In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Defense Secretary Donald “Don’t shoot ’til you see their bloodshot eyes” Rumsfeld called on the military to drop buckets of ink on terrorists so they’d be easier to spot and shoot. (He didn’t comment on whether he told Dick Cheney to spill ink on Harry Whittington, the friend he shot.)
O.k., not really. He did call for a more effective communications campaign to combat terrorism. Duh? “Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but for the most part we, our country, our government, has not,” he told the assembled deep thinkers, who scratched their chins and nodded sagely.
His idea is to continue to buy coverage in Muslim newspapers. We also have to stop being reactive. He wants a 24-hour media operation to pump out good news about America. And who’s to blame? The media, of course, for hampering such initiatives.
As a public relations expert, Rummy makes a lousy Defense Secretary. He’s right that we’re getting our brains battered in the battle for world & U.S. public opinion, but he doesn’t have a clue how to wage that war.
Like too many people, he equates media with public relations or communications, which is, how do we put this delicately…dumber than a bucket of hair. There’s a great PR saying, “You can’t sell from an empty wagon,” and that describes our situation.
First, you have to understand the audiences you’re trying to reach, how receptive they are to your messages, what are their needs, issues, fears, and desires.
Second, you have to break down their barriers–I call it “The Disarming Prelude”–through empathy, respect, honesty, and even acknowledging the legitimacy of some of their concerns. Only when you begin to lower the level of intensity and negativity, only when you give them a chance to voice their concerns and see that you take them seriously, will people then listen and maybe consider your point of view.
Third, you have to offer something credible and real. Denial and rejection–even if correct–won’t work when people are already convinced you’re doing something wrong.
Fourth, you have to walk your talk. Peter Drucker once said, “Policy is what you do, not what you say.” Look at what we’re doing & our policy, at best, looks like the Keystone Kops chasing the Road Runner and squashing Wiley Coyote on the way.
I could drone on forever. In fact, I think I have. But, Mr. Rumsfeld, it’s old hat to blame the media for your problems. Pick a new target. Blame someone new–like liberals.
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