Bernstein Crisis Management. Crisis response, prevention, planning, and training.

Crisis Manager Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management

© 2006 Jonathan Bernstein
Circulation: 4,000+
Estimated Readership: 14,000+


A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.

Thomas Paine


Editor's Note: What can I say. I'm getting to be a curmudgeon in my old age, turning 55 on 4/8. Figure I have the proverbial "bully pulpit", however modest, and by golly I'm gonna use it.

Psy-op Backfires on Military
By Jonathan Bernstein

"The U.S. military plans to continue paying Iraqi newspapers to publish articles favorable to the United States after an inquiry found no fault with the controversial practice, the top U.S. general in Iraq said Friday."

That was the lead sentence in a March 4, 2006 article by Los Angeles Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti, as viewed at the newspapers's website.

I checked my calendar. No, it wasn't April Fool's Day yet, it really was March 4. Then I checked to make sure that I hadn't somehow ended up at a Los Angeles Times "spoof" site. No, it was the real deal.

Then I thought, "NO FAULT!!!!!?????"

While there is apparently nothing in military or Iraqi law to preclude the practice, the article pointed out that it would be illegal in the United States. But regardless of the law, the practice is....let me see what the technical term is, from a crisis management professional's perspective. Oh yes. "Stupid."

With many people in the loop on this one, it was inevitable that word of the "psy-ops" tactic would get around. And, somewhere, planners should have realized that when the news did leak, it would communicate that:

  • Americans think Iraqis are foolish enough to fall for this tactic (and since we live in tabloid-land over here, it was a logical belief to apply to SOME Iraqis).
  • The U.S. advocates doing what it says, not what it does, in terms of ethical and moral behavior.
  • Military planners know jack about the more subtle forms of crisis communications.

It was also entirely predictable that this arrogant display would also result in:

  • Anger on the part of Iraqis who WERE fooled by the tactic.
  • A very unpleasant reaction from world leaders already aligned against the U.S. on Iraq policy and embarrassment to those who are trying to support us.
  • Hostility from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle in the lame duck days of a President who would like to see another Republican elected even as his own popularity sinks into the toilet.
  • Glee from the "public relations department" of terrorist organizations, which have already been widely touted by major international media (including in the U.S.) as being better at 21st Century communication than the U.S. government. They will use this news as further evidence of duplicity by the "Great Satan."

ALL of which should have led planners to conclude, "Maybe we should try something else!" Such as:

  • Publishing their own newspaper, being open and transparent about the source of information.
  • Launching their own websites, TV stations, radio stations - any means of direct and HONEST communication.

....and maybe they've even done some of that. In which case, do more. Don't engage in tactics virtually guaranteed to backfire. It reflects very poorly on the competence of decision-makers up and down the chain of command. And it creates a credibility crisis which will negatively impact any future communications, no matter how above-board.

The U.S. military of today is infinitely superior in firepower, tactics and pure brute-force success than the military in which I served from 1972-77. It's even improved its ability to give briefings to the media in the field or at the Pentagon level. But clearly, some military decision-makers' public relations strategic skills haven't evolved. In fact, they've stood still while "the enemy's" skills have improved, putting "the good guys" at a major disadvantage.

To my readers, the lessons for ALL crisis managers are:

  • Assume that it's impossible to keep secrets once more than a few people know (if even then).
  • Consider the impact of strategies and tactics on ALL your stakeholders, not just the immediate target group(s).
  • Be better prepared than the U.S. military was to explain your chancy decisions.
  • Ensure that those who are making issues management/crisis communications plans actually have some training and/or experience in this specialty.

Yo, George W. I remain a patriot, even if I don't like what you're doing over there. Give me a call and I'd probably give you some pro bono time. Because bad moves like these hurt not only what you're trying to do, but every American who flinches at the hostility with which we're greeted abroad today, even from those who purport to be our allies. Every American who wants to do business or travel in other countries. In other words, Mr. President, most Americans.

