Monday, January 02, 2006

Bush Administration Stops Publishing Magazine Unpopular Among Middle East Arabs

The Bush Administration has suspended publication of Hi Magazine -- a glossy, monthly attempt to win the hearts and minds of young Middle East Arabs.

The administration spent $4.5 million annually since July 2003 in the propaganda effort, designed to target Middle East Arabs aged 18-35. But the magazine failed to attract an audience, and was criticized by Arab commentators as "brainwashing." One critic dubbed it the CIA's official publication.

And you know, once a publication is labeled a CIA front, it's hard to win over the youth of Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Of the 55,000 copies distributed, only 2,500 were purchased on any given month, the state department said.

The magazine was Exhibit A in how not to win the minds and hearts of young Middle East Arabs.

While the magazine tried to sell Middle East Arabs on "good news" U.S. stories -- such as articles (I'm not making this up) on NASCAR, the healthy eating pyramid or men using moisturizers. Meanwhile, the same audience was watching Al Jazeera and seeing images of the Iraq War, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison and allegations of maltreatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Who would think that such banal stories about U.S. life would interest Arabs? It would have to be a U.S. government that naively thought the U.S. would be "greeted as liberators" and "showered with chocolates and flowers."

***

Should the U.S. spend money to improve its image in Arab countries? Sure, through diplomacy and humanitarian aid. At the same time, it should be working with our "friends" in those countries's governments, asking them to help curtail their own countries' anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, which can be seen in government-backed newspapers and government-financed textbooks.

Maybe an independent publisher will try to pick up the ball and produce a U.S.-friendly magazine for Middle East Arabs. If they do, here's a hint: Hire Middle East Arabs and Arab-Americans, and showcase Arab-American success stories -- such as U.S.-trained doctors returning to their home countries, business leaders, athletes and entertainers. The goal of any such publication should be to connect with Middle East Arabs. Trying to convert them to NASCAR and face cream isn't the same thing. They know it, and we should, too.

"Like other parts of our new diplomatic effort, it was not seen as something credible,'' Steven Cook, a Middle East expert at the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations, told the Toronto Star. "It was seen as propaganda and it wasn't doing what it was supposed to be doing."

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bush administration attempts propaganda at abroad, as well as at home, in place of real policies and real effort, and in place of the truth.
There's a lesson these intelligent young Arabs, who rejected the idea, could teach the ignorant right wing in this country.
Too bad, the right cannot also distinguish between the truth and lying, manipulative Bushie propaganda.
The right would just assume allow the Bushies to spread their desired Marxist, Facist media-controlled state.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous John Burgess said...

I'm very familiar with Hi! magazine, having been involved since its inception in helping to define the content of the magazine.

I think it flawed, seriously, but you err in thinking it nothing but a propaganda piece. Its intent was to pick up, with modification, where an earlier Arabic-language magazine Al-Majalla, which was shut down during the budget-cutting of the 1990s.

The goal of the magazine (as its predecesor) was to inform Arab audiences about American life, culture, and values. It attempted to do this through stories that were not being reported in the Arab media, nor the international media to any great extent.

These stories included feature stories about the success of Arab Americans in their fields of endeavor, about freedom of religion, about civil rights. The magazine, which operated for over 15 years, was not tied to any particular administration, nor to any particular political view. It attempted, rather, to portray America, warts and all.

Hi! erred in several respects. First, in a budget-tight period, it was deemed important that it pay its own way, insofar as possible, through subscriptions. Second, it was aimed at a young (17-30 years of age) audience.

Al-Majalla was free and widely distributed. That made it attractive in its own right.

Al-Majalla also featured reprints of articles appearing in more serious American publications, including thought pieces by noted critics, academics, and authors. Hi!, in targeting a younger audience, went for fluffier pieces about pop culture, with only the occasional piece on American values.

Pop culture already had a solid audience in the Middle East, and plenty of venues in which to find it. The magazine simply can not compete in this marketplace.

There remains a very real need to show and explain American culture and values to an audience that gets its primary information from TV. Hi! simply wasn't the right vehicle.

You can, of course, argue about what represents "American values". But you are seriously mistaken if you assume that it was solely the values held by any political group or class.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on above response, I still have the questions:
For what reason was the Bush Administration behind funding the magazine?
Did the predecessor also receive funding from the U.S. government?
Why was it decided younger Arab audiences could not handle "think pieces" as appeared the predecessor magazine?
The Bush Administration has a track record of dirtying its hands in the media as an outlet to spew propaganda. Did the Administration have a controlling interest in the reincarnation of the magazine?
Thank you.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

John, any way you slice it, the magazine was created by the American government, rather than an independent publisher. The Middle East Arabs knew that, and criticized HI as being propaganda.

Yes, the magazine had a wider array of stories than the handful JABBS mentions. But when you have 2,500 sales out of 55,000, and you're labeled a CIA front, you need to go back to the drawing board.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

John, any way you slice it, the magazine was created by the American government, rather than an independent publisher. The Middle East Arabs knew that, and criticized HI as being propaganda.

Yes, the magazine had a wider array of stories than the handful JABBS mentions. But when you have 2,500 sales out of 55,000, and you're labeled a CIA front, you need to go back to the drawing board.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The way the magazine was perceived -- and perhaps how it was presented -- no doubt changed after 9/11, and then again after the U.S. entered Iraq.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous ash said...

Hey, John, you're pretty good at propagandizing the propaganda. Just not that good.

Face cream?!! That will keep me laughing the rest of the year.

4:56 PM  
Blogger gandhi said...

There is a thin line between outright propaganda, US-friendly "business ventures" and even so-called "charities".

The full extent of US propaganda involving the Lincoln Group et al is still just tricklying out in the media, so until a comprehensive list of propaganda targets is published, EVERYTHING is open to suspiscion.

If anybody knows where such a comprehensive list of US-funded propaganda sites has been published, please email me.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous tanyev said...

Jeez. That's even more embarrassing than sending Mama Karen on her patronizing Middle East tour. Who the hell do they think they are?

5:31 PM  
Anonymous marmar said...

Every thing this administration touches in the Middle East turns to stone. The Iraq War was just an all-around disaster in every way.

5:31 PM  
Anonymous ReverendDeuce said...

One look at their home page about sums it up...

Look, it's the Cleavers! And what's with the cover of the magazine looking like Popular Mechanics? Talk about surreal... could they be any more blatant?

http://www.himag.com /

5:32 PM  
Anonymous undeterred said...

How about "Arab Metrosexual" with articles on waxing back hair and flirting through the Burka?

5:32 PM  

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