An influential Washington D.C. lobbying firm has made an intriguing new hire.
Former Obama administration public relations flack and amateur disc jockey/fashion photographer Ben Chang recently became a principal at the Podesta Group, the lobbying firm cofounded by left-wing brothers John and Tony Podesta.
John Podesta served as White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, and is the former president of the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress, where he remains chairman. He co-chaired President Obama’s White House transition team in 2009.
Chang, a career foreign service officer renowned for his love of bow ties, previously served as deputy spokesman for the National Security Council and as senior adviser for strategic planning and crisis communication at the State Department. In that role, he was dispatched to crisis areas such as Egypt, Japan, South Sudan, and Libya to coordinate on the ground messaging.
The firm’s website describes Chang as an expert in “public relations, crisis communications, foreign policy, international security, global communications, nonproliferation and defense.”
But that is merely a formal accounting of Chang’s many talents. In his spare time, the jetsetting crisis control expert doubles as a disc jockey (DJ) and fashion photographer.
Chang has spun vinyl under stage names such as “DJ MSG” and “Hong Kong Hefner,” according to a 2011 interview with Politico.
In the early 2000s, while serving in Paris at the U.S. mission to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Chang was known as “Slim Buddha,” and is said to have thrown “off the hook” parties.
Chang specializes in musical styles such as “dancefloor jazz,” “funky breaks,” “new wave,” “dance punk,” and “mutant disco,” among others, according to his now defunct website (whoisbenchang.com).
After cutting his DJ chops at small venues in the nation’s capital, Chang built a reputation that would ultimately land him a headlining slot at former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s farewell party.
In 2008, Chang made Paper magazine’s list of “Beautiful People.”
Chang’s photography—he started off shooting backstage at fashion shows—has been featured on Elle.com, Blackbook, and in a six-page 2008 spread in Express Mada, one of Lithuania’s leading fashion magazines.
“I’m big in Lithuania,” Chang has joked.
Although Chang’s Podesta Group bio page describes an individual with an extensive role in the federal government’s public relations shop over a 17-year career, his name is rarely mentioned in official press releases and other administration documents.
Throughout his career, Chang has worked hard to reject the society’s false choices between “work,” “hobby,” and “passion.”
Paper magazine described him as someone who “defies not only categorization, but also the very notion of a 24-hour day.”
Foreign Policy noted in 2009 that Chang was “an example of the new breed of Obama era up-and-comers who transcend the classical definition of the White House staffer.”
On his Twitter page (@whoisbenchang), he identifies himself as “The (former) diplomat who thinks he’s a DJ; the DJ who thinks he’s a diplomat.”
However, diplomacy always will be his primary calling, he told Paper magazine in 2008.
“I’m passionate about U.S. policy and representing it,” he said. “The least one can do is have a good explanation.”
It is unclear whether the State Department has sought out Chang’s counsel regarding the bungled handling of the events and circumstances surrounding the assassination of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya.
Chang did not respond to a request for an interview.
Podesta Group clients include bailed out Bank of America; General Electric, which paid no federal taxes in 2010; as well as retail powerhouse Wal-Mart, defense giant Lockeed Martin, and the government of Egypt.
The firm was also paid $590,000 between 2010 and 2011 to lobby on behalf of bailed-out auto company General Motors.