WikiLeaks: PR firm tried to buff Syria’s image after crackdown

The Los Angeles Times reports: A New York-based public relations firm tried to help the Syrian government “brand” its reforms last year as media reported its crackdown on protesters, according to an email released Friday by WikiLeaks.

The firm, Brown Lloyd James, had earlier helped arrange a rosy profile of Syrian first lady Asma Assad in Vogue magazine that praised her as “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” It had been paid $5,000 a month for that work, according to a Foreign Agents Registration Act document.

Months later, in a memo last May to one of her aides, the firm advised Syria that it needed to buff up its image abroad as decidedly unflattering stories of mass arrests and alleged killings spread in the press.

“Mass arrests of activists, protesters and in some cases males older than 15 have skyrocketed, with thousands held in detention centers where human rights activists say they have been subjected to physical and mental abuse,” the Los Angeles Times reported eight days before the firm sent its memo. A later article said dissidents claimed a mass grave filled with slain protesters had been found in the south.

The public relations firm said Syria suffered from “an imbalance in its communications approach” that had failed to reassure the Syrian people and outsiders that it was genuinely pursuing reform.

“Syria seems to be communicating with two hands. One is offering reform and the other, rule of law. Rule of law is a fist. Reform is an open hand. Right now the fist appears to the outside world, and probably to many Syrians, as though it is ten times bigger than the outstretched palm,” the firm wrote in its email, which WikiLeaks dated to May 19, 2011. “They must be brought into better balance.”

Brown Lloyd James added that the Obama administration had not demanded regime change and clearly wanted the leadership in Syria to survive, saying “criticism has been relatively muted.” It warned, however, that the U.S. tone had grown harsher in recent weeks and could be nearing a tipping point.

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