US and UK build war rooms to correct misinformation

WASHINGTON: Political PR operatives revived the term "war room"

strictly as a metaphor in the early '90s. The war rooms that went into

operation last week, however, brought a strangely literal twist to the

title.



The White House and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have set up

intensive round-the-clock communications centers - classic "war rooms"

born of Bill Clinton's 1992 Presidential campaign - to knock down false

Taliban reports and spread its own message to media outlets around the

world.



Separated by seven time zones, the two centers, located within the White

House and Blair's 10 Downing Street office, will coordinate efforts to

accommodate deadlines and broadcasts in both hemispheres. A third center

is scheduled to open in Islamabad, Pakistan within the week, allowing

for seamless operations.



The move is the latest attempt by the allies to reverse the overseas

flow of anti-US public sentiment. Administration officials believe the

combination of false reports by the Taliban and photos showing

slaughtered Afghan civilians are largely fueling those sentiments. With

the introduction of the war rooms, both the US and the UK hope they can

counter those reports - day and night - before they reach the

public.



As for proactive messaging, the communication centers concentrated on

dispersing two messages in their first days of operation: that the US

was considering halting the bombing during the Islamic holy month of

Ramadan, and that the millionth package of humanitarian aid had been

delivered to the people of Afghanistan.



The Bush administration is also attempting to improve coordination

between its various message chiefs spread throughout Washington. Every

morning, the three centers will conduct a conference call involving Bush

advisors Karen Hughes and Karl Rove, communications director Dan

Bartlett, Dick Cheney advisor Mary Matalin,undersecretary of state for

public affairs and public diplomacy Charlotte Beers, and Pentagon

director of public affairs Torie Clarke.



The State Department will be starting its own PR initiative next

week.



Using the internet, it will translate and distribute statements of

support from Muslim leaders to US embassies around the world, and then

distribute them to local reporters.



Republicans had once de-cried the use of war rooms in political

campaigns as fostering a culture in Washington obsessed with attacking

opponents.



Earlier this year, however, both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol

Hill established Intensive Communications Units (ICU) based on the

war-room model to sway public sentiment on healthcare reform.



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