- By Katie CellaKatie Cella is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
Baghdad’s electricity ministry pulled a strange PR stunt this week by displaying the American newscaster Katie Couric’s face on giant billboards around the city in a campaign to "inspire the people to imagine a better future for electricity," according to a ministry spokesman.
Intermittent electricity supply means that Iraqis battle summer temperatures upwards of 108 degrees Fahrenheit without much air conditioning. Power outages are commonplace, and most Baghdad homes have working electricity for only a few hours a day.
The ministry’s latest plan to prevent public uproar over the country’s sub-par infrastructure (which erupted last spring and forced the electricity minister to resign) was to post unauthorized images of NBC’s former "Today Show" host Katie Couric throughout Baghdad that advertise the ministry’s public relations television program. While the smiling face of "America’s Sweetheart" may not be doing much to solve the electricity problem, it seems to be lifting spirits.
"It doesn’t give me hope about electricity, but I like to see her beautiful face," a fruit vendor told New York Times reporter Tim Arango. Another storeowner said, "Whoever comes here says, ‘What a beautiful face,’ She’s smiling. She gives us hope."
The ministry spokesman explained that they had considered depicting an Iraqi new caster on the banner, but her family opposed displaying her image publicly. The picture of Couric, who is wearing a brown blazer in the advertisement, was acceptable for the streets of Baghdad. The ministry’s web designer said her image was "perfect for us."
Unlike U.S. television star Kim Kardashian, who sued Old Navy for using a model that merely looked like her, Katie Couric jokingly told reporters she was going to call her lawyer. After describing the move as "bizarre and slightly amusing," Couric said on a more solemn note, "It did remind me of how serious the situation still is there."