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Context of 'February 20, 2002: US to Create Global Public Relations Office'

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Charlotte Beers.Charlotte Beers. [Source: New York Times]Former advertising executive Charlotte Beers officially assumes her duties as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. Beers, the former head of ad agencies Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson, and who is best known for “branding” products like American Express credit cards and Head and Shoulders shampoo, was named to the position days after the 9/11 attacks, in part to help refurbish America’s image overseas. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who met Beers in 1995 when they both worked on the board of Gulf Airstream and who proposed her for the position, defended her selection in the Senate by explaining: “Well, guess what? She got me to buy Uncle Ben’s rice and so there is nothing wrong with getting somebody who knows how to sell something.” Powell says Beers’s job is to focus on what he calls “the branding of US foreign policy.” Time reporter Margaret Carlson will write that Beers’s new job is much different from selling rice or shampoo to American consumers: “Now Beers has to rebrand Osama bin Laden as a mass murderer to millions of Muslims who have never seen a 767 or a skyscraper, much less one flying into the other. She has to do it in languages, like Pashto and Dari, that don’t even have a word for terrorist. And all this without having control over Voice of America or Radio Free Europe.” Congress grants Beers over $500 million for her Brand America campaign. She says: “Public diplomacy is a vital new arm in what will combat terrorism over time. All of a sudden we are in this position of redefining who America is, not only for ourselves, but for the outside world.” Beers has no diplomatic experience. Her first efforts as undersecretary will be to provide a 24-page booklet in 14 languages accusing bin Laden of masterminding the 9/11 attacks, and, with the help of the Ad Council, to create and disseminate a poster throughout Arab countries offering up to $25 million for information leading to the arrest of highly placed terror suspects. Beers says that “sell might not be the operative word” to describe her job, she uses marketing vocabulary to describe her efforts: the US is an “elegant brand,” Powell and President Bush are “symbols of the brand,” and she wants to use athletes such as the NBA’s Hakeem Olajuwon to help market the American “brand.” [Time, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 3/3/2003; CounterPunch, 8/13/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 31-32] Columnist Jeffrey St. Clair will observe: “Note the rapt attention Beers pays to the manipulation of perception, as opposed, say, to alterations of US policy. Old-fashioned diplomacy involves direct communication between representatives of nations, a conversational give and take, often fraught with deception… but an exchange nonetheless. Public diplomacy, as defined by Beers, is something else entirely. It’s a one-way street, a unilateral broadcast of American propaganda directly to the public, domestic and international—a kind of informational carpet bombing.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey St. Clair, Charlotte Beers, Colin Powell, Ad Council, Hakeem Olajuwon, Margaret Carlson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Senior administration officials say the White House intends to create a permanent office of global diplomacy in order to spread a positive image of the United States around the world and combat anti-Americanism, which the administration believes has been caused by the world’s failure to understand America. “A lot of the world does not like America, and it’s going to take years to change their hearts and minds,” an unnamed senior official tells the New York Times. The office will coordinate the public statements of the State, Defense, and the other departments to ensure that foreign governments, media organizations, and opinion-makers understand US policies. The Times reports that according to one official, “global diplomacy as envisioned in the new office will inject patriotism into the punishing 24-hour, seven-day news cycle.” Reports broadcast by the office would include information about both US foreign and domestic policies and would utilize the State Department’s huge communications network of American embassies and media offices. The earlier White House effort to create a more positive image of the United States was handled by the Coalition Information Center, a joint effort between the US and Britain that was led by the president’s senior advisor, Karen P. Hughes. [New York Times, 2/2/2002] The office will be formally created in July and given the name “The Office of Global Communications” (see July 30, 2002).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Office of Global Communications

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Domestic Propaganda

The White House formally announces plans to create a public diplomacy agency, to be called the Office of Global Communications, that will be charged with projecting a more positive image of the US abroad. [Washington Post, 7/30/2002; CBS News, 7/30/2002; Guardian, 7/31/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/5/2003] It will help the world understand “what America is all about and why America does what it does,” says White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The task formerly belonged to the State Department, but Bush’s advisers didn’t think it was “doing a good enough job, so they’re going to take it on,” a former Coalition Information Center (CIC) official tells the Guardian. “Nobody [was] that impressed with [State Department public diplomacy head] Charlotte Beers (see October 2, 2001) and what she’s done. She listens to people. She’s done a lot of listening, but you need to go further than that.” [Guardian, 7/31/2002] This new public diplomacy office, said to be the brainchild of President Bush’s senior adviser, Karen Hughes, has actually “existed for months, quietly working with foreign news media outlets to get the American message out about the war on terrorism,” according to CBS News. [CBS News, 7/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Karen Hughes, Hill and Knowlton, Charlotte Beers, Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

