- By Daniel W. Drezner
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.
I suspect public and/or media relations is one of those jobs that’s way more glamorous in fiction than in fact. In film, being a master of public relations seems like one of those cool jobs a young hotshot possesses right before meeting Mila Kunis and having the epiphany that Love and Truth and Beauty are the only things worth a damn. In reality, however, there’s the drudgery of sending endless e-mails, faxes, and voicemail messages to market one’s clients. Rarely do the twain meet.
I bring this up because every once in a while, even a PR flack can scale the heights of greatness. Today’s New York Times story by Julie Creswell, Louise Story and Edward Wyatt — ostensibly an attempt to find out about the inner workings of Standard & Poor’s sovereign debt committee contains one such moment:
When asked whether the company’s raters were hiding behind the secretive committee, Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for S.& P., said, “We do this to maintain our analytical independence in much the same way that the editorial board of The New York Times does not discuss its deliberations.” Ms. Mathis was a spokeswoman for The Times until two years ago.
To which I must say:
I mean this seriously and not facetiously. By implicitly linking S&P’s practices to those of the New York Times, Mathis sells the elite credentials of her institution. It’s a brilliant gambit because it leaves the Times’ reporters with unpalatable options. Either they try to detail the precise differences between the Gray Lady and S&P, which would have seemed like total hair-splitting — or they just move on to the rest of the story.
If Mathis was the S&P person handling the Times reporters, she earned her money’s worth with this article. Despite myriad qualms with S&P’s methodology, and despite that whole $2 trillion math error, the story has nary a critical or investigative word to say of Standard & Poor’s.
Instead, first half of the story story consists of anodyne biographic material of the ratings committee leadership. The second half of the story focuses solely on an IMF report that provides a partial endorsement of S&P’s sovereign debt ratings — including this nugget:
One chapter of the report said that all nations that had defaulted on their sovereign debt since 1975 had been placed in a noninvestment-grade category at least one year before the default.
So, in other words, S&P hasn’t missed a single basket case in the past 35 years. Is it just me, or is that setting the bar pretty low?
Regardless of how one feels about Standard & Poor’s
contribution to the decline and fall of western civilization decisions, however, one must step back and respect the yoeman efforts of an outstanding public relations team. The hard-working staff here at ForeignPolicy.com therefore toasts Catherine Mathis and her team for some quality PR work. One can only hope that, in the near future, Ms. Mathis stumbles across Justin Timberlake at a New York bar and finds the True Meaning of Life.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.| Marc Lynch |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |