Clients and projects have included Phil Donahue's documentary Body of War; Peace is Loud; PBS’s five-part, primetime special Women, War & Peace; the film The Whistleblower; Plot for Peace; the 1982 California Nuclear Freeze Campaign; and the TV special The Day After, which is consider one of the most audacious and unconventional PR campaigns in history.
Peace is Loud and Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here
Peace is Loud’s mission is to generate a groundswell of people committed to building a culture of peace. Founded by activist, filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney, Peace is Loud inspires action through media and live events that spotlight women leaders on the frontline of peacebuilding worldwide.
In 2014-2015, Josh was engaged to help them with strategic communications and to promote some of their leading voices, including author Karima Bennoune and Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. In her 2014 book Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, activist and legal professor Karima Bennoune profiles Muslims who are bravely standing up to Islamist extremist groups. When the Charlie Hebdo massacre occurred, Josh alerted key media within an hour — especially cable news — that Karima was available and would be an excellent commentator. She was quickly booked on many shows on MSNBC, CNN and NPR. She has appeared multiples times on Anderson Cooper 360.
Women, WaR & Peace — Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Women, War & Peace is PBS’s five-part, primetime television special series challenging the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain. Debuting on October 11, 2011, and spotlighting the voices of women working for peace worldwide, Women, War & Peace reframes our understanding of modern warfare. With celebrity narrators Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Geena Davis and Alfre Woodard, this series is the most comprehensive global media initiative ever mounted on the roles of women in peace and conflict. The series’ creative team was headed by executive producers Abigail E. Disney, Pamela Hogan, and Gini Reticker.
Josh was engaged to conduct a special media campaign in support of the series. Just as the series was about to debut, Leymah Gbowee, who is prominently featured in "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," the second episode of this series, was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Josh handled much of her media in response to the Prize, and then arranged for Leymah to speak at the annual TED gathering in 2012.
Plot for Peace
Nelson Mandela’s release was a "plot for peace." A previously unknown and improbable key to Mandela’s prison cell was a mysterious French businessman dubbed “Monsieur Jacques” in classified correspondence. His real name was Jean-Yves Ollivier and he played a crucial role in key negotiations that lead to the end of apartheid and Mandela’s eventual release. For nearly 25 years, his contribution remained hidden. His story is told for the first time in the 2014 documentary thriller Plot for Peace.
Josh was part of the communications team along with René Harper of KaiKai Communications and PMK-BNC to promote the film to various audiences beyond the entertainment media.
Body of War
Directed by legendary talk show host Phil Donahue and award-winning filmmaker Ellen Spiro, the 2007 Body of War is a riveting documentary film about how the Iraq war affected one soldier — Tomas Young, wounded and paralyzed.
Phil hired Josh to assist him with all aspects of bringing this film into the public arena, working on this project for a year and a half. Josh helped secure a sales agent, created and implemented a full campaign that included film festivals, special written materials, media outreach, national and local publicity appearances and tours.
The film was popular at both the Toronto and the Hampton’s film festivals. Body of War was named best documentary of 2007 by the National Board of Review. The filmmakers received extensive media coverage, appearing on the Today Show, Bill Moyers, Tavis Smiley, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, and in print articles in most major daily newspapers. It was released in over 15 cities.
Sadly, in November of 2014, Tomas passed away.
Inspired by actual events, in The Whistleblower Rachel Weisz portrays an American police officer who takes a job working as a United Nations peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Her expectations of helping to rebuild a devastated country are dashed when she uncovers a dangerous reality of corruption, cover-up and intrigue amid a world of private contractors and multinational diplomatic doubletalk. Directed by first-time filmmaker Larysa Kondracki, The Whistleblower also stars Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn. The film was in theaters in August and September, 2011.
Josh was hired by the film’s distributor, Samuel Goldwyn Films, to engage NGOs and nonprofit organizations in support of the film, set up special screenings, and pitch the film to non-entertainment media. In a remarkable turn of events, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon agreed to show The Whistleblower to the entire top staff at the UN and hold a special panel discussion afterwards. This screening was attended by nearly 1,000 UN staffers. The panel discussion following the film was extraordinarily frank.
An essay-post on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations (Aug 2015) highlighted the issues addressed in The Whistleblower.
Sputnik Mania: 50-Year Anniversary
October 4, 2007, was the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik and the dawn of a new scientific age. Sputnik Mania was a feature documentary from filmmaker David Hoffman that chronicled the launch of Sputnik and the excitement and fear that followed in its wake. However, the film was just finished in late summer 2007 and did not yet have a distributor as the big anniversary date approached. There was no question that the media would be covering this anniversary in a big way.
