Much of Josh Baran’s work has been in the nonprofit sector. He played an integral role in the founding of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and worked with her until her death.
He also has represented NRDC, AMFAR, Amnesty International, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Temple Emanu-El (New York City), as well as providing communications for two major cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
Josh played an integral communications role in the early days of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (then the Pediatric AIDS Foundation). The essay below is excerpted from the program guide created for the 25th Anniversary celebration of the foundation. At the 2013 dinner, Diane Sawyer, who had been a good friend of the foundation, introduced Hillary Clinton. Josh secured Diane’s attendance and provided Secretary Clinton with some talking points for her speech excerpted in the video below. Elizabeth’s 1991 book In the Absence of Angels: A Hollywood Family’s Courageous Story recounts some of their history working together.
Meditation in Action - from the Foundation’s Program Guide
When the Glaser family was looking for a press agent who could maintain silence, they couldn’t do much better than a former Zen priest practiced in quiet meditation.
Josh Baran was running a small public relations firm in Venice, Calif., in 1987 when his friend Jody Uttal approached him and asked if he would be willing to manage the media for a Hollywood family living with the secret of AIDS. Among publicists, Baran stood out for his compassion, integrity, and mindfulness. A decade previously, he had walked away from his vocation as a priest in a Buddhist monastery to take the path of social change.
Elizabeth and Paul Glaser knew Baran from charity events and thought that he might be the person they could rely on to control rumors that Elizabeth and their two children, Ariel and Jake, had been diagnosed with HIV — a truth that they wished to keep private.
Baran met with Elizabeth and volunteered to help the family manage its secret. Baran’s job would be to keep his ear to the Hollywood grapevine and quickly squash any rumor before it could grow.
Yet, Baran knew that no publicist could control such a story forever..
Frustration over slow progress against HIV pushed Elizabeth to form the Pediatric AIDS Foundation with friends Susan De Laurentis and Suzie Zeegan, with Baran providing support. Elizabeth learned everything that she could about the virus. Within weeks they were sitting in the office of Sen. Alan Cranston. Within six months, they were explaining pediatric AIDS to President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.
With the world finally aware of HIV in her family, Elizabeth realized that the media played a big role in winning support, and Baran shifted from guarding the secret to arranging media interviews; making contacts to support Elizabeth’s 1991 book, In the Absence of Angels; and setting up speaking engagements, like Elizabeth’s 1992 speech to the Democratic Convention.
“Dear Josh, When we needed someone we could trust, we turned to you. You have never let us down and gone way beyond the call of duty. It was a privilege to know you and work with you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your care and help. Love, Elizabeth.” Jan 29, 1991
Nobel Peace Prize: Quiet Campaign for LGBT Rights
For four years, 2013 – 2016, Josh created a “quiet campaign” to make sure that leading LGBT activists from such countries as Uganda and Russia along with their organizations were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee has honored women’s rights, children’s rights, the human rights of people in Tibet, Burma and China, but they have never acknowledged LGBT rights. It is time to do the right thing.
The first year of this effort, GLAAD helped with the project. In 2014, the Arcus Foundation provided funding. In 2015, it was independently funded.
Due to the nature of the process, Josh does not wage a loud public campaign, but instead focuses on securing nomination letters from Members of Congress, House of Commons, members of national assemblies, and professors of law, theology and humanities, all of who are qualified nominators. Nomination letters are due each year by February 1, and the winner(s) is announced in October. The process is private and confidential, so the Committee’s internal process remains opaque. The only fact the Nobel Committee announces is the total number of individual or organizations that made the nomination list.
(Josh has a special connection to the Nobel Peace Prize. When the Dalai Lama won the prize in 1989, Josh helped manage the press conference and interviews. The Dalai Lama just happened to be in Southern California speaking at a conference. Josh was very involved with the media and outreach for the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which played a key role in securing the prize for former Vice President Al Gore in 2007. And in 2011, Josh was handling strategy and special communications for the PBS series, Women, War & Peace, when Leymah Gbowee whose story was portrayed in the first episode, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, was one of the three recipients of the prize that year. Josh handled Leymah's news conference in New York the day the prize was announced and later arranged for Leymah to speak at the 2012 TED Conference)
Temple Emanu-El of new york city
For a number of years, Josh provided strategic counsel and media relations to Temple Emanu-El of the City of New York, one of the world’s largest reform congregations. Under his counsel, the Temple became the focus for New York media when they report on Jewish holidays. He secured significant media coverage for the retirement of the Senior Rabbi and the appointment of the new Senior Rabbi. And in the spirit of new media, Josh worked with the Temple at creating videos and original content for its website and the temple's Facebook page.
