Profile: Michael K Deaver, Edelman

White House commentator Michael K Deaver on the role of communication

Profile: Michael K Deaver, Edelman

As one of the foremost participants in, and now commentators on, American Republican administrations over the last 20 years, it comes as no surprise that Michael K Deaver is in great demand. The former deputy chief of staff in Ronald Reagan's White House - now vice-chairman, international, at Edelman in Washington, DC - has spent a large part of the day offering the media his wisdom on world affairs by the time we meet.

His visit to the UK coincides with the publication of Hans Blix's initial report into Iraq's non-conventional military capability, and anti-war coverage in the British media is nearing fever pitch.

Deaver, who was key to Reagan's election success in 1980 and Republican administrations until resigning in 1985, is critical of the UK media's attitude to conflict in Iraq: 'It's more than doveish - it's a total ill-regard for Bush. There's quite a strong anti-Bush, anti-American and anti-war sentiment. All of that has arisen because not enough has been done to explain why we should go to war.'

The failure successfully to communicate the case for conflict stems, he suggests, from a lack of planning: 'You get an occasional remark from the (American) administration that stands alone, which is then followed by four days of drum-beat from the anti-war lobby. There's no strategic plan to explain why we need to go to war. The points made by Blix are damning evidence but they aren't being used to persuade the public.'

His advice to those in charge of winning public hearts and minds is simple, if contingent on military factors: 'I'd find out what day we're going to launch activity (against Iraq) and work back every day from then and plan around restating the reasons for going to war. I think this is a failure in communications and not policy.'

Persuasive though Deaver is in describing how the propaganda war ought to be won, it is clear that his take on the Iraq issue is as US-centric as the doubters this side of the Atlantic believe the current White House incumbent to be. The references are to the American rather than foreign governments, and Deaver is clearly no great Anglophile - he professes to know little of the spin controversies surrounding the Blair regime, and denies any great familiarity with figures within the UK government.

But his assessment of the current White House PR team is, Iraq aside, favourable: 'It's disciplined - more so than any I have seen. There are no leaks, there is an organised message and they understand that they can't just communicate their message once - they have to stay on message.'

Deaver is quick to play down the strength of his links to the current administration - although he admits to providing informal advice on 'mainly communications issues'. That much is unsurprising, since it was his links to the White House on beginning his lobbying career in 1986 which saw him indicted by a Federal grand jury on conflict of interest charges, accused of using his access to former colleagues for clients' gain.

He was found not guilty of those charges, but was convicted on five counts of perjury arising from his testimony. He is understandably reluctant to discuss that period, but defends the probity of modern day DC public affairs: 'Lobbying in the US is very clean today - there is no money under the table any more, unlike in the past when there was talk of bags of money in drawers.'

Deaver was credited with playing an instrumental role in Reagan's presidential election victories in 1980 and 1984, as well as overseeing the White House press corps. He maintains that the bulk of what he now seeks to put into practice was learned during those years: 'I think that a lot of the time the public sector serves as a test-tube for the communications tactics you later use in private sector work. A lot of what I learned was from Ronald Reagan himself - he was one of the great communicators. One of the things he always said was that you've got to know who you are before you can communicate it. I always find it amazing when you meet clients how many of them don't do that - it's impossible to communicate anything without doing that first.'

Deaver's other golden comms rule is to ensure that your message does not get said once then ignored - the failing he identifies in the preparation of the public for conflict with Iraq: 'We are exposed to more messages every day than our grandparents were in a lifetime. You can't just say something with a press release, press conference and interview like you used to in the old days, you have to use every medium available to get the message across.'

As governments the world over struggle to woo their doubting electorates into potential conflict, it is clear that Deaver's experience stands him in far better stead than most to identify where they are going wrong.


1980: Deputy Chief of Staff, White House

1985: Resigns from administration

1986: Founds Michael K Deaver & Associates,

1992: Vice-chairman, international, Edelman

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