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Karen Hughes, "PR" and Perverted Science

Karen Hughes, "PR" and Perverted Science

By Sherwood Ross

The reason Henry Ford succeeded brilliantly in obtaining positive publicity for his Ford Motor Co. is that he manufactured a quality product and, for many years, treated his employees with unrivaled generosity, deference, and respect. Perhaps only Ford's close friend Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric light bulb and much else, had a greater impact on humanity and was more esteemed globally.

Public relations consultants, not all of whom are greedy and venal, will tell you good publicity comes from good product. If Ford didn't make a solid, affordable car that put the common man and woman in the driver's seat, the world would have taken scant notice of him. Similarly, no whirlwind "PR" campaign by China's marketing mandarins can undo the ubiquitous headlines of tainted food and tainted toys. From now on, Americans are going to take a hard look at that "Made in China" label. Once folks suspect a product is dangerous, there's no TV ad campaign in the world that can induce them to buy it.

Contrary to Ford's "PR" experience, Karen Hughes, the State Department's public diplomacy chief who resigned Wednesday, had the unenviable chore of selling a tainted product to the Muslim world. That product, of course, is President Bush's war of aggression against Iraq, a war that has made a shambles of the country. After spending two years trying to convince Arabs the president is a good ol' boy, Ms. Hughes, a Bush inner circle intimate, says she'll return to Texas. Although she pointed to several achievements---such as reversing a decline in foreign student visas---the fact remains Muslim rage against USA during her directorship hit tsunami heights. In Turkey, people with a favorable view of America skidded from 52 percent in 2000 to 9 percent in 2006 .

In a report on her departure in the New York Times, Ms. Hughes is credited with taking Muslim youths to watch World Cup games in Germany, and enlisting figure skater Michelle Kwan "as a public diplomacy envoy." These tawdry PR gimmicks, though, were just that. Observed Middle East authority Aaron David Miller, "She (Hughes) inherited a 'Mission: Impossible,' "explaining, "People aren't going to be Madison Avenue-spun into believing things that they don't see with their own eyes. The very idea of the task assigned Ms. Hughes was preposterous. Imagine if, after invading Poland, Hitler's propaganda minister Josef Goebbels took some Polish boys to a soccer match. Would that put a good spin on Hitler's blitzkrieg that killed 70,000 Poles? Yet, here's the Bush White House paying Ms. Hughes to hire ice skaters while it has killed 650,000 Iraqi civilians.

Back in Edison's day, the world watched American inventors with admiration and anticipation. Edison was but one of many. New industries, dreams, and visions flowed from the American research cornucopia --- cars, airplanes, movies, the phonograph---everything from air-conditioning to the zipper. Be reminded these inventions were made by private sector entrepreneurs, working in their own laboratories, financed on their own nickel, not government bucks. And what products is USA churning out today?

Besides illegal variations of atomic bombs, the Bush Pentagon is spending 1.5 trillion bucks to crank out new weapons systems, including some of the wackiest ever conceived. One, the "Rods from God," will hurl tungsten rods from outer space at meteoric speeds to obliterate a target. Just what the world needs, right?

Unfortunately for U.S. business, the longer Bush protracts the Iraq struggle, the more global consumers will spurn American products. Coca-Cola says the new Arab soda Mecca Cola isn't hurting its sales. Perhaps. But it can't be helping. And if the Turkish man-on-the-street plans to buy a car, he may turn his thumbs down at Detroit models. No, as Ms. Hughes found out, "PR" is not the answer. Useful products for living are, not output from Pentagon-funded industries. The sooner America converts them to private sector entrepreneurial invention, the better.


(Sherwood Ross is an American reporter who covers military and political topics. Reach him at

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