THE PUBLICIST: Secret visit to Baghdad shines light on President's PR prowess

Things were quiet in Hollywood during the Thanksgiving break, so I turned to my favorite alternative source of PR news, Washington, to sniff out a potential publicity gem. It wasn't hard to find. George Bush's trip to Baghdad (well, the airport anyway) was a terrific, if obvious winner.

Things were quiet in Hollywood during the Thanksgiving break, so I turned to my favorite alternative source of PR news, Washington, to sniff out a potential publicity gem. It wasn't hard to find. George Bush's trip to Baghdad (well, the airport anyway) was a terrific, if obvious winner.

Good for him, good for the soldiers. It had all the required elements of an effective PR stunt: surprise, big entrance, great photo opportunities. Unlike his ridiculous appearance on the aircraft carrier earlier this year - which has already come back to haunt him - this one was foolproof without being foolhardy. Say what you will about this administration's policies, they are no slouches on the PR front. Bush & Co. are not afraid to throw the ball downfield. Hillary Clinton followed close on the heels of Bush with her own foray into Iraq, even venturing outside the airport, but it had nowhere near the media impact. As any publicist who has ever worked a red carpet knows, you should never have your client arrive after the biggest star of the night. Most of the photogs will have already folded up their blimps and pods and hit the road. The money shot is in the can. Bush clearly loves to be seen in military uniforms with his name on them, which is something I would discourage as his advisor. Potentially sticky. It's one thing to show you're a commander-in-chief, it's another to appear as if you're having fun playing soldier. It will invite damning comparisons if he ends up running against an actual soldier, like Clark or Kerry. Bush's well-staged uniform photo-ops remind me of when I handled a would-be film action star from Europe who claimed he had won some prized Euro kickboxing titles. He looked the part - built like an athlete, with a resume filled with things like "Central European Middleweight Gold Classic Champ." Sounded good to me, so I thought it would be smart to stage a publicity event in which my hopeful Hollywood hero would "spar" against a genuine US karate champ. Three media outlets responded to the invite. All was going well until the real martial artist, tired of handling my client with kid gloves, got serious - and flattened our thespian tiger with a roundhouse to the noggin.' Game over. The press snickered, I was mortified, and the promising fortunes of the "Marseilles Mauler" were never fulfilled. The thing about roundhouses is, you never see 'em until it's too late.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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