Iraq Study Group report attracts crush of media attention

WASHINGTON: Edelman handled media relations efforts behind the much-anticipated December 6 release of the US Congress-funded Iraq Study Group (ISG) report.

WASHINGTON: Edelman handled media relations efforts behind the much-anticipated December 6 release of the US Congress-funded Iraq Study Group (ISG) report.

The report generated a flood of media and public interest unseen in a policy document since the release in July 2004 of the 9-11 Commission report.

After a dawn meeting with President Bush at the White House and briefings on Capitol Hill to Senate and House leaders, the 10-member, bipartisan group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), held a press conference at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on details of the report, which described the current political and military situation in Iraq in blunt, bleak terms.

Edelman Washington office president Rob Rehg said about 40 of the firm's staff helped arrange and oversee group and one-on-one interviews at the USIP and at Edelman's Washington offices with reporters, columnists, public policy experts, TV military analysts, and others in the afternoon following the release of the report, as well as on December 7, following testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and were scheduled to assist throughout the weekend, with ISG members slated to appear on all the major Sunday talk shows.

"When we first talked to them, [the group] told us they wanted to really control the story as much as they could and be as aggressive and broad as they could in their outreach," both domestically and internationally, Rehg said, with the group seeking to emphasize the bipartisan nature of its findings.

Rehg declined to say how much money Edelman received to handle media relations for the group, which received $1 million in funding from Congress to cover various expenses, including administrative support and travel, but said Edelman, in part, represented ISG on a pro-bono basis. Efforts by Edelman began just a few days before the report's release and were expected to continue through the weekend, with any future work by Edelman for the ISG still undermined as of press time.

Edelman's work handling media relations for the release of the report from the 9-11 Commission, of which Hamilton was also a lead overseer, in large part helped the firm win the right to represent the ISG, Rehg said. That Edelman vice chairman Michael Deaver, former deputy chief of staff to President Reagan, has close ties to ISG members Baker, who was Reagan's chief of staff, and Edwin Meese, Reagan's US attorney general, also helped seal the deal, Rehg said.

Winslow Wheeler, director of the independent Center for Defense Information's Straus Military Reform Project and a longtime observer of the Washington public policy community, said that the amount of media attention paid to the release of the report has been striking and at least equal to the attention paid to the 9-11 Commission report.

"In town, this is the most-read document we've seen in a long time," said Wheeler, who said that the series of leaks on the report's most salient points helped generate a lot of additional focus on the report when it was finally released. "I have no idea of how orchestrated it was, but [the leaks] certainly struck me as a conscious exercise rather than an act of ‘undiscipline.' We saw nothing about Baker or Hamilton coming down hard on leakers; it was feeding their agenda."

The stated purpose of the new report is to find a "solution" to the current armed conflict within the country. Wheeler characterized the ultimate value of the report is its potential ability, because of its bipartisan nature and the wide coverage devoted to its findings, to de-politicize the debate in Washington over how the US military can eventually withdraw its forces.

"I can see the real charter is getting George Bush and Nancy Pelosi behind the same podium on this," Wheeler said. "The wide coverage could potentially help force them [and other politicians] into adult behavior."

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