1960s Handbook – Lem Jones Associates, Inc.

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The 1960s Handbook takes a closer look at the cultural references that appear in each week’s episode of Mad Men.

The Bay of Pigs invasion (a failed U.S. attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro) was fought on the propaganda front as well as the military one. Besides training anti-Communist military forces, the CIA also enlisted Lem Jones Associates, Inc., a small Madison Avenue public relations firm, to strengthen its position.

Jones, the head of the eponymous firm, started out as a New York Herald Tribune reporter before moving on to PR, where he worked with such high profile clients as Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie and 20th Century Fox chairman Spyros P. Skouras. In his work for the CIA, Jones was paired up with Howard Hunt, a CIA propaganda officer who would become infamous over a decade later with his Watergate scandal conviction. It was Hunt who dictated press releases to Jones in the name of the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC), a group of exiles organized by the CIA.

But the bulletins issued by Lem Jones sometimes surprised the very CRC members they were supposed to represent. According to Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (A Thousand Days), “they were stunned to hear an announcement ‘from the Cuban Revolutionary Council’ that the invasion had begun” on April 17, 1961. Afterwards, when it became clear the invasion had failed, Lem Jones issued a final CRC bulletin which read, “The recent landings in Cuba have been constantly, but incorrectly, described as an invasion. In reality, it was a landing of supplies and support for our patriots who have been fighting in Cuba for months now…” That’s what you’d call a positive spin.

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