Paster, Deaver Consulted by Pentagon
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Paster, Deaver Consulted by Pentagon

Howard Paster, chairman and chief executive of Hill & Knowlton, and Michael Deaver, vice chairman of Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, were among those summoned for a private meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week.

Paul Holmes

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 29—Howard Paster, chairman and chief executive of Hill & Knowlton, and Michael Deaver, vice chairman of Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, were among those summoned for a private meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week, as the Pentagon continued to emphasize the importance of the public relations front in the war on terrorism.
 
The meeting came less than a week after the Pentagon announced it had hired a Washington area public affairs firm, The Rendon Group, to help sway public opinion in the Arab world and to persuade overseas audiences that America is waging a war on terrorism rather than a crusade against Islam, and is yet another indication of how seriously the Pentagon is taking the war for public opinion, both domestically and internationally.
 
According to the National Journal, the meeting between Rumsfeld and the public affairs panel—which also included conservative Republican commentator William Bennett and lobbyist and Democratic fundraiser Tommy Boggs—was one of a series that has seen groups ranging from arms control specialists to labor leaders provide input on aspects of the war effort.
 
The meetings are apparently part of the effort by Pentagon public affairs chief Torie Clarke (who headed the Washington office of H&K before joining the Bush administration) to shape the messages that Rumsfeld delivers during his frequent television appearances. Clarke has created an “office of message development” at the Pentagon, staffed by Marc Thiesen, former head of public affairs for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Sen. Jesse Helms was its chairman, and Christopher Willcox, former editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest.
 
Thiessen writes Rumsfeld’s speeches, while Willcox, as deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, is responsible for outreach beyond the Beltway, the Journal reports.
 
“Ken Bacon was interested in facts,” says a Pentagon insider quoted in the Journal’s story, describing the approach of the former Wall Street Journal reporter who preceded Clarke. “He kept us scurrying for answers. Torie is more interested in themes, in projecting the message.”
 
The Journal contrasts the “public relations orientation of Clarke and her obsession with message” with the fact that most of her predecessors, like Bacon, had media experience. “Most of these ex- journalists would fight in the upper councils of the government for media access to military action,” the magazine says, pointing out that, “Sooner or later in this chaotic war, as was the case in Vietnam, there will be bad news. If the Bush Administration keeps focusing only on message… its credibility will sink like a stone.”
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