School of Media and Communication

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Public Diplomacy Vital in Fight on Terror by Ralph Dannheisser

10 October 2001

Beers, Legislators Say Public Diplomacy Vital in Fight on Terror
Under secretary terms terrorist acts "attacks on the world"

By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Congressional Correspondent

Washington - The war on terrorism must be fought not only militarily but also through aggressive public diplomacy initiatives that will counter distorted views of the United States overseas, senior members of the House International Relations Committee said October 10.

And they heard Charlotte Beers, who formally took over the public diplomacy function at the State Department just eight days earlier, outline a plan for carrying out such a campaign that will focus on demonstrating that terrorists "are not martyrs or heroes, but criminals and cowards."

Beers, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, was the prime witness as the panel began a series of hearings into "The Role of Public Diplomacy in Support of the Anti-Terrorist Campaign" -- the campaign mounted by the Bush administration in response to the September 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C.

The former chairman of two worldwide advertising agencies, J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather, Beers listed a four-pronged message that she will seek to convey as she orchestrates the public diplomacy effort:

"The attacks of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not attacks on America but were attacks on the world.

"This is not a war against Islam. The war is against terrorists and those who support and harbor them.

"America supports the Afghan people, which is why President Bush is providing $320 million in humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.

"All nations must band together to eliminate the scourge of international terrorism."

"This is not just a job for America alone," Beers told the panel.

In their opening remarks at the hearing, both Chairman Henry Hyde (Republican, Illinois) and Representative Tom Lantos (Democrat, California), the senior minority member of the committee, cited difficulties to date in countering what Hyde termed a broad-based "fantasy land of hatred" overseas that has taken root despite the powerful story of goodness and generosity the United States has to tell.

"The poisonous image of the United States that is deliberately propagated around the world is more than a mere irritation. It has a direct and negative impact on American interests, not only by undermining our foreign policy goals but by endangering the safety of Americans here at home and abroad," Hyde said.

"How is it that the country that invented Hollywood and Madison Avenue has such trouble promoting a positive image of itself overseas?" he wanted to know.

Hyde said the hearings would aim at restructuring the U.S. image-building effort. Quoting Abraham Lincoln's description of America as "the last, best hope of earth," Hyde declared, "We must reestablish the identity of America and hope among the peoples of the world if we are to merit that description and, by so doing, secure our world for generations to come."

Lantos, in his opening statement, asserted that winning the war against terrorism will require not only military might, but diplomatic and economic initiatives prominently including "a concerted campaign to win over the people of Afghanistan and others around the world who are subjected to a daily barrage of misinformation and hate."

Declaring that "the United States and our allies are losing the battle of the airwaves," to Osama bin Laden and other propagandists of hate, he complained that the United States has severely underfunded such initiatives as broadcasts by the Voice of America.

He called on President Bush to allocate, from the $40,000 million newly appropriated by the Congress for waging the war on terrorism, "whatever is required to dramatically increase U.S. broadcasting in Afghanistan and throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds."

Added to the fact that international information and broadcasting budgets have been trimmed over the years, Lantos said, "the merger of USIA and the State Department (two years ago) may have further complicated our public diplomacy efforts."

"It's like the merger of Jonah and the whale," he commented later.

Besides as increase in broadcasting, Lantos said, the fight against terrorism should also make use of increased cultural and educational exchanges with the Middle East and South Asia and basic educational programming in such countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As she had in her Senate confirmation hearing September 24, Beers emphasized her intention to broaden the target audience for the United States' message, notably through efforts to reach a younger element.

And Beers made clear that she will strive to make an emotional impact on the overseas audience.

"We must constantly put a picture of humanity on the rather sterile words that the government sometimes uses for communication," she said.

"If you think of this attack (on the World Trade Center) as a big building going down, you haven't got it. If you think of it as how many orphans were made that day, and how many people are still weeping and mourning, you will remember," she said. "It's part of our goal to put those pictures in the communication process that is so active now in all forms of public diplomacy."

Part of the effort will be to convey the anti-terrorist message through Islamic moderates who are as distressed at the fanatical fringe as are U.S. officials, Beers indicated. "We can address those messages through moderates who are found here as spokespeople, through clerics who might be willing to talk with us, through supportive community leaders that we do have around the world," she said.

Beers told the committee she had met the previous week with the Ad Council - an umbrella group in the advertising field - to discuss development of public service announcements to be placed both domestically and overseas.

Indeed, she indicated that the effort might be made to place some of those announcements on Al-Jazeera, a much-watched Arabic-language television station operating out of Qatar. "I certainly would consider buying time on Al-Jazeera to run the advertising that we're trying to put together....So we're not done with trying to get equal voices in there," she said.

Beers was enthusiastic about the role the Internet can play in helping to get out the U.S. position. She noted that Public Diplomacy's main international website, "Response to Terrorism," updated daily, features the kind of "dramatic visuals" she favors - for example, a map showing the 81 countries that lost citizens in the World Trade Center attack.

"The hits on our web site have gone from one million to two million - doubled - and many times certain pages are nine times the reader rate they used to be. So as you think about and discuss different distribution channels, let's all remember that the web and the Internet are yet that third important pole to radio and television," she told the committee.

Testifying after Beers, Chairman Marc Nathanson of the Broadcasting Board of Governors - which runs the Voice of America and other U.S. government broadcasting outlets - addressed many of the same points that she had raised.

Commenting in his prepared opening statement on broadcasts aired since the terrorist attacks of September 11, he said, "We have given a human face to the victims, telling the heart-breaking stories of people who came to America from scores of nations. Our reports have made it clear that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacks on freedom and democracy throughout the world."

And like Beers, he deemed it essential to reach a younger cohort of population. "We have almost no youthful audience under the age of 25 in the Arab world and we are concerned that independent research has shown that this important segment of the population has enormous distrust of the United States," he said.

Nathanson said the present crisis underlines the need to move ahead with the expanded Middle East broadcasting initiative contained in this year's budget "as aggressively and quickly as we possibly can."

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