I’m advised by my company finance director that I get exploited by conniving freeloaders: I pay for their lunch and then impart PR advice worth millions.
If I organised my lunches like my lawyer organises consultations, I’d book a seven-course meal, attach a meter to the table, eat my soup off a cocktail stick, talk like I’d just had a stroke, lean back in my chair, interlace my fingers, look thoughtful, measured and intelligent and then tell my client I’d send over a letter enclosing my invoice and advising that I’d be pleased to meet for another meal (£31,860 plus expenses and VAT) to discuss the matter further.
I haven’t got time for that. Here’s some free stuff that I’d never get paid for anyway, since it’s for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
People tell me Afghanistan makes the Middle Ages look hi-tech and, certainly, in PR terms, the country is missing every opportunity in the book.
Rule one – for warmongers everywhere – is let the opposition journalists in.
Don’t force John Simpson to don a burka and hitch a lift on a donkey because he’ll only get upset and write filthy, unbalanced propaganda to poison western minds.
Instead, treat western journalists with courtesy and respect.
Invite them to view the issue from the other side and inject some balance into the business.
Locate some collateral damage (some civilians injured by military fallout) and an antibiotics factory blown up by a supposedly smart – but, actually, mentally unbalanced – missile that was intended to demolish an underground bunker.
Remind the western forces that surgical is not synonymous with accurate, as past success rates in a Bristol cardiology unit will attest.
But there are signs the Taliban are beginning to cotton on.
Early in the week, the “Afghanistan crawling with Bin Laden lookalikes” story started wandering around the wires and the internet.
Then, via the al-Jazeera TV station in Qatar, the video footage of Bin Laden emerged. How? Thrown at a reporter from a speeding car, of course. It’s a bit of a crude cover story but they’ll get there in the end.
Saddam Hussein knows the value of letting in the enemy’s media (under strictly controlled conditions) because dissenting voices will always be heard in the west.
We’re aware this stuff is propaganda but in the midst of the worst and most amoral propaganda there may well lurk a seed of truth – and a seed of truth is a seed of doubt.
When we start questioning what the truth may be, we undermine the “if you’re not for us, you’re against us” consensus that so simplifies the business of waging war.
For Tony Blair’s lieutenant, Alistair Campbell, the Taliban’s naivete is heaven sent.
He has a free rein to forge whatever construction of the available information best suits the western alliance.
But, if he has any regard for history, despite the sheer horror and magnitude of the atrocities in America, Mr Campbell knows he can’t afford to be complacent.
The Taliban will get wise to the ways of the world’s media.
Mr Campbell can probably handle the manufactured material. But then, beyond the lies, half-truths, distortions and deceptions of spin, he needs to be exceptionally wary.
Remember My Lai and Saigon: one running, terrified, screaming, burning child, and a monk sitting, cross-legged, stock still, in a shocking act of self-immolation.