Well, this is certainly NOT a case of earned media: this week a Department of Justice filing covered by BuzzFeed revealed that the current Malaysian government hired PR firms to pay opinion writers at various publications throughout the United States, encouraging them to write op-eds denouncing their primary opponent.

The main purpose of the articles, published by magazines and websites ranging from The National Review and The Guardian to The Huffington Post, was to distinguish current Prime Minister Najib Razak from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim by claiming that he is a moderate Muslim while Ibrahim is a militant Islamist. (Note: according to advocacy groups like Amnesty International, Razak’s government also has a long history of human rights violations like restricting freedom of speech and religion and executing political enemies. They also jailed Ibrahim on what many saw to be “trumped up” charges.)

This was perfect subject material for writers who wanted to push the message that moderation is the only way for Islamist political parties empowered by the recent “Arab Spring” movement to engage with the rest of the world. One of the writers even told BuzzFeed today that “It was actually a fairly standard PR operation”, though he lost his column after the relationship was revealed.

We’re not particularly familiar with Malaysian politics, but the fact that these op-ed writers didn’t feel the need to reveal the backers who were paying them to voice specific opinions is a perfect example of why “PR” is a bad word for many people.