|January 23, 2006|
The Day Bin Laden Went Shopping for a U.S. PR Advisor
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
New York, January 23: Danny Schechter’s new book, When News Lies cites the seminal role played by Pentagon media strategist John Rendon in shaping the information warfare strategy that sold the Iraq War. Now, “the News Dissector” passes along an alleged, supposed, purported, leaked memo to Rendon from one of his PR apparatchiks which, he says, he can neither confirm, deny or verify but that “it sounds right.” He asks: “is it all that far-fetched?”
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The Rendon Group, Inc. (TRG)
INTERNAL MEMO: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
To: John Rendon CEO
You are not going to believe this. We are receiving a feeler for a covert consultancy that belongs in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Please shred this memo after you’ve read it for obvious reasons. I am sure that the government agencies we have been working for would go postal if they knew about this. Absolute discretion is essential. If this gets out on the Internet, our golden goose is cooked. Paper is dangerous. It does not self-destruct.
• A few weeks ago, the US military confirmed it was negotiating locally with certain unnamed insurgent groups in Iraq. This came after over two years of Washington stridently denouncing the insurgents as terrorists and insisting we would never talk with them. Remember when you advised Rumsfeld to intimate that the insurgents could be worked with. Don started joking that he didn’t know what an insurgent was. Soon, our policy in the field shifted even as it remained officially unchanged.
Clearly the Pentagon wants to divide the locals from the foreign fighters from Al Qaeda but this maneuver sets a new precedent and is a sign that a new type of political deal may be in the works. As you often say, “watch what we do, not what we say.”
Just look at China for how yesterday’s enemies can become today’s allies. The “red menace” is now a business partner.
• Early last week, Hamas, the Palestinian terror group, announced that it was hiring a PR specialist to work on changing its public image. As elections there approach, its likely that Hamas will win, and so the organization needs to become more respectable. They want to follow the Hezbollah model in Lebanon and go from being perceived one-dimensionally as terrorists and killers to being considered a stabilizing and legitimate force.
Already, like Hezbollah, they win popular support by providing social services and are also emulating their move into television with a new TV network of their own. The New York Times did a feature on a Sesame Street type program Hamas TV plans to air. (Look for a character called “Big Bomb” instead of Big Bird---just a joke!)
Hamas realizes that to achieve its goals and not frighten off foreign funders in Palestine, they need to project a new more benevolent image. They have hired a media specialist to do PR and perception management. They gave him a juicy contract!
*A few days after that announcement, Osama Bin Laden’s latest audiotape was released. It wasn’t a video this time probably because he’s looking a bit haggard after four years on the run. Note, however, that his speech served up a “new Osama,” bearing an olive branch as well as stick. Who knows? He may be having one of those extreme makeovers.
OBL went beyond his usual mumbo jumbo and appealed directly to the US public, offering a “long term truce.” He smartly attacked President Bush knowing that his numbers are way down. Like Hamas, OBL seems to be in the process of repositioning himself for Western as well as Eastern consumption. He’s now a peacemaker. It reminds me of when the Mafia realized they could steal more money if they went legit.
Here’s the unexpected part. Someone I suspect as being an OBL intermediary, a shadowy Pakistani businessman who publicly supports the US but privately is believed to be feeding information to the Jihadis “bumped” into me in a restaurant in Washington. Only it wasn’t an accident.
He expressed an interest in meeting you with an eye to exploring whether you might take on a new high profile client in a very low profile manner.
“He is perceived as a big enemy of the United States,” he told me. “But no names now!”
I was intrigued. “How big?” I asked.
He nodded and looked up. There was no question what super-sized bearded three-named Saudi business mogul he was referring too.
I was immediately dismissive.
“Don’t you know,’ I told him, “that John Rendon practically invented the war on Terror and was key to selling the war in Iraq. He wants your guy dead.
He did not react.
“Don’t you know who you are dealing with?” I went on. “We are not just on the other side. We are the other side.”
Again, he didn’t flinch and said that’s precisely why he wants you. His “client” respected what you achieved and how your techniques had “deceived” (his word) public opinion to buy the WMD threat and turn 911 into a war on terror and invasion of Iraq. He was amazed; he confided, at the power of disinformation, TV propaganda and media manipulation.
Yes you are the enemy, he acknowledged, but thought you had the expertise and contacts to help him with his new “initiative.” He told me OBL thinks he needs “re-branding” and wants only the best.
When I tried to object, he reminded me that our government had worked with his client in the past, back in Afghanistan, and often sold arms to both sides in a conflict. He noted that we had negotiated with other “dire” enemies including the Vietnamese, the Iranians, the North Koreans and Iraqis even after we said we never would.
“As the balance of power shifts,” he warned ominously, ”you have to shift too. So do we.”
It was almost as if he was saying, “the cheese has moved, the game has changed, smell the coffee.”
My “friend” says he can set up a secure one on one between you guys in a cave somewhere—if you come alone --- and that paying for our services was “no problem” in any currency we wanted.
“Money is not an issue,” he assured me. “Name your price.”
I stopped him right there even as I took his card and satellite phone number. I said: “don’t call us, we’ll contact you.”
His response: “Don’t worry, we will deny this meeting ever happened. Who would believe it?”
I was shaking.
Clearly this is very intriguing and dangerous offer, with both sides quite willing (and able) to ice us if word gets out. It is also potentially VERY lucrative, and could end a terror war we are not winning. Look on the bright side: You could win the Nobel Peace Prize!
Can we in good conscience take this on? (Does “good conscience” even exist anymore?)
Your move John! This is getting too weird for me.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
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News Dissector Danny Schechter is "blogger-in-chief" of Mediachannel.org. His new books are When News Lies and The Death of The Media. See Newsdissector.org/store.htm. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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