The Bush Administration has suspended publication of Hi Magazine — a glossy, monthly attempt to win the hearts and minds of young Middle East Arabs.
The administration spent $4.5 million annually since July 2003 in the propaganda effort, designed to target Middle East Arabs aged 18-35. But the magazine failed to attract an audience, and was criticized by Arab commentators as “brainwashing.” One critic dubbed it the CIA’s official publication.
And you know, once a publication is labeled a CIA front, it’s hard to win over the youth of Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Of the 55,000 copies distributed, only 2,500 were purchased on any given month, the state department said.
The magazine was Exhibit A in how not to win the minds and hearts of young Middle East Arabs.
While the magazine tried to sell Middle East Arabs on “good news” U.S. stories — such as articles (I’m not making this up) on NASCAR, the healthy eating pyramid or men using moisturizers. Meanwhile, the same audience was watching Al Jazeera and seeing images of the Iraq War, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison and allegations of maltreatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Who would think that such banal stories about U.S. life would interest Arabs? It would have to be a U.S. government that naively thought the U.S. would be “greeted as liberators” and “showered with chocolates and flowers.”
Should the U.S. spend money to improve its image in Arab countries? Sure, through diplomacy and humanitarian aid. At the same time, it should be working with our “friends” in those countries’s governments, asking them to help curtail their own countries’ anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, which can be seen in government-backed newspapers and government-financed textbooks.
Maybe an independent publisher will try to pick up the ball and produce a U.S.-friendly magazine for Middle East Arabs. If they do, here’s a hint: Hire Middle East Arabs and Arab-Americans, and showcase Arab-American success stories — such as U.S.-trained doctors returning to their home countries, business leaders, athletes and entertainers. The goal of any such publication should be to connect with Middle East Arabs. Trying to convert them to NASCAR and face cream isn’t the same thing. They know it, and we should, too.
“Like other parts of our new diplomatic effort, it was not seen as something credible,” Steven Cook, a Middle East expert at the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations, told the Toronto Star. “It was seen as propaganda and it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to be doing.”
This item first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.Powered by Sidelines