It's telling how sparse and neutral Western reporting has been on the Georgian television channel Imedi's spoof news program.
They did not even reference such textbook examples as the 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds", which Americans believed was an actual report of a Martian invasion, or a similar broadcast on Ecuadorian radio in 1949, which resulted in an attack on the station that claimed the lives of six people.
Meanwhile, if Channel One Russia had broadcast a fake story about NATO's invasion of Kaliningrad, for example, the outpouring of irony from Vancouver to Tokyo would have been endless. Perhaps Saakashvili is disappointed by the coverage. After all, nothing upsets a creative PR man more than limited media coverage. No doubt, Saakashvili is a PR man. This is how Zurab Noghaideli, his former prime minister, referred to him today during an interview via satellite with RIA Novosti. "We can expect a lot more PR stunts from Saakashvili in the future," he told Russian and Georgian journalists.
Alas, what passes for PR these days would have been labeled lies, provocation or, at best, empty rhetoric in the past. But Saakashvili has been trying to keep up with the times, and so he doesn't scrimp on PR. Shortly before Imedi's stunt on the ides of March Georgia hired Podesta Group, yet another American PR company. At the same time it signed a contract for $436,000 with Gephardt Group Government Affairs, a PR company headed by Dick Gephardt, a former Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to Transparency International, in the months after the events of August 2008, Saakashvili spent $1.67 million on his American lobbyists. This does not reflect the full amount, however, as the Georgians agreed in writing to reimburse their American employees for business trips and accommodations on both sides of the Atlantic as well as to cover other "essential" spending.
Perhaps it's inappropriate to count the money in a foreign country's budget, but when I looked at these figures I could not help recalling the professors who were dismissed from Tbilisi University, the old Georgian books that are still being read for lack of new ones, and an improperly trained Georgian luger who lost his life because the Georgian Bobsled Federation was strapped for cash.
Art, science and sports are old fashioned. They have nothing to do with the market, and so they have no prospects. PR, on the other hand, has great prospects. Millions of dollars are being spent on it, and far-fetched lectures are being given on it in both Moscow and Tbilisi. Television, radio, sporting events and pop concerts are turning into PR-support for top officials. Like all lies and empty rhetoric, this PR is designed to mask political failures and a lack of solutions.
As a result of the 2008 war, Georgia can no longer hope to solve the South Ossetia and Abkhazia issue militarily. Saakashvili cannot exert diplomatic pressure on Russia because of his dubious reputation. All he can do is stage PR stunts, and so he does. First, there was the 14-year sentence handed down by a Georgian court on a Turkish captain that transported goods to Abkhazia, like his French colleague Edmond Dantes. Then there was the demolition of a monument to war veterans. And now we are getting the war of the worlds...
When nefarious PR experts are criticized for wasting budget money on lies and empty rhetoric, they usually cite global practices and talk about the need to move away from an authoritarian mentality. When Saakashvili was asked by the anchor of the BBC Hard Talk about his ties to Randy Scheunemann, a PR man for former U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, all he could say was that the anchor sounded just like Putin.
Hiring American PR companies is certainly one way to keep up with the times, but one should not forget the words of the apostle Paul: "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti correspondent Dmitry Babich)