U.S. disavows video

September 20, 2012

Trying to blunt street protests surrounding a YouTube video that mocks the prophet Muhammad, the Obama administration paid $70,000 to buy ads on Pakistani television disavowing the video, the State Department said Thursday.

The ads, featuring President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, were airing on seven networks even as angry crowds tried to rush the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad housing the U.S. Embassy and other embassies on Thursday. Pakistani police kept about 2,000 protesters at bay.

The ads and a broader effort to solicit and promote pro-U.S. testimonials on YouTube are an effort by the State Department and White House to counter the pervasive view in Pakistan and other Muslim-majority nations that the crude video is either the work of the U.S. government or is condoned by it.

Anti-American sentiment runs high in Pakistan, and suspicion of U.S. motives runs deep.

“The sense was that this particular aspect of the president and the secretary’s message needed to be heard by more Pakistanis than had heard it, and that this was an effective way to get that message out,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The television messages resemble political ads. It is unusual but not unprecedented to air such messages overseas. The seven Pakistani networks have a potential audience of 90 million people, Nuland said.

Pakistan abruptly declared a holiday Friday that senior Pakistani officials said was an attempt to defuse protests that often follow Friday prayer services. U.S. diplomatic offices will be closed for the day.

The U.S. ad includes footage of Obama and Clinton making statements in the wake of last week’s attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya that killed four Americans. Neither Obama nor Clinton mentions the attack in the brief ad.

“Since our founding, the United States has been a nation of respect, that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” Obama says in the ad, which is stamped “paid content.”

Clinton then adds a categorical denial of any official U.S. involvement in producing the “Innocence of Muslims” video.

“We absolutely reject its contents,” she says.

The ad concludes with an image of the seal of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan also distributed a link to YouTube video of ordinary Americans and religious leaders condemning the anti-Islam clip.

Nuland said that the U.S. government had solicited some of the recorded comments to illustrate U.S. tolerance.

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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