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Doug Gamble- Contributor

Doug Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and resides in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]

Putting U.S. Media Savvy to Work
An L.A. publicist forms a blue ribbon panel to change minds
[Doug Gamble] 10/29/03

There's an old Chinese proverb that says a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Could it be that a meaningful first step in bridging the understanding gap between the U.S. and the Islamic world will be taken in California? Veteran Los Angeles public relations executive Michael Levine would like to think so, and he has his foot poised to embark on the trip.

Levine, whose firm Levine Communications Office has represented a who's who of entertainment industry luminaries over the past 20 years, believes the U.S. must fashion an intellectual response to terrorism that tries to enlighten those whose passions are inflamed by hatred of America. "We cannot kill all these people; we have to change their minds," he says. "Yet the U.S. is making few converts in the Muslim world."

The public relations specialist is forming a blue-ribbon panel, comprised of 50 prominent thinkers and media and marketing experts, to craft a report he calls, "America's Message to the World." The panel's recommendations will be presented to President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other senior administration officials.

Levine decries the puniness of America's intellectual muscle in the war on terrorism, insisting the superiority of the U.S. military must be matched by the genius of this country's marketing skills. "It is not enough to shut down the terrorist camps," he says, "we must also stop the jihad factories, the mosques and the educational institutions that are turning out tens of thousands of potential terrorists."

It's becoming increasingly apparent that America's poor, virtually non-existent public relations efforts are a major impediment to progress in the Middle East. One has to wonder how a media-savvy country whose Hollywood dream factory and advertising community produces movies and ads that influence trends here and abroad, seems so incapable of getting its message out to the international community.

It's estimated that public relations efforts aimed at the Mideast are funded to the tune of about $150 million a year, but most of that goes to exchange programs and not to the kind of outreach and communications offensives that would bolster America's image in the area.

"America's message to the world must be sold, not unlike any product," Levine says. "We're very good at selling Corn Flakes. We just haven't put any effort into selling America's values, particularly to the Islamic world." He sees a one-two, military-marketing punch as essential to protecting the U.S. from terrorism, and believes that without the latter we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back.

Deeply committed to the project, Levine views creation of the blue-ribbon panel as his most important work in a career that has made him a major success in public relations. He says he does not want "I made so-and-so famous" to be on his tombstone.

His timing is impeccable, and not just because of the escalating violence in Baghdad. A diplomatic-advisory group recently urged the Bush administration to initiate a dramatic transformation in the way U.S. public relations programs are coordinated and communicated in Islamic countries, including creation of a Cabinet-level office to oversee the efforts. Although some 160 new newspapers, 80 radio and 20 TV stations have sprung to life in post-Saddam Iraq, these media still are not getting the U.S. story.

A recent press account quoted a senior military official back from Iraq as saying, "We're losing the information war in Iraq and we are losing it everywhere. No one seems to have any solutions." If Levine has his way, some of the answers will emerge from an initiative created in Los Angeles.

Doug Gamble has written for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and other prominent Republicans.

Copyright 2003 Doug Gamble




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