The producers of the film hired Josh — working closely with his Washington, D.C. team — to capitalize on this anniversary moment that would not come again. Activities included first pushing for the renaming of the film (from The Fever of ‘57 to Sputnik Mania); creating key messages and talking points for the filmmakers; widely disseminating clips from the film to thousands of television stations worldwide; promoting the filmmakers on radio, television and in print interviews; publicizing a major event with the Business Roundtable and the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. associated with the anniversary; and getting media coverage of an actual Sputnik satellite — a back-up unit that was created at the same time as the original and owned by Jay Walker, the film’s Executive Producer.
Fahrenheit 9/11 and Moveon.org
In support of Michael Moore's groundbreaking film, Fahrenheit 9/11, Josh Baran and Fenton Communications created and implemented a special campaign for Moveon.org. Michael Moore joined over 55,000 people in 4600 house parties stretching from Maine to Alaska on the weekend his film opened. The result: MoveOn members committed to reaching out to hundreds of thousands of unregistered voters in key swing states on July 11. Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 was an incredibly powerful movie that lays bare the cynicism and greed behind Bush's war policy. People attended theatrical screenings of the film the first weekend and then hosted or join together at house parties on Sunday evening. Michael Moore spoke to the gatherings via conference call. This was probably the most successful grassroots house party event in history. (Note: Baran / Fenton did not handle the publicity outreach for the film itself.)
The illusion of missile defense - 2000-2001
During the late 1990's, there was a resurgence of putting billions of dollars and major faith into a missile defense system - National Missile Defense or "Star Wars" as Reagan called it. This push came with proclamations that these "kill vehicles" were effective at intercepting incoming warheads. This was an illusion. Josh along with his associate Steve Kent organized a major news conference along with editorial briefings in Washington, DC with MIT Professor Theodore Postol for Fourth Freedom Forum and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. The news conference attracted extensive national and global media attention including a front page story in the New York Times.
bush and gore at the nuclear crossroads
Boston Press Briefing - The next presidency, nuclear security and national survival. Working with my associate Steven Kent, we promoted a panel co-organized by Global Security Institute and Fourth Freedom Forum featuring Jonathan Alter, Newsweek Magazine; Bill Joy, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, Sun Microsystems; Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense; Jonathan Schell, Harper’s Magazine; Admiral Stansfield Turner, former Director, Central Intelligence Agency and former Senator Alan Cranston. October 3, 2000.
In 1987, Just as the cold war was beginning to thaw, the film Russkies was made to show the human face of our “enemy.” Russkies told the story of a Russian sailor accidentally stranded in an American coastal town and then befriended by a group of local kids. Josh was hired by MGM/UA to undertake a special communications campaign involving a screening program, study guides for schools, outreach to organizations focused on better international relations with the Soviets, and pitching media that covered U.S. – Russian relations.
The Day After: History Made
The Day After was a 1983 made-for-TV movie from ABC about a full-scale nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the U.S. At the time The New York Times wrote that The Day After “is no longer only a television film, of course; it has become an event, a rally and a controversy, much of it orchestrated. Part of the controversy has to do with whether The Day After makes a political statement, which it does, although the statement is muddy, and part of the controversy has to do with how we confront the nuclear abyss. Champions of the film say it forces us to think intelligently about the arms race; detractors say it preaches appeasement. In fact, both sides have something going for them in their arguments, even if the champions of the film, for the moment, are being heard more clearly than the detractors."
The remarkable and relatively unknown fact about the marketing and outreach effort was that almost none of it was done by ABC, but by Josh and his team, acting independently without ABC’s permission or even cooperation. Many think it still ranks as one of the most audacious and unconventional PR campaigns in history.
Read more background about this historic effort.
California Nuclear Freeze Campaign: 1982
On June 12, 1982, an estimated one million people gathered in New York City’s Central Park. Reagan was president, his advisers were talking insanely about “winning” a protracted nuclear war, and people were waking up to the reality of the huge danger of nuclear conflict. The rally in Central Park was part of what came to be called the “Nuclear Freeze” campaign. Reagan frequently attacked the Freeze campaign calling it Unamerican and at one point said that it was run by “foreign agents.”
In California, this campaign took the form of a statewide ballot referendum calling on the President to end the arms race and enter into serious negotiations towards disarmament. Josh was hired to manage the statewide communications for the initiative. It was his first official paying gig as a PR professional and the truth was, he was barely qualified for the job. But his passion and recent success promoting a national education event called “Ground Zero Week” got him hired.
