Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

Many social media mavens have declared that Twitter is a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon – a communications force that simply can’t be ignored.  Twitter was receiving such grandious claims that I had to be somewhat skeptical of its usefulness – particularly with respect to impacting public policy.  No communication tool could possibly live up to such hype, right?

While Twitter may eventually fade away as an ice cream cone on a hot July day, it is alive and well today.  The Wall Street Journal has even stated that “Twitter Goes Mainstream” and it has been reported that Rep. John Culberson is working to allow members of Congress to freely tweet.  Indeed, I’ve learned that Rep. Culberson is using his Twitter account to “help him stay in touch with his constituents,” which I heard on National Public Radio as I was zooming in-and-out of the typically abominable Washington traffic.

So given what I do every day, a couple of questions come to mind.  Should constituents tweet their member of Congress during votes (at least those with Twitter accounts)?  And, how will members of Congress respond to those tweets?  Will “twittering” Senators and Representatives monitor their Blackberry during the role call vote?  Could a vote be decided by the final tweet?

Hmmm.  Looks like I may just have to start considering “the tweet factor” in future campaign plans.

According to USA Today, it is so…


From Saturday’s Washington Post…

Al-Qaeda Web Forums Abruptly Taken Offline

Separately, Sunnis and Shiites Wage Online War

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 18, 2008; A01

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 17 — Four of the five main online forums that al-Qaeda‘s media wing uses to distribute statements by Osama bin Laden and other extremists have been disabled since mid-September, monitors of the Web sites say.

The disappearance of the forums on Sept. 10 — and al-Qaeda’s apparent inability to restore them or create alternate online venues, as it has before — has curbed the organization’s dissemination of the words and images of its fugitive leaders. On Sept. 29, a statement by the al-Fajr Media Center, a distribution network created by supporters of al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups, said the forums had disappeared “for technical reasons,” and it urged followers not to trust look-alike sites.

For al-Qaeda, “these sites are the equivalent of pentagon.mil, whitehouse.gov, att.com,” said Evan F. Kohlmann, an expert on online al-Qaeda operations who has advised the FBI and others. With just one authorized al-Qaeda site still in business, “this has left al-Qaeda’s propaganda strategy hanging by a very narrow thread.”

At the same time, in an apparently unrelated flare-up of online sectarian hostility, Shiite and Sunni hackers have targeted Web sites associated with the other sect, including that of a Saudi-owned television network and of Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric.

On several occasions over the past three years, unknown hackers have shut down al-Qaeda-affiliated Web sites after they announced the imminent release of a new video message from Osama bin Laden or another extremist leader. It is often impossible to pinpoint the source of such online attacks, though some experts say the culprits could be independent activists.

A U.S. intelligence official, asked about the online attacks, declined to say whether U.S. spy agencies engage in them. American and British security forces each have joint commands overseeing online operations against extremists.

“There had been this aura of invincibility” about al-Qaeda’s media operations, said Gregory D. Johnsen, a U.S.-based expert on violent Sunni groups in Yemen. “Now this has really been taken away from them.”

In early September, the al-Fajr forums were drumming up anticipation of al-Qaeda’s annual video marking the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “Await Sept. 11!” one message declared.

Instead, on Sept. 10, the forums vanished.

Rapid changes in domain-registration information and in servers suggested that the sites’ webmasters were working intently to bring the forums back up, according to a statement from the SITE Intelligence Group, a leading private monitor of Web sites of extremist groups.

After about 24 hours, one forum, al-Hesbah, reappeared, according to Kohlmann, a senior investigator with the NEFA Foundation in Charleston, S.C.

Al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11 video eventually appeared on al-Hesbah, which means “one who holds others accountable,” on Sept. 19. By then, the shine had been taken off the anniversary for al-Qaeda supporters.

“Oh, my God, save my brothers on the jihadi forums,” one user posted on al-Hesbah, according to Kohlmann.

“My dear brothers . . . increase your supplications for Allah to guide the bullet and to restore al-Ekhlaas successfully so that the message is spread,” another user wrote, according to SITE, referring to the most prominent of the downed forums.

