PAUL HOLMES: The way the US is viewing this war will have a lasting impact on how the world views the US

The Anglo-American attack on Iraq has been both a PR triumph and a PR disaster.

The Anglo-American attack on Iraq has been both a PR triumph and a PR disaster.

The two allies have done a masterful job of presenting the war to their respective domestic populations, thanks in large part to the assistance of a docile media. So while we have been treated to dramatic footage of battles viewed through night-vision goggles and spectacular film of bombs exploding in Baghdad, the level of gore on display has rarely risen above the level of a PG movie. This is war sanitized for our protection. Images that might disturb or discourage the American public have been eliminated. Instead, we see footage of American GIs passing out candy to traumatized Iraqi children. The result is that the images of the war we see in the US are startlingly different from the images of the war broadcast to the rest of the world, where the conflict has been a complete PR disaster. Al-Jazeera, which has been criticized for showing pictures of American POWs and bloodied civilian victims (sorry, collateral damage), has been lambasted by the administration, banned by the anti-transparency NYSE and Nasdaq, and had its website hacked by those who would expose our commitment to freedom - Iraqi or any other kind - as the flimsy sham it is. But it is doing a better job of reporting the reality of war than its US counterparts. On an al-Jazeera video shot in Basra, according to British journalist Robert Fisk, "A little girl of perhaps four is brought into the operating room on a trolley, staring at a heap of her own intestines protruding from the left side of her stomach." Don't look for those images on ABC or CNN. Why? Because they're not newsworthy? Or because they don't fit with the approved image of this carefully media-managed war? Similarly, while US reporters speculate about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction we will surely find, overseas media reports have been full of stories about US forces using cluster bombs and uranium-depleted warheads - both banned by international law. The fact that we are watching a totally different war from the one seen by the rest of the world has serious long-term implications. It can only deepen the rift between the way the US sees its role in the world and the way the rest of the world sees us. It can also lead to more miscalculations, like the assumption that American invaders would be welcomed as liberators. There may not be much anyone can do at this stage about our image overseas (not that anyone in this administration seems to care), but the US media isn't doing the public any favors by refusing to depict the grim realities of war. -----
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of

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