opportunists.
  • Objective No. 2 — To lift the cigarette from the cancer identification as quickly as possible and restore it to its proper place of dignity and acceptance in the minds of men and women in the marketplace of American free enterprise.
  • Objective No. 3 — To expose the incredible, unprecedented and nefarious attack against the cigarette, constituting the greatest libel and slander ever perpetrated against any product in the history of free enterprise.
  • Objective No. 4 — To unveil the insidious and developing pattern of attack against the American free enterprise system, a sinister formula that is slowly eroding American business with the cigarette obviously selected as one of the trial targets.

Do People Actually Care What Celebs Think?

So, the PR company that sold us the lie about babies being ripped from incubators in order to get us to back Kuwait’s war against Iraq, and convinced us smoking was harmless, is also responsible for the WHO’s celebrity-backed COVID-19 fear-mongering campaign. And, this is likely only a small portion of the propaganda machine.

There are bound to be many other PR contracts and campaigns that we’ve not become privy to as of yet. We can also be sure that these types of propaganda campaigns will get even “bigger and better” once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that people are starting to get wise to the fact that they’re being manipulated, and by whom. For example, Gal Gadot’s A-List-packed viral video in which everyone sang “Imagine,” experienced a surprising backlash.7

Social media followers branded the celebs as “out of touch” with reality, singing about “no possessions” from their multimillion-dollar mansions while millions of hard-working Americans were losing their jobs and family businesses.

The hypocrisy did not go over well. Sure, it’s easy to tell people to “just stay home” when you have a financial safety net that allows you to be out of work for years on end without putting a significant dent in your quality of life.

Not All Voices Are Equal

The Hill and Knowlton prospectus points out that while the pandemic has dominated discussions, “not all voices are equal and not all are cutting through and being listened to.” The question is, who should be listened to? And, have we been listening to the best, most knowledgeable voices?

Of course, it’s become abundantly clear that the WHO thinks it should be the final arbiter of “facts” as far as the pandemic response is concerned, and social media platforms have dutifully obliged by banning, “fact-checking,” removing and deplatforming anyone presenting a different view.

I believe an argument can be made that we have not been hearing from many who truly deserve to be heard from — front-line doctors, nurses, researchers, virologists and scientists who have tried to present important data and feedback about the novel illness, its treatment, and the world’s response to it.

Many conventional doctors have gotten a rude wake-up call, as they’ve had their views and work censored and banned from the web, simply because it does not conform to the WHO’s messaging.

One recent example is that of Sen. Scott Jensen, a medical doctor. In a July 6, 2020, video, Jensen said he is being investigated and is facing disciplinary action and, possibly, loss of his medical license after an anonymous individual or individuals filed a complaint against him with the Minnesota medical board, accusing him of “spreading misinformation” and “giving reckless advice” about COVID-19. “My God, if this can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” he says.

UN Enlists Army of Internet Trolls to Control Discussions

WHO isn’t the only organization trying to control the narrative, of course. Many other organizations are involved, all working toward the same end. The United Nations, for example, recently enlisted 10,000 “digital volunteers” to rid the internet of what they consider “false” information about COVID-19 and to disseminate what they say is “U.N.-verified, science-based content.”

The campaign, dubbed the Verified initiative,8 amounts to an army of internet trolls engaging in censorship in an attempt to shut down opposition and opinions that run counter to the status quo.

The major red flag to the U.N.’s campaign is a lack of detail about what constitutes a “conspiracy theory” or “cure with no evidence to back it up.” Some of the information Verified is aiming to share simply states, “If you come across a post online that makes you really angry or frightened, it’s a sign you might be looking at misinformation.”

In a statement released by the Republic of Latvia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, countries are called on to step up and support the U.N.’s mission to counter the “infodemic” that they claim is “as dangerous to human health and security as the pandemic itself:”9

“Among other negative consequences, COVID-19 has created conditions that enable the spread of disinformation, fake news and doctored videos to foment violence and divide communities.

It is critical states counter misinformation as a toxic driver of secondary impacts of the pandemic that can heighten the risk of conflict, violence, human rights violations and mass atrocities.”

Ironically, in outlining the “crucial need for access to free, reliable, trustworthy, factual, multilingual, targeted, accurate, clear and science-based information,” they call on countries to take steps to stop the spread of information they deem to be false and to spread information from “trustworthy sources,” which is the U.N.’s Verified campaign.

Who’s in Charge of Truth?

The U.N.’s verified campaign is reminiscent of another self-appointed internet watchdog, NewsGuard, which claims to rate information as “reliable” or “fake” news, supplying you with a color-coded rating system next to Google and Bing searches, as well as on articles displayed on social media.

If you rely on NewsGuard’s ratings, you may decide to entirely skip by those with a low “red” rating in favor of the so-called “more trustworthy” green-rated articles — and therein lies the problem. NewsGuard is in itself fraught with conflict of interest, as it’s largely funded by Publicis, a global communications giant that’s partnered with Big Pharma, such that it may be viewed more as a censorship tool than an internet watchdog.

For example, NewsGuard announced that my site has been classified as fake news because we have reported the SARS-CoV-2 virus as potentially having been leaked from the biosafety level 4 (BSL4) laboratory in Wuhan City, China, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. But NewsGuard’s position is in direct conflict with published scientific evidence suggesting this virus was created in a lab and not zoonotically transmitted.

By slapping a “fake news” label on this site, they’re not only doing a disservice to people looking for trustworthy information, but they also spread misinformation themselves. By enlisting an army of trolls to spread their own rhetoric, the concern is that the U.N.’s Verified campaign will do more of the same.

Ultimately, most adults are fully capable of choosing what information they deem credible to share with their social networks, family and friends, without the need for an overreaching Big Brother telling them what’s credible and what’s not.


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