Editor's Note: Any of us who live in or near a major metropolitan area should have knowledge of the worst-case terrorist attack scenarios and what they could mean to us. Nena Wiley was kind enough to relay this information to her purepursuitintelnetwork listserv subscribers, and I pass it on to you with a strong recommendation that your emergency response personnel download the referenced PDF files.

Fact Sheets On Four Types Of Terrorist Attacks

The National Academies has prepared, in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, fact sheets on four types of terrorist attacks. Drawing on our many reviewed publications, the expertise of our members, and the knowledge of other esteemed authorities, the fact sheets provide reliable, objective information.

They were designed primarily for reporters as part of the project News and Terrorism: Communicating in a Crisis, though they will be helpful to anyone looking for a clear explanation of the fundamentals of science, engineering, and health related to such attacks.

These fact sheets are a product of the National Research Council Division on Earth and Life Studies.

Biological Attack (pdf file, 162 KB)

  • Where do biological agents originate?
  • What's the difference between "infectious" and "contagious"?
  • How long after exposure will symptoms appear?

Chemical Attack (pdf file, 92 KB)

  • What are the different origins of toxic chemicals that could be used?
  • How do chemical toxicities vary?
  • What are the practical steps to take if there's a chemical release?

Nuclear Attack (pdf file, 112 KB)

  • What is radioactive fallout, and how is it dangerous?
  • What are the short term and long term effects of radiation exposure?
  • What is the likely size of a nuclear explosion from an attack by terrorists?

Radiological Attack (pdf file, 94 KB)

  • What are radiological dispersal devices, a.k.a. "dirty bombs"?
  • How are they different from nuclear bombs?
  • What are their physical and psychological health effects?


Thanks go to Nena Wiley, Traumatic Stress and Emergency Resource Specialist, Litchfield Park, AZ., who provided this information as a service to members of the Emergency Services and Management Community with the purpose of offering relevant and timely information on emergency, terrorism and critical incidence stress management (CISM) issues.To join the list, please go to:


What Does That Slogan Mean?

By popular demand, I have re-opened an online store at which I sell clothing and mugs featuring the famous "Crisis Manager University" emblem and its infamous slogan, "Quoniam Stercus Accidit". That translates to "Because Stuff Happens." Except the real word isn't "stuff." There's only a 10% markup at the store to cover my costs -- it's a turnkey operation hosted by Cafe Press. I have found the items there to be a major hit with my clients and associates and great gift for any crisis manager. My purpose is to share my sense of humor with like (sick) minds as well as to prompt some folks to ask, "Who came up with this idea?" You can visit the store at

Keeping The Wolves At Bay

Keeping the Wolves at Bay (available in print and PDF formats) remains, to my knowledge, the only commercially published media training manual in the world. It can be purchased at, and its pages can be modified to make it YOUR "name brand" media training manual if you are an agency or organization that frequently conducts training. If the latter subject is of interest to you, write to:

CD-ROM: Crisis Management & The Law
How PR Pros & Lawyers Can Work Together Effectively
Featuring Jonathan Bernstein, Richard Levick and Ed Novak

On February 23, 2005, Jonathan Bernstein played talk show host and expert commentator in a one-hour teleseminar featuring internationally renowned litigation PR expert Richard Levick and one of the country's top white collar crime attorneys, Ed Novak. This CD-ROM is a "must have" to play for the executive staff of any organization, for practice group meetings at law firms, or for the entire staff of any PR agency.

Go to to read more details about and/or to order this CD-ROM, and to learn of other educational and training materials produced by Jonathan Bernstein.


Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with a number of the services we mention periodically in this newsletter. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of its clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.


Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.,, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to

Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.


GUEST AUTHORS are very welcome to submit material for "Crisis Manager." There is no fee paid, but most guest authors have reported receiving business inquiries as a result of appearing in this publication. Case histories, experience-based lessons, commentary on current news events and editorial opinion are all eligible for consideration. Submission is not a guarantee of acceptance. Format submissions as MS-Word documents using Courier New 12 pt font. Top, left and bottom margin 1", right margin 0.8".


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