Professional secrets of the war salesmenWho is John W. Rendon? Let him tell you:
“I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.”
Or, more prosaically, a PR guy. Mr. Rendon’s public relations firm, the Rendon Group, “specializes in assisting U.S. military operations,” according to this interesting little book. His resume includes the Gulf War of 1991, when the United States and its allies drove Iraq’s army out of Kuwait, and were greeted by cheering, flag-waving Kuwaitis.
“Did you ever stop to wonder how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American, and for that matter, flags of other coalition countries?” Rendon asked an Air Force Academy audience in a 1996 speech. “Well, now you know the answer. That was one of my jobs then.”
The frantic title notwithstanding, “Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq,” which came out last year, is a cool-headed book that offers a glimpse of the U.S. government’s PR machinery, much of which is apparently privatized. Written by the editors of a nonprofit quarterly called PR Watch, it’s remarkable for the names, dates and details it supplies about the PR people who help the government manipulate not just its own image, but world events.
John Rendon, for instance, helped create (and named) the Iraqi National Congress, the “exile group” that would notoriously go on to feed bad information to George W. Bush’s war planners. Torie Clarke, a Pentagon flack who came from the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, is credited with the idea of “embedding” reporters with the military last year. Hill & Knowlton, in 1990, was hired by Kuwaitis in exile to influence American opinion in favor of that war in Iraq, a campaign whose “hook” was an influential ― and untrue ― story about Iraqi soldiers dumping babies out of incubators.
A counterpoint to these stories is how clumsily the U.S. has attempted PR in the Muslim world ― for instance, with TV ads featuring American Muslims talking about freedom. “We know there’s religious freedom in America, and we like that,” an Indonesian told the Christian Science Monitor. “What we’re angry about is the arrogant behavior of the U.S. in the rest of the world.”
by David Moll