THINKPIECE: Charlotte Beers is doing battle at home as well asabroad in the war against terrorism

It's tough duty fighting for people's minds at home and abroad, all

the while looking toward Capitol Hill, where fresh strategies for

getting "America's story" across are demanded but rarely welcomed. And

already one of them - Charlotte Beers, a certified advertising genius

willing to "use any format" to get America's messages across - is

ducking flak from powerful foes just weeks after officially taking over

as under secretary of state for public diplomacy.

Beers, a southern charmer who headed JWT and Ogilvy & Mather, was

dismissed by The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt as "a former ad executive

noted for the Uncle Ben's rice account" who has not come to grips with

the reality "that America is getting clobbered in the psychological

propaganda war in the Islamic streets."

The notion that Beers' appointment was a frivolous pre-September 11

action taken by an administration that has viewed the public diplomacy

mission as largely marginal reflects Washington's talent for mislaying

memory on command. Few now seem to remember the bipartisan insistence

that led to the dismantling of the US Information Agency in 1999 and the

bequeathal of its vestiges, such as the Voice of America, to states'

public diplomacy offices. The Cold War was over; why maintain a massive

propaganda operation?

Now the chant is, "Why weren't we ready for this?"

Beers thus finds herself in a seemingly untenable position, doing battle

not only with the likes of Al Hunt but with the "old boys" transferred

over from the USIA. They fought for years to be seen as "public

diplomatists," not propagandists. So serving under an advertising pro

isn't their dish of tea. Nor is "doing PR" as they perceive it. When

they leave federal employment, however, their resumes suddenly bloom

with years of PR expertise.

Beers' fellow commanders in the war for minds are Susan Neely, named

late in October as comms director for the Office of Homeland Security,

and Torie Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs -

both have extensive PR experience. Condoleezza Rice, the President's

national security adviser, seems to be keeping an eye out for anything

amiss in the propaganda trenches. Presidential communications counselor

Karen Hughes is, at Bush's request, pitching in, trying to come up with

ways to improve the US' image in Muslim countries.

All are going to be tested in battle, their every command questioned in

a time when the Chicken Little syndrome is epidemic. Support them.

Wes Pedersen is communications director for the Public Affairs


He spent 30 years with the USIA, is former president of the National

Association of Communicators, and is an award-winning former VP of a

Washington, DC PR firm.

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