U.S. image abroad handled by old Texan women. I’m not kidding

Was reading my new issue of Print — a design magazine I subscribe to — and the new issue is dedicated to “global graphics that inform, incite and inspire.” Anyone interested in propaganda might wanna check it out, as design has played a huge part in swaying public opinion for well over a century now.

On pg 72 (Print, Feb 2008), in “From Despotism to Destination,” Ben Carmichael writes about rebranding nations. He exposes American propaganda in the Middle East:

Countries that try to fake an image are countries that court disgrace — which is precisely what the U.S. got as a result of a disastrous recent campaign. Shortly after September 11, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell hired Ogilvy & Mather veteran Charlotte Beers to launch a pro-American advertising and public relations effort in the Middle East. As Powell put it, the goal was “to rebrand American foreign policy.” As a part of her “Shared Values” campaign, in 2002 Beers launched Hi magazine, meant for modern Arabic youth, Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language radio station, debuted the same year, and Alhurra, an Arabic-language satellite TV station, went on the air in 2004. Both are funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, formerly known as the United States Information Agency. So negative was Arab countries’ reaction to Beers’s programs that she left in 2003 before many of them got off the ground, though Radio Sawa and Alhurra are still on the air. Her successor, Margaret Tutwiler, lasted five months; Karen Hughes, who remained in office for two and a half years, announced her resignation on Halloween.

Karen Parfitt Hughes (born December 27, 1956) is a Republican politician from the state of Texas. She served as the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of State with the rank of ambassador. She resides in Austin, Texas.

Karen Hughes To Work on The World’s View of U.S.
Can Karen Hughes help US image abroad?

Charlotte Beers (born July 26, 1935 in Beaumont, Texas) is an American businesswoman and former Under Secretary of State.

She was the first female vice-president at the JWT advertising firm, then CEO of Tatham-Laird & Kudner until 1992, and finally CEO of Ogilvy & Mather until 1996. In 1997, Fortune magazine placed her on the cover of their first issue to feature the most powerful women in America, for her achievements in the advertising industry. In 1999, Beers received the “Legend in Leadership Award” from the Chief Executive Leadership Institute of the Yale School of Management.

From October 2001 until March 2003, she worked for the Bush Administration administration as the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Bush’s Muslim propaganda chief quits
The invasion of Iraq hasn’t begun, but the U.S. marketing machine has been going strong

Aside from noting a few critical mistakes that they seem to have made with their Middle East propaganda efforts, it’s just that public image abroad is flagrant propaganda maintained by really old Republican Texan women. Ugh.

I came across Hughes name a second time in two days in the Washington Post article having to do with “Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach“:

Similarly, many in the Arab world are convinced that the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was not the work of Arab terrorists but was a controlled demolition; that 4,000 Jews working there had been warned to stay home that day; and that the Pentagon was struck by a missile rather than a plane.

Those notions remain widespread even though the federal government now runs Web sites in seven languages to challenge them. Karen Hughes, who runs the Bush administration’s campaign to win hearts and minds in the fight against terrorism, recently painted a glowing report of the “digital outreach” teams working to counter misinformation and myths by challenging those ideas on Arabic blogs.


  1. K: “design has played a huge part in swaying public opinion for well over a century now.”

    What does this mean?

    How do you know?

  2. It’s what I do for a living.

  3. To extrapolate: There is a goal, designers gauge the best way to elicit certain reactions and interactions among certain groups or populaces, and they design step-by-step accordingly. Design is not the aesthetic, that is one part of the process and usually doesn’t come till the end. Contemporary design is the engineering of interaction, experience, and perception. In the past, one medium was politically satirical cartoons or propaganda posters. Or even the fact that Hugo Boss was responsible for how well-dressed the Third Reich was. It was all designed with schemes in mind that day-to-day happenings of individuals rarely get to observe in such grandeur.

    As is often said in the design field:

    Design is often invisible to us.
    Until it fails.

  4. Why not just put up a bunch of billboards using the hypersonic soundbeam all over the place? Then Microsoft can monitor people’s brains to see if it worked…

  5. Trevor, that was Fell who posted that, not me.

    Jowett and O’Donnell’s book Propaganda and Persuasion identifies the use of visual design to shape public opinion as far back as 500 B.C.E.

    Design is most definitely used with the intention of swaying public opinion, though how well it works is more controversial. I would argue that Fox News has employed design to successfully sway opinion in recent years, but I think that’s a little beyond the scope of a blog comment right now.

  6. Thanks, Klint. I’ll have to check out that Propaganda and Persuasion.

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