- In the 1960s, was a media specialist for the Liberation News Service and a photographer for the domestic terror group Weatherman
- Orchestrated the “No Nukes” concerts of the 1970s
- Worked in media relations for the Communist regimes of Angola, Nicaragua, and Grenada in the 1980s
- Directed the anti-Bush media blitz for the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
- His company, Fenton Communications, assists in the public relations strategies for MoveOn.org and Win Without War.
David Fenton is the founder and CEO of Fenton Communications, a public relations firm that has directed the media strategies of numerous environmental groups and anti-war organizations. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the Environmental Working Group.
Born in 1953 in Queens, New York, Fenton dropped out of high school in order to work as a photographer and media specialist for the Liberation News Service (LNS), which was named after the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, an anti-American, Communist movement which called for the "overthrow [of] the camouflaged colonial regime of the American imperialists and the dictatorial power of Ngo Dinh Diem, servant of the Americans, and [sought to] institute a government of national democratic union [in Vietnam]." “I started working on causes I believe in,” Fenton recounts.
Fenton and his LNS associates, headed by Allen Young and George Cavalletto, actively supported the ideals and crusades of the New Left. Fenton became a member of the White Panther Party, which sought to foment a “cultural revolution” that would further the aims of the Black Panther Party. In Fenton's view, the Black Panthers had “picked up the thread of [Abraham] Lincoln's [i.e., his commitment to “the ultimate justice of the people”] and made it part of their culture and ideology. The Panthers were disciplined, organized, and provided true social services to the poor …” The official motto of the White Panthers was: "total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and f*cking in the streets." Fenton became editor of the group's newly revamped newspaper, The Ann Arbor Sun. Following a bitter dispute over a plan to move the paper's headquarters to Detroit, Fenton left the Party.
In the 1960s and early 70s, Fenton established a reputation as one of the counter-culture movement’s principal photographers, documenting such events as anti-war demonstrations, the trials of Black Panther Party leaders, and musical performances by Janis Joplin. Due to his close relationship with LNS and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Fenton was the only journalist permitted to photograph members of the domestic terror cult Weatherman. In 1973, Macmillan published Shots, Fenton's book of New Left photographs.
In the 1970s Fenton ventured into the music business, and in 1976 he began directing public relations campaigns for Rolling Stone magazine. By the late 70s, he recognized the value of combining the entertainment industry with left-wing activism. In 1978 he collaborated with two former Rolling Stone staffers -- Howard Kohn and Susan Kellam -- to solicit help from rock stars for the defense fund supporting the lawsuit which was filed on behalf of the late Karen Silkwood against the nuclear fuel producer Kerr-McGee. In 1979 Fenton orchestrated the famous "No Nukes" (anti-nuclear power) concerts of September 1979 which were headlined by such performers as Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt. This Western "disarmament" movement greatly pleased the Soviet Union.
In 1980, "Yippie" movement co-founder Abbie Hoffman, who had jumped bail six years earlier to avoid prosecution for selling cocaine, emerged from his Thousand Islands hideaway in New York state. Felton helped arrange newswoman Barbara Walters' September 2, 1980 interview with Hoffman.
By the 1980s, Fenton was a hot commodity. He was recruited to mold public perceptions of Communist-led governments and Marxist guerrillas. In February 1982 Fenton signed a letter of agreement with Francisco Fiallos, Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S., for a "short-duration project" to publicize Sandinista Commandante Jaime Wheelock's tour of the United States.
In 1986, Fenton worked for the Angolan government's Bureau of Information and Propaganda, which hired him to sully the reputation of a right-wing rebel group that Angola's Communists had been fighting against for years. Fenton performed similar public relations work for Nicaragua's Communist-backed Sandinistas, who regarded themselves as integral to a proletariat revolution in their country.
Fenton also conducted media services for Grenada's Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, who was a staunch supporter of Fidel Castro's Marxist government in Cuba, and who sought to emulate Castro’s policies in his own homeland.
In 1982 Fenton created Fenton Communications (FC), which now bills itself as “the largest public interest communications firm in the country.” Throughout it existence, FC has has been largely preoccupied with creating media strategies for left-wing groups.
One of Fenton's most widely publicized achievements was his 1989 attack against the producers of Alar, a preservative (used in apples) that he erroneously characterized as carcinogenic. The misinformation Fenton fed to the news media triggered widespread public fear and consequently caused the apple industry to lose more than $200 million in revenues.
In a memo later uncovered by the Wall Street Journal, Fenton bragged, "We designed [the campaign against Alar] so that revenue would flow back to the Natural Resources Defense Council [one of Fenton's primary clients] from the public." Fenton also would write: “A modest investment repaid itself many-fold in tremendous media exposure and substantial, immediate revenue. Lines started forming in health food stores. The sales of organic produce soared. All of which we were very happy about.”
During the first term of George W. Bush's presidency, Fenton expanded his clientele to include also antiwar and anti-Bush organizations. In 2004 Fenton coordinated the efforts of his then-newest client, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, to oppose Bush’s bid for reelection.
That same year, Fenton penned an entry for the book MoveOn's 50 Ways To Love Your Country: How To Find Your Political Voice And Become A Catalyst For Change. The book consists, in part, of 50 chapters authored by MoveOn members, famous liberals, and citizen activists, and includes tips on such activist pursuits as drafting petitions and organizing rallies. Other essays appearing in the book were provided by Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Joan Blades, and Eli Pariser.
In 2005 Fenton published his own book, a collection of his photographs titled SHOTS: An American Photographer's Journal 1967- 1972. The book -- which includes rare photographs of Abby Hoffman, The Chicago 7, and members of the Black Panthers -- features a foreword by Tom Hayden and commentary by Norman Mailer.
Fenton and his company continue to develop and direct a host of public-relations campaigns geared toward bringing partisan awareness to a number of weighty issues, including global warming, universal health care, women's rights, and the alleged dangers of nuclear energy.
Describing his own political leanings, Fenton says, “‘Left’ is a pejorative term. People I hang with use the word ‘progressive.’”
Over the years, Fenton has given money to the political campaigns of a number of Democratic candidates, including Ralph Nader, Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.