On November 16, 2014, the Skirball Center at Temple Emanu-El presented a mock trial of the biblical prophet Abraham. The audience served as the jury. The Wall Street Journal described the event in an advance story:
"It was a father-son hiking trip gone terribly wrong. When they reached the mountain peak, the father tied up his son, placed him on a pile of firewood and prepared to slash the boy’s throat—until he heard a voice telling him to stop. On Sunday, the father—also known as Abraham—will be brought up on charges of attempted murder and endangering the welfare of his son, Isaac, in a mock trial at Temple Emanu-El synagogue on the Upper East Side. Presiding over the Old Testament-inspired case will be U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan. Representing Abraham will be high-profile defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer will lead the prosecution."
1500 people attended the event and it was widely covered. The New York Times reported:
"A majority of jurors bought Mr. Dershowitz's revised argument. On count one, endangering the welfare of a child, the verdict was 748 votes for not guilty. One count two, attempted murder: 687 votes for not guilty, 590 guilty."
Supreme Court: Religious Freedom and Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca is a sacramental hallucinogenic tea used by indigenous religions in Central and South America. In 1999, U.S. Customs agents seized over 30 gallons of the tea, which was shipped to the Santa Fe, N.M., branch of the Brazil-based religious organization, Uniao do Vegetal (UDV). Ayahuasca contains dimethyltryptamine, a banned “Schedule 1” substance.
While no charges were filed, the U.S. chapter of this organization, led by Seagram heir Jeffrey Bronfman, filed suit in federal court, claiming that the seizure was an illegal violation of the church members' rights, claiming their usage was permitted under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The case finally made its way before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2004, Bronfman and his legal team hired Josh to carefully manage the communications around the case. The goal was not to seek major media attention, but to make sure the issues were accurately portrayed with key media.
In a unanimous decision, the court found that the church could use its tea in its ceremonies. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court of eight justices. The Court found that the government was unable to detail the government's compelling interest in barring religious usage of Ayahuasca when applying strict scrutiny as the RFRA demands of such regulations. This decision was a remarkable victory for freedom of religious expression and it was quite a scene on the steps of the Supreme Court to see a few dozen shaman from the Amazon rainforest holding a prayer vigil.
Supreme Court: Under God in the Pledge
Most people don’t realize it, but the phrase “under God” was not part of the Pledge of Allegiance until it was added on Flag Day, 1954, signed into law by President Eisenhower. In the same vein, Eisenhower made “In God We Trust” the official national motto a few years later. These religious phrases were seen as powerful weapons against Communism — and they are both arguably unconstitutional, a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Michael Newdow, a Sacramento, Calif., attorney and emergency medicine physician, filed suit in March 2000 against the Elk Grove Unified School District. Newdow sued on behalf of his daughter, who was enrolled in the Elk Grove public schools, as "next friend." He said the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance amounted to an unconstitutional establishment of religion and that, as such, the daily recitation of the Pledge with the offending words interfered with his right to inculcate his daughter with his religious beliefs. In 2004, the case finally made its way before the U.S. Supreme Court. It was certainly the most anticipated and controversial case of that session.
Josh worked closely with Newdow in managing the media storm, the hundreds of media requests, the news conference on the steps of the Court, appearances on dozens of talk shows and news interviews, and the like. Thousands of people were demonstrating on the steps of the Court. Massive media coverage.
The case was ultimately lost, because the court found that Newdow lacked legal standing to bring the case on behalf his daughter due to custody issues. So the issue might once again come before the court.
Here is a recent overview of the "weird" history of the Pledge of Allegiance.
world economic forum / davos
For a number of years, Josh served as a special adviser on culture and programming for the World Economic Forum's annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland.
Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
Josh was hired by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to undertake a communications audit of the foundation. This process usually takes 4-6 months and includes reviewing the full range of communications activities, analyzing their value and success, interviewing senior staff as well as board members and producing a final report with recommendations. This audit was done a few years before Chris and Dana passed away. The Foundation does wonderful work and Josh knew Chris for some years long before his accident.
Hollywood Women’s Political Committee
From 1984 to 1997, the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee was a major force in electoral politics and progressive political issues. HWPC’s active members include Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn, and many others. They raised money for candidates, held forums and news conferences, and kept important issues in the public eye. They knew how to use their celebrity for the greater good.
Josh and his team worked with the HWPC many times, both as an ally and friend and sometimes in a more formal capacity. HWPC hired Josh and his team to manage their participation in the historic 1989 March for Women’s Rights in Washington, DC. An estimated 600,000 marched in DC for a women’s right to choose. Josh and his team were an integral part of HWPC’s leading role in the march.
Gary hart for president
In 1983-84, Josh served as the Communications Director / Press Secretary for Gary Hart's presidential campaign in California. Hart won the California primary on that Super Tuesday in 1984, but also on that day, Walter Mondale secured enough delegates to cinch the nomination.