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Monday, July 23, 2007

The All New War on Terror -- Now With 90% More 'Helpfulness!'

Rockey Vaccarella and George W. Bush

I've written before how the Bush administration seems to believe that every problem is solved by public relations. When Bush was getting flack for the response to Hurricane Katrina, he rigged a PR stunt that was stunning in its total contempt for people still recovering from the storm and for everyone's intelligence. The fact that it was also unbelievably cruel was just bonus, I suppose.

The White House hooked up with a guy named Rockey Vaccarella to pull off a hoax. Vaccarella took a FEMA trailer up to Washington for what everyone assumed would be a protest. Rockey had set up a myspace page that sounded one hell of a lot like he was going to give Bush an earful -- or, as he put it, to "deliver a simple yet powerful message." "We want to thank President Bush and the American people for everything they have done so far for south Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region," he wrote on his page, "But, to remind everyone that the job is not complete and to please do whatever is possible to help clean-up and re-build so our people can return home."

People from the region left comments on his page, expressing their frustration. "When you make it there kick Bush in the ass one good time for taking so long," read one. "Go Rockey! Good luck and I'm glad someone is doing something about our parish!!!! Thanks!!" read another.

These people could be excused for thinking they'd found their Cindy Sheehan. Vaccarella's plan was to demand a dinner with the president to deliver his message. To everyone's surprise, he got it. He and Bush stood together for the cameras while Vaccarella thanked Bush for all the good work he'd done in the area. The White House has the transcript of Rockey's 'protest.' mission was very simple. I wanted to thank President Bush for the millions of FEMA trailers that were brought down there. They gave roofs over people's head. People had the chance to have baths, air condition. We have TV, we have toiletry, we have things that are necessities that we can live upon.

But now, I wanted to remind the President that the job's not done, and he knows that. And I just don't want the government and President Bush to forget about us. And I just wish the President could have another term in Washington.

This was one year after Katrina hit and the White House had staged a 'Huzzah for Bush!' photo-op. Not only were people still living in FEMA trailers then, people are still living in FEMA trailers now. Turns out, Rockey was a longtime political op and failed GOP candidate from St. Bernard Parish -- i.e., a stooge. I can't imagine how disappointed those people who'd pinned their hopes on Rockey Vaccarella's 'protest' had to be. As I say, it was an unbelievably cruel hoax. The Bush administration had found yet another way to let people down.

The photo-op didn't do a damned thing. The combination of outrage over Katrina and Cindy Sheehan's real protest brought Bush's poll numbers down to the basement. He's never recovered.

I don't really mean this to be a trip down Bad Memory Lane. Basically, it was just the first example of Bushco's many hamhanded attempts at PR that popped into my head. Karl Rove's 'genius' seems to extend only winning elections by tearing opponents down -- he has absolutely no skill at all in building anyone up. For an administration that believes every problem that comes down the pipe is a PR problem first, foremost, and only, this has been a disastrous shortcoming for them.

Now, the RAND Corporation, a think tank, has a way to win the war on terror; a big PR campaign. It cost the Pentagon nearly half a million to commission RAND's study, proving that money can't buy everything. Especially wisdom.

Washington Post:

The key to boosting the image and effectiveness of U.S. military operations around the world involves "shaping" both the product and the marketplace, and then establishing a brand identity that places what you are selling in a positive light, said clinical psychologist Todd C. Helmus, the author of "Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation." The 211-page study, for which the U.S. Joint Forces Command paid the Rand Corp. $400,000, was released this week.

Seems a little late to 'rebrand' the war now. It's been 'Thieving and Murderous Imperialist Suck-Storm Over Oil' for so long, it's hard to imagine anyone seeing it any other way. The language of it all is just so damned cynical. "Helmus and his co-authors concluded that the 'force' brand, which the United States peddled for the first few years of the occupation, was doomed from the start and lost ground to enemies' competing brands," WaPo tells us. The new suggested brand is 'We will help you.'

