MEDIA STRATEGY MEMO TO GEORGE, DICK AND JOHN

By Norman Solomon

"John's move to prosecute Arthur
Andersen pushed Enron off a lot of front pages, and the recent media
commotion about 'advance warnings' has helped too. However, complacency
would be unwise. For instance, George's mash letters to Ken Lay are
posted on Internet sites. Reporters could get tired of the raw meat
thrown from the Andersen case. Fortunately, they're more like kitty-cats
than lions."

"The main thing is, stay on message. Change the
subject whenever necessary. At this point, do FDR one better: The only
thing to fear is not enough fear."

"When in doubt, scare the stuffing out of the public. Especially if
fearful, they want father figures running the show in Washington,
protecting and defending."

"The
Iran-Contra hearings showed that if you blow enough smoke while
reporters search for a smoking gun, pretty soon they'll be going around
in circles.

 

     To: George, Dick and John

     Re: Counteracting the Media Evildoers

     Damage control efforts are on track after those rough days in
mid-May.

     First, let's note a silver lining. John's move to prosecute Arthur
Andersen pushed Enron off a lot of front pages, and the recent media
commotion about "advance warnings" has helped too. However, complacency
would be unwise. For instance, George's mash letters to Ken Lay are
posted on Internet sites. Reporters could get tired of the raw meat
thrown from the Andersen case. Fortunately, they're more like kitty-cats
than lions.

     To facilitate the purring, stroke as desired. Do what works. Avoid
foot in mouth. Friendly pundits will float trial-balloon excuses. What
doesn't get shot down is worth repeating.

     Dick, you've been magnificent on the Sunday shows. That grim Edgar
Bergen look is a knockout -- just don't tell anyone George is your
Charlie McCarthy. (Joke.) The main thing is, stay on message. Change the
subject whenever necessary. At this point, do FDR one better: The only
thing to fear is not enough fear.

     If journalists want warnings, you've got an unlimited supply! Can't
lose -- you'll end up seeming either prescient or successful at
thwarting the terrorists. But see if you can put a clamp on the
bragging. For maximum effect, impress on staffers the importance of
resisting the temptation to boast.

     It didn't enhance the damage-control counteroffensive when the
Associated Press reported on May 21: "There is an element of politics to
the administration's warnings, officials acknowledged." Or when, on the
same day, the Globe and Mail informed Canadians: "White House officials
told reporters that the blunt warnings issued yesterday and Sunday do
not reflect a dramatic increase in threatening information but rather a
desire to fend off criticism from the Democrats."

     When in doubt, scare the stuffing out of the public. Especially if
fearful, they want father figures running the show in Washington,
protecting and defending. In the future, the administration could
benefit from a bit more Reaganizing. In retrospect, George probably
missed an opportunity with the Berlin visit; he might have tried
something like "Mr. Saddam, tear down this terrorist pall."

     As George's dad can tell us, the "what did he know and when did he
know it" thing is liable to wear quite thin, with the Washington press
corps losing interest. And from the looks of initial staffing, the
congressional investigations are likely to be circumspect. The
Iran-Contra hearings showed that if you blow enough smoke while
reporters search for a smoking gun, pretty soon they'll be going around
in circles.

     Uncle Sam's military attacks in Afghanistan are providing a healthy
flow of proud bang-bang on television. But there's a need to maintain
high creative standards in the Pentagon's media ops. Remember -- it
takes some flash to be noticeable above the baseline network sizzle,
especially during sweeps.

     George, don't hesitate to get on your high pony. Talk about
executive privilege, the sanctity of the presidency, your abiding faith
in the goodness and courage of the American people. The flag pin on the
suit lapel still looks great, by the way. But maybe it was a flub to
wear the polo shirt with the alligator again. We're awaiting focus-group
results on an alternative; if the meter pins, we'll cut out the gator
and have a small Old Glory stitched in.

     Top national security officials ought to step up the pace of
sit-down TV interviews, so schedule more softball sessions on the
networks. And if Larry King can tear himself away from Chandra's remains
anytime soon, maybe he'd like to have Dick and the wife on again -- if
so, the V.P.'s flacks should brainstorm themes, perhaps along the lines
of "the family that fights terrorism together draws strength from God
and country together." Lynne could hawk her new patriotic book in the
process.

     The FBI deserves back-channel encouragement for going public with
uncorroborated warnings about New York landmarks the other day.
Mentioning the Statue of Liberty was a nice touch. It left a feeling of
Lady-Liberty-vs.-terrorist-perfidy in the air, with a fine media mist of
fear. And we can never have too much of that.
_______________________________________________

Background links about Bush-Lay letters:
   *   Photocopies --
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/doc_o_day/bushlay1.shtml
   *   Summary of correspondence --
http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=12462

 

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (I'd recommend a visit to the site), a nationwide consortium of public-policy researchers. He has written op-ed pieces for Boston Globe, Washington Post, Newsday, New York Times, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Baltimore Sun, and is a far more successful writer than Alex Sandell will ever be.  His column, normally titled, "Media Beat," is nationally syndicated in a wide variety of newspapers.  If you'd like to see his weekly "Media Beat" column published on the opinion page of your local daily newspaper(s), please contact the opinion-page editor at the paper(s) and suggest that the paper give his column a try. Please mention to editors that his weekly column is available to newspapers from Creators Syndicate. Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." 

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