Bush Message Machine Is Set To Roll With Its Own War Plan

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2003

When American troops move into Iraq, the Bush administration's message machine, in its own way as massive and disciplined as the U.S. military, will be equally ready to roll. Staffed with veterans of countless political campaigns, and honed on the communications lessons of Afghanistan, its war plan is in place.

Senior spokesmen and coordinators from the White House, the National Security Council and the State and Defense departments held their latest formal planning session last week in the White House's Roosevelt Room, administration officials said. President Bush dropped by to bless their efforts and to remind them of the need to get out the news "in a coordinated way that reflects the truth about our efforts."

More than any other conflict in history, the Iraq war will be conducted under the staring eyes and within constant earshot of most of the world. In a new Pentagon strategy both to disseminate and control the news, U.S. and foreign journalists are integrated into virtually every U.S. and British unit, with satellite technology enabling them to broadcast reports on the war on the ground as it happens. A number of journalists remain in Baghdad, watching, for the moment at least, from the other side.

While many in this country will welcome the opportunity to cheer on the U.S. forces and watch over their safety on a real-time basis, a large portion of the worldwide audience is opposed to an invasion of Iraq and could be quick to criticize the administration in the event of civilian casualties or other bleak news.

Just as in a political campaign, the Bush administration wants its version of each day's events to be first and foremost, as it seeks to press preferred story lines.

"It's a given that we want to draw attention to the truth about Iraq," including humanitarian abuses, "as soon as the dictator's grip has been loosened," one administration official said. "The truth about Iraq has been at the heart of our arguments for six months," the official said, "and it's going to be front and center for the skeptics in the weeks ahead."

The close attention to its war message mirrors the discipline the Bush team brought to his election campaign and to the passage of his domestic political agenda, especially the securing of a $ 1.35 trillion tax cut from Congress. Such a comprehensive communications strategy for a war, however, is unprecedented in the modern White House.

Once the war starts, the administration plans to fill every information void in the 24-hour worldwide news cycle, leaving little to chance or interpretation.

At dawn, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer will brief the television networks and the wire services in a conference call before the morning news programs. A conference call will follow among Fleischer, Bush communications director Dan Bartlett and White House Office of Global Communications Director Tucker Eskew, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's senior spokesman, Alastair Campbell. During the call, they will set out thematic story lines for the day and deal with pending problems.

An afternoon briefing at Central Command headquarters in Qatar will be held most days, timed to hit the news at noon in the United States. Supper-time television news in the United States and late broadcasts in Europe will be fed by the Pentagon's afternoon briefing in Washington, where military officials will utilize the video images from targeted bombs that all agree worked well in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and in the Afghan campaign.

Broadcasts on the government's Radio Sawa and on other Voice of America regional outlets will carry the U.S. message to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region. A daily grid of senior officials available to be interviewed by Arab and other media will be prepared and coordinated. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, will be available for regular background briefings with selected small groups of print reporters, officials said.

Every night, the Office of Global Communications will distribute its "Global Messenger" via e-mail to government offices in Washington and to embassies and other U.S. facilities around the world. Already in operation, the Messenger supplies U.S. diplomats abroad with talking points and key quotes from Bush and senior officials to prepare them for the day ahead.

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