A State Department program designed to “market” America as a “brand” to Arabs is greeted with skepticism and, sometimes, derision. The advertising campaign, called “Shared Values,” was conceived by Charlotte Beers, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and a former advertising executive (see October 2, 2001). The concept is to “sell” America in the Arab world by emphasizing the “shared values” held by both Americans and Arabs. [Rich, 2006, pp. 31-32] The program is based on four videos, centering on the lives of four “average” American Muslims—a schoolteacher, a doctor, a baker, and the director of the National Institutes of Health. [New York Times, 10/30/2002] Beers said in a June Senate hearing that the US must pay closer attention to expanding communication with “the mainstream of young adults” so as “to give them, ultimately, a new world view.… The young will lead us.” The “Shared Values” program is the central thrust of that effort. [Office of International Information Programs, US Department of State, 6/11/2002] The videos show American Muslims in their homes, at softball games, and at their jobs. They tell Arab viewers that they have experienced no prejudice against them after the 9/11 attacks, and describe how they live and work well with Christians, Jews, and Hindus. “I don’t think there is any other country in the world where different people from different countries are as accepted and welcomed as members of a society,” says one. But many Arabs do not believe the rosy depiction of life as an American Muslims, and call the videos patronizing and simplistic. (Some State Department officials privately agree with that characterization, but were powerless to influence their creation and dissemination.) Other Arabs call the videos nothing but American propaganda. [New York Times, 10/30/2002] In 2006, author Frank Rich will call the videos akin to “testimonial commercials for new household products.” Many Arab countries, particularly in the Middle East, refuse to run the videos, saying that they do not adequately address the US’s policies in that region. [Rich, 2006, pp. 31-32] In September 2003, the “Shared Values” program and other such public relations initiatives will be judged to be failures by the General Accounting Office (see September 15, 2003).

Entity Tags: Charlotte Beers, Frank Rich, General Accounting Office, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

President Bush signs an executive order creating the Office of Global Communications (OGC—see July 30, 2002), whose mission is to “ensure consistency in messages that will promote the interests of the United States abroad, prevent misunderstanding, build support for and among coalition partners of the United States, and inform international audiences.” The OGC soon sends out a daily “Global Messenger” e-mail of talking points to administration officials, US embassies, Congress, and outside recipients. It organizes daily telephone conference calls to coordinate foreign policy messages among US government agencies and representatives of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. PR expert Sheldon Rampton later writes, “These activities may sound innocuous. The idea of ‘ensuring consistency’ is a cardinal rule of PR crisis communications, whose practitioners try whenever possible to make sure that all messages flow through a single, controlling channel. In practice, however, ensuring consistency leads to a concerted effort to enforce a ‘party line’ on all messages emanating from the US government, effectively silencing officials whose point of view contradicts the official institutional message.” [PRWatch, 4/2003; US State Department, 9/28/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Sheldon Rampton, Tony Blair, Office of Global Communications

