RABAT, Morocco (AP) – The U.S. State Department chose a novel way to publicize baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr.’s appointment this week as its special sports envoy. It went on YouTube.
Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, who appears in the video, said Thursday it was part of her campaign to bring a positive image of the United States to a skeptical global audience – particularly in the Muslim world. Children are a chief target.
“It’s important that we reach out to Muslim populations around the world,” Hughes said in an interview with The Associated Press. She was in Morocco this week to visit a U.S.-funded summer camp for poor Moroccan children.
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The best way to counter widespread Muslim distrust of the U.S. is to expose young people to American values, Hughes said. For that, she is turning to online media like the popular video-posting web site YouTube.com, which attracts the tech-savvy youths she is targeting.
“I know as a mother that by the time kids get to high school, their opinions are pretty hardened,” Hughes said. “Children tend to be a lot more open-minded.”
As part of the campaign, Arabic speakers on Hughes’ staff also log on to the chat forums of Arabic-language blogs to challenge “representations of America that are inaccurate,” she said. She said they identify themselves as members of the State Department’s outreach team.
Using online media allows Hughes and her team to bypass the saturated market of traditional media outlets.
“During the Cold War, we were trying to get information in to largely closed societies,” Hughes said. “Today we’re competing for attention and credibility in a very noisy and crowded communications environment.”
Hughes’ charm offensive often collides with unpopular U.S. policies in the Middle East, especially when it comes to Israel.
Hughes’ video on Ripken coincides with another event this week likely to grab headlines in the Arab world: Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns signed a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to sell Israel $30 billion in weapons over the next 10 years.
Hughes acknowledged that getting Muslims to take her seriously is a challenge. “As a Christian, as a woman and as a U.S. official I have three strikes against me when it comes to credibility in a lot of the Islamic world,” she said.