U.S. Exploring Ways To Sell War Against Terrorism To Overseas Audiences
By EUN-KYUNG KIM, The Associated Press
Friday, November 9, 2001
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WASHINGTON (AP) – Presidential advisers huddle with Hollywood executives. Cabinet members and generals meet with Muslim media. White House aides in London and Pakistan “war rooms” arrange pro-American publicity.
The United States is cranking up efforts to build and retain foreign support for the war against terrorism.
“Consider the alternative, which is silence, or letting other people speak for us, so I think we have no choice,” Charlotte Beers, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, told reporters Friday at the Foreign Press Center.
Fearing a waning of overseas support as U.S. bombs drop over Afghanistan, the Bush administration is working closely with advertising agencies and local experts to find more ways to disseminate its message against terrorists.
It recently put together an information war room, similar to the ones used to plot strategy for political campaigns. Diplomats, communications experts and White House aides were dispatched to Pakistan and London with orders to bolster the U.S. image.
The State Department has been trying to counter Arab resentment toward America, primarily because of its support for Israel. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top officials grant daily interviews to print, television and radio outlets based in Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and other Arab nations.
“I’m very concerned that we get our information out in full context,” Beers said. “We know that in many of the countries where our messages are sent, that often they’re distorted, they’re one-dimensional or they’re simply not heard.”
The administration also has noted the significance of Al-Jazeera, the Mideast satellite channel that has recently interviewed Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The 24-hour station reaches more than 35 million Arabs around the world – including 150,000 in the United States. The administration has been criticized for failing to appreciate the station’s influential role sooner, especially since it has frequently run the anti-U.S. missives of terrorist Osama bin Laden.
The White House also is reaching out to Hollywood celebrities whose popularity crosses international borders.
Karl Rove, a longtime senior adviser to President Bush, has organized a Beverly Hills meeting this Sunday with top movie executives on how the entertainment industry can help the counterterrorism battle. That mission includes boosting understanding of the United States abroad.
Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and Paramount Pictures studio chief Sherry Lansing are among those expected to attend.
The meeting follows a similar gathering between government officials and dozens of television executives, producers and artists on similar issues.
“We may occasionally find ourselves tapping into someone who is charming and important, such as a great athlete, or possibly a celebrity or singer or someone like that,” said Beers, who was sworn into office last month after a career as the head of several top advertising agencies.
Beers said the United States would not limit its search to the famous.
“Often, we’re going to have something that I would say is not so glamorous – simply a forum where an Arab Muslim or an Afghan group talk to one another,” she said.
She also warned against expecting a U.S. media blitz that would include “anything quite as dramatic as a Coca-Cola spot.”
Instead, expect a more subtle approach, like the one provided by Christopher Ross, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria who is fluent in Arabic.
When bin Laden released his latest anti-U.S. rampage last weekend, Ross appeared on Al-Jazeera to counter the message.
The effect, Beers noted, was “considerably less fanfare” in the media for bin Laden than his previous appearance.
“After the rather overheated and nervous-sounding presentation by bin Laden, he (Ross) answered calmly. He does not mention him by name,” Beers said. “And in the process, he was drawn into a two-hour panel discussion following the airing of the tape, and very few questions were even covered on bin Laden himself.”