That'd be nice if the middle east hadn't witnessed Bush's idea of 'help' up close and personal. They thought they were giving iraqis so much help that we'd have trouble dealing with how grateful they'd all be. Turns out, iraqis didn't see us as being especially helpful. More like a good reason for a six year national riot.

The whole thing isn't entirely bad, though. According to WaPo, Helmus says that the "U.S. military and civilian authorities must stop thinking of themselves as a 'good-idea factory' whose every thought has greater merit than those of their customers." That'd be good advice, if the larger plan weren't to treat everyone like freakin' idiots.

Of course, the Bush administration is really skilled at ignoring good advice -- no matter how expensive that advice is -- and they believe that punishment is the only tool that works. They may adopt the rebranding part, as long as they can figure out a way to do it without changing a damned thing they actually do.

But the wise part, the 'don't-treat-muslims-as-children' part, just plain isn't going to happen. It just strikes me as extremely unlikely that they'll be open to treating people in the middle east any better than they treat americans. They'll find some muslim Rockey Vaccarella to show off for the cameras. They'll insult and disappoint people even more than they are now. They'll prove further that they have nothing but contempt for the people they're pretending to help.

For the administration who believes that honesty is the worst policy and that there's no problem that can't be fixed with a big, steaming pile of BS, a new PR campaign would just be a new way to fail miserably.


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reelrich said...


I can understand how you might think that Rockey's visit to see Bush was a PR stunt but if you are willing to listen, I can tell you with 100% authority that it was not. I helped produced the documentary, "Forgotten on the Bayou: Rockey's Mission to the White House" which chronicles Rockey's journey to Washington DC and if you were to watch it you would see the truth. You would see that Rockey is and was very critical of Bush. He makes comments like "We are helping to clean up other countries like Iraq, but we can't clean up one of our own cities?" and "I never thought I would see this happen in America" just to name a few. Actually one of his best comments is while he's watching a Bush press conference and Rockey says, "The Gulf Coast is the farthest thing from this guys mind right now". You would also see that Rockey is a small town guy with no connections to George Bush or Karl Rove or anyone in Washington...he could barely get time with local officials and barely made it out of New Orleans! Now to his credit, he did go to DC in a civil manner looking to talk to George Bush and not just attack him. If you talk to Rockey he is genuinely appreciative to have somewhere to live even if it is a FEMA trailer. It's definitely the "you get more bees with honey" approach and it did get him 51 minutes one-on-one in the oval office to talk to Bush about the problems of the region. Now with that being said, he'll be the first to tell you that he was nervous and probably got a little star struck...and not by George Bush but by the situation. I don't care who you are but if you're a small town guy meeting the most powerful man in the world you may have more than a few butterflies in your stomach and you aren't going to go in with all guns blazing. I also want to ask you but don't you think it's possible that the White House saw Rockey coming and tried to find a way to use it to their benefit? Because I believe that is exactly what happened and why they invited him to the White House. I ask you to watch the film, meet Rockey and make up your own mind. It's showing at The Moondance Film Festival in Los Angeles, Sept 7-9, 2007 and at the First Glance Film Fest in Philadelphia Sept 28 - Oct 7, 2007.

By the way, I am not a Republican, did not vote for Bush and am not a fan of his. But I think what Rockey did is show that if you have an idea, no matter how crazy, you just need to get off your couch and try to achieve it.

Ghost Rider said...

Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking
Short Film: Rose
Short Film: Miraculum
Short Film: Chiyo
Short Family Film: The Problem With Percival

Special Achievement Award
Humanitarian Vision: Forgotten On the Bayou: Rockey's Mission to the White House
Documentary: The King of Kong
Perrier Bubbling Under Award: Chasing the Dream
Action Sports: Chasing the Lotus
Documentary: The ArtFusion Experiment

Anonymous said...

Would you like to know the truth ?