by Claire Berlinski
Wikileaks is at it again, this time, leaking a (promised) two million-plus emails from the Syrian regime, which has in the past eighteen months tortured, raped and killed at least 15,000 of its own citizens. And look what we have here: A memo explaining how to get away with it from Brown Lloyd James.
Brown Lloyd James, according to its website, "is managed by an elite group of distinguished former news executives, top-level White House and Downing Street political advisors, high-profile entertainment industry executives and experts in international affairs. Our staff have been at the right hand of presidents, prime ministers, media barons – and yes, even The Beatles."
Among their areas of expertise is "reputation management." As their promotional material helpfully explains, "Things happen in the course of global events that can quickly change your public image. A positive reputation and image are powerful strategic tools and effective insurance policies should something go wrong. Brown Lloyd James has the skills and experience to manage and control fast-moving and potentially volatile situations."
Well, it will surely be interesting to see how a firm with those skills handles the leak of this document.
TO: Fares Kallas
FROM: Brown Lloyd James
RE: Crisis Communications Analysis
It is clear from US government pronouncements since the beginning of the public demonstrations in Syria that the Obama Administration wants the leadership in Syria to survive. [My emphasis added] Unlike its response to demonstrations in some other countries in the region, there have been no US demands for regime change in Syria nor any calls for military intervention, criticism has been relatively muted and punitive sanctions—by not being aimed directly at President Assad--have been intended more as a caution than as an instrument to hurt the leadership.
However, the tone of the Administration's statements has grown noticeably harsher in recent weeks and may be nearing a tipping point that could make a reassessment of the US position towards Syria inevitable. One potential bellwether of this shift is the transformation in the public statements of US Senator John Kerry, the Administration's de facto point man on outreach to Syria. Senator Kerry has begun to publicly backtrack his often-repeated confidence in the leadership's ability to reform.
Media coverage of the situation in Syria has tracked with the Administration's political arc. US media coverage of events in Syria was initially marginal, but has since moved closer to the front of the newspaper and the top of the broadcast news. This not only reinforces the Administration's change of tone, it is emboldening critics--who maintain that Syria's reform efforts are not sincere--and building up pressure on the US government to take further, more drastic steps against the country.
The memorandum observes that "Syria has had an imbalance in its communications approach since the beginning of the crisis." I'll say. Those videos of dead kids with their testicles ripped off are really giving Americans the wrong message.
"No one within the leadership," the PR firm observes, "seems to 'own' the reform agenda from a communications standpoint." Their advice?
- In our view, the President needs to communicate more often and with more finely-tuned messaging and the First Lady needs to get in the game. The absence of a public figure as popular, capable, and attuned to the hopes of the people as Her Excellency at such a critical moment is conspicuous. The key is to show strength and sympathy at once.
Oh, I get it now—that's why she was on the cover of Vogue. I'd always wondered whose bright idea that was. I guess it's the sort of thing that worked for the Beatles, so why not?
- The "reform" program does not yet have a face or brand.
Oh, but they're wrong, it does have a brand. Human Rights Watch came up with the perfect slogan for it: "Torture Archipelago."
"Torture Archipelago" is catchy, easy to remember, and it has a face to whom the whole world can relate: his:
The mildest form of torture is hitting people with batons on their arms and legs and not giving them anything to eat or drink. Then they would hang the detainees from the ceiling by their hands, sometimes for hours or days. I saw it while I was talking to the interrogators. They used electric stun-guns and an electroshock machine, an electric current transformer. It is a small machine with two wires with clips that they attach to nipples and a knob that regulates the current. In addition, they put people in coffins and threatened to kill them and close the coffin. People were wearing underwear. They pour hot water on people and then whip them. I've also seen drills there, but I've never seen them being used. I've also seen them using martial arts moves, like breaking ribs with a knee kick. They put pins under your feet and hit you so that you step on them. I also heard them threatening to cut off the detainees' penises.
But never mind that, that's not Brown Lloyd James' department. Their problem is figuring out how to make sure no one sees that face. To that end, they propose:
- The campaign should create a reform "echo-chamber" by developing media coverage outside of Syria that points to the President's difficult task of wanting reform, but conducted in an non-chaotic, rational way. The conditions for reform include peace and stability. These stories can be developed through direct interviews with the President and other senior advisors, op-ed and commentary articles written by credible third parties. This coverage will rebound into Syria.
- The campaign should be branded with a forward-looking title, such as "Syria al-Yaum[Syria Today], Syria Bukra (Syria Tomorrow]."
- Syria must improve its ability to contain negative media stories circulated by opposition figures living outside Syria. This includes countering rumors ... and the daily torrent of criticism and lies. Such a professionalized, through capability would include ... (Wait for it ... )
- 24-hour media monitoring and response system should be in place with assets in UK and US markets.
- Social media sites should be monitored and false sites should be challenged and removed.
Yes, that's right: Mobilize your "assets" in the UK and the US, spy on your citizens and censor them. (By the way: How much did Assad pay for the advice to spy on and censor his citizens? A pretty penny, I reckon. You really think he spent the money wisely, given that spying and censoring is already his métier, his art, his master-craft?)
So who exactly is Brown Lloyd James? Well, for a firm with so much experience in PR crisis management, they curiously didn't seem to have a plan for dealing with this PR crisis: I called and wrote to them to see what they had to say about this document, but they weren't answering the phone. (Here's an idea for you, Brown Lloyd James: When you're having a PR crisis, follow your own advice and get on that media-monitoring stick, 24-hours a day. I'm sure I won't be the only nosy parker calling to pester you about this in the next few days.)
It gets worse. Brown Lloyd James apparently has "extensive experience managing complex international projects—including media campaigns and special events—for prominent clients, including for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Bid, the 2022 Qatar World Cup Bid, the United Nations Independent Inquiry into the Oil-For-Food Programme, AARP, Qatar Foundation, The City of London Corporation, the Independent Panel Review of the World Bank, Al Jazeera English, The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and various heads of states and government officials from around the world." Frankly, they sound like the kind of firm that would test their applicants' suitability for the job by offering them a newborn kitten and seeing if for the right price they'll stomp on it.
It's led, among others, by one Mike Holtzman:
He led the firm's work on behalf of Qatar's winning bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup as well as a campaign on behalf of Iraqi Governing Council member Ayad Allawi, who went on to become Iraq's first post-Saddam Prime Minister. His clients include high level international political and business figures and prominent non-governmental organizations. He headed the BLJ team that supported the United Nations Independent Inquiry into the Oil-for-Food Programme, chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. At the government's request, Mike was seconded to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following the September 11th terrorist attacks. Reprising a role he held with FEMA during the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Mike served as a media liaison from Ground Zero. Mike later served as a Consultant at the US State Department, serving as an advisor to the Director of Policy Planning Staff. Recently, Mike wrote two important commentaries on US public diplomacy in the New York Times. During the Clinton Administration, Mike worked in the Executive Office of the President as Special Advisor for Public Affairs to United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky. He was Director of Public Affairs to the Council on Foreign Relations from 1996-1998.
Oh, that's who we want in those positions, for sure.
Ever wonder why the world's so screwed up? It's because people like Mike Holtzman, who think it's a fine idea to advise clients like Bashar al Assad, are literally the ones running our government.Claire Berlinski
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.