Johnsen said that on extremist “forums that are still up, you have people who are quite paranoid and quite confused” about what’s going on. He said it is “certainly normal for jihadi chat rooms and forums . . . to have some kind of disruption. It was very clear this is something entirely different.”

Al-Qaeda has continued posting videos and statements on al-Hesbah. But Kohlmann said comparatively few followers have passwords to that site.

Al-Qaeda webmasters may be too concerned about letting in infiltrators to issue more passwords for al-Hesbah or to move to an alternate forum with new passwords, Kohlmann said.

“It’s the first time it’s happened now in three years for al-Qaeda to have only one forum left carrying al-Qaeda’s propaganda stream,” Kohlmann said. The al-Fajr center was created in late 2005.

Al-Qaeda has had to rely on the sites of others to help distribute its videos, costing the organization some control of its message and shrinking its audience, monitors said.

The sabotage of sites operated by extremist groups makes it more difficult for those groups to inspire attacks and recruit attackers, said Erich Marquardt, editor in chief of the Sentinel, a monthly online publication by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

However, “the downside of knocking jihadist Web sites offline is that you lose the ability to monitor jihadist activities,” eliminating opportunities for Western monitors to search for ideological weaknesses or clues to future operations, Marquardt said. “When these Web sites are taken offline, it closes an important window.”

Separately, Sunni and Shiite Internet partisans are waging a tit-for-tat hacking war. For now, Sunni extremist sites are taking the brunt.

In September, hackers targeted what Iranian news media estimated to be 300 Shiite sites, many of them operated by Shiite religious leaders in Iran. Targets included the official site of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq. For several days, visitors to that site were connected instead to a YouTube video featuring American talk-show host Bill Maher mocking what he said were the cleric’s edicts, or fatwas, on sexual matters. Aides to Sistani later denied that he had issued such edicts.

A group called Ghoroub XP, based in the United Arab Emirates, asserted responsibility. Its claim has not been publicly confirmed by any authorities.

Alleged Shiite hackers responded in force. By Oct. 1, hundreds of sites run by Sunnis, including those of religious figures, had vanished. In their place appeared a site featuring an Iranian flag superimposed over the intense gaze of a smiling woman.

There also was a message, citing a Koranic verse: “And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.”

The site of the Saudi-owned network al-Arabiya was among those attacked, forcing the news organization to move its site briefly to another domain. Al-Arabiya managers issued statements saying their coverage was balanced and neutral.

One Iranian, who answered questions submitted in writing and was identified as a hacker by sources familiar with the online religious world in Tehran, asserted responsibility for disrupting one Sunni site and said Sunni extremists online provoked the attack.

“The war is only between Shiite groups in Iran and Wahhabis,” said the writer, who declined to be further identified. Wahhabis are followers of a stringent Saudi-born branch of Sunni Islam.

“The way of hacking is that they attack and we respond,” he wrote. “The future will reveal our next step.”

Correspondent Thomas Erdbrink in Tehran and staff writer Joby Warrick and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

In addition to the big vote earlier tonight, there was another big vote in Canada that ended recently — one I wrote about earlier.

That vote chose the new theme for Hockey Night in Canada.

As I wrote earlier, the CBC chose not to renew its rights agreement for the theme for the iconic show — rights that ended up being purchased by TSN, the Canadian version of ESPN, which, in turn is owned by CTV, the nation’s largest private broadcaster.  Faced with the loss of a song that has been synonymous with Saturday night in Canada for literally decades, the CBC held a contest to choose a new theme song and let the Canadian public chose the winner.  Moreover, although they did most of it on the Web, they also put together several shows over the summer to keep the momentum up and thinking about the contest top of mind (I almost compared it to American Idol, but since Canadian Idol airs on CTV, that didn’t seem to work.)

Well, fresh ice is being spread at NHL rinks across the continent and the first night of Hockey Night in Canada (now available on the NHL Network in the United States) is past.  And we have a winner.

I’ve posted the link to the winning entry via this YouTube URL link here, since imbeding it doesn’t seem to work in this version of the WordPress.

I have to admit I like the new theme, even with the bagpipes.  The video is the same as last year as is the voice of Foster Hewitt; it’s the music that is new — which will help popularize it in the Great White North.

UPDATE: Okay, it’s not the new CBC video, which I now know since NHL Network now airs Hockey Night in Canada in the United States.  That said, the new music still works well.

Take a gander.

No, not Obama…at least tonight.

No, it is election night in Canada and the question is whether Prime Minister Harper will go from a minority government to a majority one.  It’s now 10 PM ET and the CBC (thanks to C-SPAN), the Canadian pubcaster, is projecting that Harper will get to form a government.  That was the minimum the Conservatives were expecting.  It is too early to call anything yet (although it looks like the Conservatives will not make it to a majority), but two points are interesting so far.

First, the Conservatives are doing better than expected in Ontario, especially in the 416 — Metro Toronto.  This has been a Liberal stronghold, or as a CBC commentator noted, a Liberal fortress, for years.

Second, the CBC coverage (as I mentioned, being simulcast on C-SPAN) is decidely low-tech and almost circa 1990s.  But that is not a bad thing.  Moreover, the coverage is easy to follow, province by province, and, with Peter Mansbridge anchoring, the show is an interesting one.  There is no CNN/John King-esque magic screen or similar whiz-bang, high-tech elements.

The private networks are doing it a little different.  CTV, which has previously streamed its coverage online, has blacked-out its coverage from being viewed in the United States.  This is too bad since Lloyd Robertson, the longest standing anchor in Canada, is likely in his final election.  Global TV, the second private network, is airing online and featuring former ABC News anchor/reporter Kevin Newman.  It’s coverage looks a lot better — okay, a lot more American with the high-tech gizmos– than the CBC coverage, but I’m not sure it’s much better.  I find myself paying more attention to the CBC on the TV than Global on the computer.

UPDATE: The CBC just called the election as a Conservative minority government — a stonger minority, but still a minority government.

UPDATE 2:  Interesting article in The Globe and Mail about one issue that seems to have significantly hurt the Liberals (and the Greens, who were shut out of Parliament).  Apparently Canadians weren’t big fans of the Liberals’ carbon tax plan and the already existing carbon tax in British Columbia may help bring down the Liberal government in the province next year.  The Conservatives, who campaigned against the tax picked up five seats in British Columbia, taking four seats away from the Liberals (and one from the even more liberal, pro-carbon tax NDP).

I may be tilting at windmills here, but the news in the morning’s Wall Street Journal regarding four FCC commissioners (both Ds and Rs) ganging up on Chairman Kevin Martin to halt his desire to enact a staff ruling in favor of the NFL Network sounds like the Chairman has lost any semblance of control.  The key paragraphs are here…

The Federal Communications Commission’s staff was on the verge of ruling in favor of the NFL Friday afternoon, when the decision was derailed by an unusual protest by four of the FCC’s five commissioners….

A sympathetic ruling from the FCC would essentially save the NFL Network, which has operated in near oblivion since it launched in 2003. The channel is in 42 million homes in the U.S., but satellite systems account for nearly 75% of the penetration and Comcast is one of several large cable operators which has balked.

The NFL tried to appeal to the public to protest their cable providers’ decision, hoping that the eight games it airs exclusively on the network would anger fans who were shut out. It didn’t work. This year, the company pursued negotiations with Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN about merging the NFL Network with ESPN Classic to gain wider distribution. Talks stalled, however, over numerous issues, including who controls the channel. An FCC decision in the league’s favor might make those discussions moot. Comcast has 24.6 million subscribers.

As the article goes on to point out, the network’s efforts to gain public support met with a collective yawn from cable viewers (bad PR campaign).  Moreover, since the case will go to an administrative law judge, the ruling will be pushed out at least another 60 days, effectively keeping the NFL Network off basic cable (assuming the league wins) until next season.

