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For Chapter 14: "Nobody is Safe from Everybody"

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The last post was about Richard Nixon's feeble attempts to improve his media image. The impulse to promulgate revisionist history, or to foot your best foot forward, or simply to correct the record was not unique to Tricky Dick.

Nino Kader's clients at International Reputation Management have exactly the same idea. But, unlike the late president, before they can address their media profile they have to deal with their Google one.

"They want to highlight all the good things about them," Kader says, |"so they're pushing the negative right off the page."

That may represent a Sisyphusian task for noted web laughingstock Aleksey Vayner, whose name generates 144,000 search results, all of them bad. But most of us are, shall I say, less image-disadvantaged.

One of Kader's clients, for example, is a prominent TV talking head on a very polarizing subject. He was dismayed to see his Google page pop up not only with nasty speculation about his political motivations and loyalties, but also about his physical appearance -- to wit: "If this is the same [ pundit's name] that I've heard pop off at the mouth on MSNBC and FOX News, perhaps a weight reduction program would be appropriate to reduce the fat surrounding his brain in an attempt to obtain a more clear, rational thought process. I've seen his chins gyrate far too many times."

Ouch. Bad enough to be called irrational, but "fatso" really smarts. It's harder to be taken seriously as a commentator on geopolitics when you are perceived as the Star Wars Kid of public policy. So Kader got busy. "I created an official bio of him," mentioning nothing about his chins, but rather described his "Sensible, Skeptical" analysis of the day's events. "It appeared number one on Google." And, for a while, it worked, pushing the double chins off the main page. Unfortunately, it's a jungle out there, and the jungle is persistent. Without constant effort, all attempts at cultivation will be overwhelmed by the sheer irrepressibility of nature. Kader's client eventually discontinued his website, and the corpulence issue is back on the first page.

The concept, however, is proven. Creating pages and links to those pages, and making sure they are maintained, can, as Kader says, "bulletproof your image on the Web. For example: Hillary Clinton. She's got the first two pages covered."

Yes, although she is among the most despised political figures in America (and, yes, I know, also among the most popular), to Google candidate Hillary in the summer of 2007 was to find her entry on Wikipedia, her official campaign site, her U.S. Senate site, her Myspace page, the White House page on her tenure as First Lady and a New York Times profile. "If somebody wanted to say she stinks," Kader observes, admiringly, "it would be difficult to punch through." For instance, scrolling through the search results, you can go through at least a dozen pages and not see the word "Whitewater."

Some of that is luck, and some of it is technique. The problem is, knowledge of the technique isn't limited to your friends. The author of "Bob Garfield's Boiled Soul" knew exactly what he was doing. "He called the page 'Bob Garfield,'" Kader explains, "so Google sees that as relevant.. The headline is in large font, too. If you bold it, Google thinks it's important. That's why he did it. He also has 225 links to his site. Google will consider a link into a site as a vote." The same gimmick was famously employed to link the Googled search terms "useless failure" directly to the official White House profile of George W. Bush.

Kader takes pains to point out that he does not provide his service to just anybody. "There's a doctor who contacted us. He botches a lot of surgeries, or something. I don't think that was something I wanted to suppress." Alas, the rest of the world is not always so discriminating. Among the things that the free market of ideas is free conscience.
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