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

President George Bush signs an executive order formally creating the Office of Global Communications (see July 30, 2002) to coordinate efforts among various federal agencies to “disseminate truthful, accurate, and effective messages about the American people and their government” to audiences around the world. [White House, 1/21/2003; New York Times, 1/22/2003] The office has actually been in existence since before July 2002 (see July 30, 2002). Its first publication is also released on this day. Titled, “Apparatus of Lies,” the 32-page white paper argues that Iraq is using a carefully calibrated system of propaganda and disinformation to gain international support for the regime and to hide development of its weapons of mass destruction programs. In its executive summary, it states that Iraq’s foreign relations consist primarily of “a highly developed, well disciplined, and expertly organized program designed to win support for the Iraqi regime through outright deceit.” It goes on to say that the “elaborate program is one of the regime’s most potent weapons for advancing its political, military, and diplomatic objectives. In their disinformation and propaganda campaigns, the Iraqis use elaborate ruses and obvious falsehoods, covert actions and false on-the-record statements, and sophisticated preparation and spontaneous exploitation of opportunities. Many of the techniques are not new, but this regime exploits them more aggressively and effectively—and to more harmful effect—than any other regime in power today.” [Office of Global Communications, 1/21/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of Global Communications, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Sheldon Rampton.Sheldon Rampton. [Source: Sheldon Rampton]Author Sheldon Rampton, an expert on public relations and propaganda, observes that the Bush administration uses what he calls “the framework of a ‘propaganda model’ of communication” in releasing information to the public and coordinating communications between administration officials and outsiders (see Early 2002 and Beyond, January 2003, and March 6, 2003). Rampton says such a model’s “strategies and assumptions are fundamentally contrary to a democratic model.… The goal of the propaganda model is simply to achieve efficient indoctrination, and it therefore tends to regard the assumptions of the democratic model as inconvenient obstacles to efficient communication.”
Inherent Contradictions - Rampton notes that using the propaganda model as a communications strategy on such a large scale is impossible in the long term. One problem the Bush administration is facing is in countering the growing disaffection with the US among other nations while simultaneously refusing to listen to criticism from these nations. He cites as examples Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s contemptuous dismissal of European opponents to the Iraq invasion as members of “old Europe” (see January 22, 2003), and Bush’s dismissal of recent worldwide protests with over 11 million participants by saying he doesn’t “decide policy based upon a focus group.” Rampton writes, “Bush’s statement speaks volumes about his inability to think outside the framework of a propaganda model of communication.” The Bush administration is an avid consumer of polls, though it goes to extraordinary lengths to give the impression that it does not. Columnist Joshua Green recently wrote that instead of using polls to determine policy, as the Clinton administration was often accused of doing, in the Bush White House, “[p]olicies are chosen beforehand [and] polls [are] used to spin them.… Because many of Bush’s policies aren’t necessarily popular with a majority of voters, [his pollsters’] job essentially consists of finding words to sell them to the public.” The administration has similar problems with spreading propaganda among foreign nations, particularly among Middle Eastern nations. Rampton writes: “The real problem with the Bush administration is that it doesn’t listen to anything but focus groups. It never thinks of public opinion as worth considering in its own right, and instead merely uses it to refine the message points that go out each day in its ‘Global Messenger’ emails” (see January 2003).
Self-Indoctrination - Rampton notes that while the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts often fail to produce the desired effects, at least to the degree desired, such persistent propaganda practices often have more success in “indoctrinating the propagandist themselves.… The discipline of ‘ensuring message consistency’ cannot hope to succeed at controlling the world’s perceptions of something as broad, sprawling, and contradictory as the Bush administration’s foreign policy. However, it may be successful at enabling people like George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to ignore the warnings coming from Europe and other quarters. As our leaders lose their ability to listen to critics, we face the danger that they will underestimate the risks and costs involved in going to war.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Joshua Green, Sheldon Rampton, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Print ad for the ‘Shared Values’ videotapes. The videos are distributed by the Council of American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU), an organization created by the US State Department.Print ad for the ‘Shared Values’ videotapes. The videos are distributed by the Council of American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU), an organization created by the US State Department. [Source: Council of American Muslims for Understanding / Sheldon Rampton] (click image to enlarge)The General Accounting Office (GAO) releases a report showing that the $1 billion spent annually by the Bush administration to polish America’s image among Arab populations has largely gone to waste. Polls in predominantly Arab and Muslim nations show anti-American sentiments are steadily rising despite the US’s advertising efforts. (In many of these nations, Osama bin Laden has higher favorability ratings than President Bush.) The GAO report finds numerous reasons for this widespread failure. Among them are:
bullet The State Department’s scattershot, uncoordinated efforts;
bullet Foreign service officers charged with promoting America’s image spend too much time on paperwork, and 20 percent of those officers do not fluently speak the language of the country in which they are stationed;
bullet The US government’s failure to not scientifically measure the effects of its public relations programs, instead relying on anecdotal evidence. [USA Today, 9/15/2003]
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is at a loss to explain the problem. “Americans are brilliant at communication,” he says. “Why in the world we are all thumbs in this particular area just strikes me as one of the anomalies of history. But it’s an important one to solve pretty fast.” The State Department’s first Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Charlotte Beers (see October 2, 2001), resigned in March for what the administration called “health reasons,” and has not yet been replaced. Beers is responsible for the failed “Shared Values” program, which relied on commercially slick video reports to sway Muslim and Arab public opinion (see Late October, 2002). [New York Times, 3/3/2003; USA Today, 9/15/2003; Center for Media and Democracy, 10/17/2007] Beers’s biggest success may have been Radio Sawa, an American radio station broadcasting throughout much of the Middle East that broadcasts US-based pop music, with 10-minute news broadcasts every hour from American government sources. [USA Today, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Radio Sawa, Charlotte Beers, Bush administration (43), General Accounting Office, Richard Lugar

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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