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Monday, March 14, 2005

Karen Hughes Finds Work 

Much consternation of late over the fact that Karen Hughes, who has no foreign policy experience, will be taking over Charlotte Beers's old post at State:
Karen Hughes, a longtime adviser to President George W. Bush, was named today by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to lead the campaign to improve the U.S. image abroad.

``I can think of no individual more suited for this task of telling America's story to the world,'' Rice said at a press conference at the State Department . . . .

Hughes's appointment as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy is part of an effort to ``confront hateful propaganda,'' and dispel myths about the U.S., Rice said. One conclusion of the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks was that America must improve how it communicates with the rest of the world, Rice said . . . .

Hughes's ability in domestic U.S. politics isn't likely to translate well abroad, said Hussein Ibish, vice chairman of the New York-based Progressive Muslim Union. ``I think again this will likely fail,'' he said.
Zemblan patriot D.R.B. wonders whether Ms. Hughes's powers of persuasion will be brought to bear exclusively on our friends overseas. He writes: "Pages 5-7 of the Times article on fake news, which describe State's efforts on Afghanistan and Iraq propaganda directed at a U.S. audience, explains why Karen is really going to State--to persuade AMERICANS that Bush's foreign policy is successful. She doesn't need to speak Arabic because the neocons don't give a damn what any foreigners, especially ragheads, think."

The relevant passage:
The explanation begins inside the White House, where the president's communications advisers devised a strategy after Sept. 11, 2001, to encourage supportive news coverage of the fight against terrorism. The idea, they explained to reporters at the time, was to counter charges of American imperialism by generating accounts that emphasized American efforts to liberate and rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq.

An important instrument of this strategy was the Office of Broadcasting Services, a State Department unit of 30 or so editors and technicians whose typical duties include distributing video from news conferences. But in early 2002, with close editorial direction from the White House, the unit began producing narrated feature reports, many of them promoting American achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq and reinforcing the administration's rationales for the invasions. These reports were then widely distributed in the United States and around the world for use by local television stations. In all, the State Department has produced 59 such segments.

United States law contains provisions intended to prevent the domestic dissemination of government propaganda. The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act, for example, allows Voice of America to broadcast pro-government news to foreign audiences, but not at home. Yet State Department officials said that law does not apply to the Office of Broadcasting Services. In any event, said Richard A. Boucher, a State Department spokesman: "Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We're not a propaganda agency."

Even so, as a senior department official, Patricia Harrison, told Congress last year, the Bush administration has come to regard such "good news" segments as "powerful strategic tools" for influencing public opinion. And a review of the department's segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.

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