Tuesday, January 25, 2005

How Dr. Rice Gets The News Out - And Why

I talked to someone who knows Condoleezza Rice yesterday. I mentioned there had been a spate of news out in the U.S. press about supposedly "tougher" U.S. policy toward Venezuela and greater engagement in Latin America and wanted to know whether I should be skeptical. After all, haven't we always been disappointed?

Columnists like Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald in recent days had been either calling for tougher policy, or else like AFP and others, speculating that there'd actually be tougher U.S. policy. This happened in the days before Rice's gruelling Senate confirmation hearings for Secretary of State.

I can't say if all of the stories that came out around this time are all related, but I learned that for at least some of them, the initiative was from Rice herself. Yes, Rice was the leak, and she got the word out early through these supposed leaks. "That is why so much of what was written resembled what she actually said," I was told.

It happened at several media outlets like this - a call came in from a senior State Department guy (high ranking, not a press guy), he said he had a leak on Latin America, he called the reporter in, and in the case of at least some, was taken to Rice herself, who gave the lowdown about how she wanted to do something about Chavez. I'm not aware of it happening for any other issue on foreign policy (though it might have), and perhaps it's significant that the reporters called in weren't necessarily Latin American specialists.

Apparently, leaking this was her strategy. It's not terribly unusual that this is the way news happens in Washington, but it helps to recognize news patterns to be able to read them. Not one of the recent news stories said it was her talking to them, but obviously, they ran with the stories because their source was good. And nobody made her do this, it's what she wanted to do.It's pretty clear to me that Condi Rice isn't going to be a reactive Secretary of State the way her predecessor Colin Powell was. She may well be the sort to move forward on Venezuela, not through megaphone diplomacy, but in that whale-under-the-surface way things move in Washington. Rice, after all, is a power player.

And Chavez, making adolescent noises about her last Sunday, could well be in for a surprise.

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