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Break out your pens, autocrats

| Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

George Ketchum probably never envisioned this.

Ketchum founded a small advertising company in Pittsburgh in 1923. At the time, he probably didn't expect it to evolve into a global public relations conglomerate that threatened to corner the market on autocratic and authoritarian propaganda placement.

Ketchum successfully pitched Russian President Vladimir Putin's controversial Thursday commentary to the New York Times. The opinion piece, in which Putin made the case against U.S. military intervention in Syria, accomplished what many international experts considered impossible: It momentarily shifted the spotlight away from Miley Cyrus.

It attempted to reinvent Putin's image in America, transforming him from a sinister and occasionally ruthless ruler into your easygoing Uncle Vlad. You know, the guy who sits in the Kremlin dispensing well-intentioned advice while clad in a cardigan sweater and smoking a pipe.

Not everyone bought into the message delivered by the suddenly avuncular Putin.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the commentary “an insult to the intelligence of every American.” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said it inspired in him the urge to upchuck.

Such scathing criticism undoubtedly inspired high-fives and happy-hour jocularity at Ketchum, which has earned more than $25 million since 2006 promoting Russia and its interests, according to the nonprofit news organization ProPublica. Creating a continuing buzz surrounding Putin can't help but attract more business for the company.

In fact, Ketchum's phones probably are ringing off the hook from other autocratic rulers jealous of all the attention Putin is receiving. It would not be surprising if they hire Ketchum to place their own vanity-inspired writing in various American publications.

Some possibilities:

• Raul Castro

Position: President of Cuba.

Preferred publication: Cigar Aficionado.

Article: “Picking Out the Perfect Humidor Amid Ongoing American Trade Sanctions.”

• Xi Jinping

Position: President of China.

Preferred publication: Dog Fancy.

Article: “I Love My Little Shih Tzu!”

• Robert Mugabe

Position: President of Zimbabwe.

Preferred publication: Men's Health.

Article: “Even Tyrants Can Experience Prostate Problems.”

• Omar al-Bashir

Position: President of Sudan.

Preferred publication: Us Weekly.

Article: “Jennifer Aniston is Much Beautiful Actress: An Appreciation.”

• Islam Karimov

Position: President of Uzbekistan.

Preferred publication: Highlights for Children.

Article: “Why Mommies and Daddies Sometimes Must Vanish.”

• Kim Jong-un

Position: North Korean supreme leader.

Preferred publication: Fine Cooking.

Article: “Kim's Crazy Delicious Crockpot Meatballs.”

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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