As his first act, he was asked to put together a press briefing featuring the two co-chairmen of the campaign to coincide with a major vote in Congress and address the campaign’s plans for the election. It wasn’t that sexy a topic, but there was the expectation that the media that covers statewide elections would cover. Only one photographer and one reporter with his dog showed up. Josh thought, "My career in PR is over." Luckily for him, the campaign leaders understood, saying, “Yes, this happens too often.”
Harold Willens, one of the co-chairs, then told Josh that actor Paul Newman was now ready and had the time “to do anything for the effort.” Josh decided it was a perfect opportunity for a do-over. He decided to re-stage the same news conference, same content, but with Paul Newman as the host. This was the first time Josh was working with a big celebrity and he assumed that adding a big star like Paul would make a difference.
Three weeks later, Paul Newman attracted close to100 journalists — a few dozen video crews from all over the state, nation and world, photographers galore. It was quite the media circus. Paul was the perfect passionate spokesperson and the event generated huge attention. As the press conference was ending, then KABC political reporter Warren Olney complained to Josh that this was “a dog and pony show.” Josh responded, “Of course it was, but without star power, you won’t cover this campaign. If this is what it takes to get your attention and put this issue on the map, then get ready for lots of ponies. It works.”
The California Freeze campaign had widespread celebrity support. It was a hot progressive issue. No surprise there. Paul Newman became a major face of the Freeze. And the ballot initiative won easily. Below is a documentary that Newman hosted and narrated produced a few years after the Freeze campaign.
The last epidemic: going viral
In the early 1980’s, the American public began to wake up to the very real danger of nuclear war -- with 50,000 nuclear warheads on trigger alert and the on-going tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a respected group of doctors concerned about the nuclear arms race, created a low-budget documentary called The Last Epidemic: Medical Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War. With stark images and an incredibly powerful narration, the film methodically depicted the effects of a nuclear blast on a major city. The film was simple and riveting. PSR along with other anti-nuclear groups began to share the film with their members and friends. Soon it became a grassroots phenomenon (it went viral long before we ever used that word) with thousands of VHS tapes being passed around and the film being shown at events worldwide.
Josh realized the power of this documentary and promoted the video more widely to the media, funders and organizations. He used the film as part of many related anti-nuclear efforts with the media. In the end, this little low-budget film was seen on all network news programs, used in full on ABC’s Nightline, and featured on 60 Minutes and the Phil Donahue Show.
ground zero week 1982
Ground Zero was an American advocacy and education organization devoted to raising awareness about the dangers of nuclear war. Founded by former White House National Security Council official Roger Molander, it did not explicitly support the nuclear freeze, but worked to raise awareness of the nuclear threat during the period of the freeze campaign in the early 1980s. On March 12, 1982, Molander published a prominent piece in the Washington Post discussing the nuclear threat and in a piece in the New York Times, Molander described his personal evolution.
From April 18 to April 25, 1982 the organization sponsored Ground Zero Week, a series nationwide events to demonstrate that American cities had no defenses in the event of nuclear war. These events were sponsored by the National Education Association, United Auto Workers, the National Council of Churches, and an array of other organizations. Ground Zero Week helped build the momentum for the large nuclear freeze demonstration in New York City that took place on June 12, 1982.
Ground Zero week attracted nearly one million participants in 800 communities. Josh organized events in the San Francisco area as well as the media not only in California but also nationally. He helped secure a Newsweek magazine cover story - The Nuclear Nightmare - on the dangers of nuclear war. Ground Zero Week was one of his first experiences with progressive media outreach.
The Atomic Café: Nuclear Delusions
The Atomic Café is a disturbing and frequently humorous “cult classic cold war” documentary that chronicled the culture of nuclear weapons from the beginning of the atomic age to the Reagan years. Released in 1982, Josh worked with the film’s distributor to set up special screenings for the growing anti-nuclear movement and publicize the film to the national media. This film quickly became an invaluable resource for the television news media; clips from the film were widely used for years in broadcast stories about the nuclear arms race and the futility of surviving a nuclear war. Michael Moore says that this film had a profound effect on him, demonstrating how he could incorporate humor into a serious subject. Below is a clip from the film. Let's all sing along, "Duck and cover...."
Central America — El Salvador and Nicaragua
In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration was waging a convert and not-so-convert war in Central America. Many progressive leaders and celebrities banded together to oppose this effort through various organizations including Medical Aid to El Salvador, CISPES, and Concern on Central America. The celebrities involved included Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, Mike Farrell, Robert Foxworth and Jackson Browne. Josh handled the communications outreach for a number of events including the visit of Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega to Los Angeles and a five-city "town hall" tour with many of the celebrities including Jackson Browne. When the town hall tour came to Chicago, Josh booked the celebs on what was then the local Oprah Winfrey Show on the ABC affiliate.