Oct 07

Reading List

If you are going to read one magazine this month, I highly recommend the current issue of The Atlantic — especially Jim Fallows’ article on wiring western China, the short article on whether wind power is the next ethanol and the article on the 1958 Giants-Colts NFL championship game. The cover article on John McCain is also worth reading.

I was in Minneapolis last week for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative conference.  While the Twins’ run to the MLB play-offs was great theater and dominated the headlines and newscasts, ultimately the Twins didn’t make it to the play-offs (even if I got to sit in on a meaningful game btw. the Twins and the ChiSox at the Metrodome).

The other REALLY big thing on TV was the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken.  The ads were everywhere.  Franken’s ads (his and the DNSC funded ads) went after Coleman for his role in his initial support for the Iraq War (which the candidate has backed away from). The DNSC is relying on ads featuring the parents of a dead Iraq War veteran whose mom lays the blame for her son’s death at the senator’s feet and a dad who says “Norm’s gotta go” and a less effective testimonial from a Minnesotan businessman who attacks Coleman over high gas prices. 

Unfortunately, the first ad sound like a bad parody of “Fargo” (which puts Minnesotans on the defensive when you point that out) more than anything else. The Coleman and NRSC ads focus on Franken’s temperament and Franken’s record as a sometimes blue comedian and talk show host (lots of bleeps).  There is also a mostly positive ad that focuses on (bipartisan) solutions that benefited the state. My take: advantage Coleman. Although there are 1.5 pro-Franken ads on the air for every pro-Coleman ad, the Minnesotans I spoke to said Franken’s temperament was a defining issue.

Advantage Wall Street…

The U.S. House of Representatives held its first hearing today on the Wall Street collapse of Lehman Brothers.  Watching the hearing today on CNBC, I have to say it was a PR disaster for Rep. Henry Waxman and the Democratic-controlled Committee (not that some Republicans asked equally stupid questions).  That is because a lot of the coverage focused on what Waxman said in his first round of questioning.

That rightfully angered (perhaps too polite a word) many on Wall Street and other places because the questions had less to do with what went on and had more to do with class issues of how much Richard Fuld made over the past 15 years and what he did with the money he made (earned is still subject to some debate). Given Lehman didn’t lose money until last year, see this clip from CNBC of this example of Wall Street outrage — forward to about 4 minutes in where Sue Harrera talks to reporter Matt Nesto.  It is here:


(Unfortunately, the clip only works if you are using IE and the latest Mister Softy plug ins.)

My take: Go Matt, Go.

Senor Independent (previously known as CNN’s Lou Dobbs) also had a field day at Waxman’s expense on his show tonight. Alas, CNN has not put up a clip as of now.

Long story short,  I want to quote “The West Wing’s” White House Press Secretary C.J. Craig.  When asked how to short circuit a legitimate investigation, she answered, “This is a job for the House of Representatives.”

At the time, the barb was directed at the Republicans who controlled the House.  But now it shows that the House Democrats are equally (if not more) stupid.

As PR types, we are often asked what it takes to get an letter to the editor published in a major paper.  There are many things that go into it, but creativity is always helpful.  Here is a great one from Wednesday’s Financial Times….

From Mr. Jonathan P. Kahn

Sir, Citibank’s woes have been in large part blamed on the failed business model of trying to be every bank for everybody or, as Wall Street likes to call it, a financial supermarket.

With the purchase of FleetBoston, MBNA, USTrust, Lasalle and now, Merrill, Bank of America is defying conventional wisdom and, in choosing to walk down the aisle yet again, has become the Elizabeth Taylor of financial institutions.  Hope it has better luck.

Jonathan P. Kahn

Great Neck, NY, US

Also, it appears that the PTBs at the University of Virginia have further clamped down on free speech.  Should you have wished ask Coach Al Groh about his team’s 45-10 loss to UConn on the 1-2 team’s radio network, you would have been forced to submit it by text or by e-mail — no live calls where you might say something that hurts the coach’s feelings.