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Iraq and the Republican Party Have Something in Common

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, December 23, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Iraq, facing tough new U.N. resolutions and the prospect of war with the world's only superpower, faces a crisis. So does the Republican Party after comments by its Senate majority leader led to his resignation amid accusations of latent and not so latent racism.

The two crises may not seem to have much in common, but they have one thing -- they are playing out at the moment in the court of public opinion, where strength is sometimes weakness and vice versa.

For more on that, we turn to Eric Dezenhall, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and professional damage control consultant.

Eric, welcome back.

ERIC DEZENHALL, CRISIS MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT: Thank you for having me.

HUME: I'm glad to have you.

Talk to me a little bit, if you can, about what the situation -- Iraq would appear to be, at least in public relations terms, to much of the world anyway, in a rather tight spot.

What are they doing right, what are they doing wrong? What do you expect them to be doing as time goes on?

DEZENHALL: There's two types of wartime propaganda. Wartime propaganda is designed to either scare your enemies or rally your friends.

They really don't have much option of scaring us, because we're not that scared. So their option is to rally their allies. How they are going to do it is to recognize that the way you win the P.R. war is whoever owns the optics, the visuals, the victimhood, the weakness, tends to have the advantage in the P.R. war.

So what that means Saddam is likely to do is make certain that as many innocent Iraqis as possible are killed. Because he recognizes that the media will very much focus on that, as opposed to the fact that he might have provoked it or set it up in a certain way.

So generally speaking, what somebody like him who can't win will do will be to seek the mantle of victimhood however he can.

HUME: What about his -- at the same time, he's saying, well, we're so open about this inspections in the absence of weapons of mass destruction, willing to have the CIA come in, that is to say spies, and on the same day they shoot down a spy plane.

Is that just bumbling or what?

DEZENHALL: I think that that's spine. You know, one of the things that the western media like is they like the rhetoric of dialogue, of openness. And whenever you use words like dialogue and empowerment, the western media tend to eat that up.

And Saddam is a sophisticated enough guy that he knows to tap into these concepts of negotiation, because who among us doesn't fundamentally believe that negotiating and talking is better than war?

The problem is, when you're up against somebody who doesn't have the remotest intention of cooperating, you have to throw the rhetoric out the window at some point.

HUME: Now, in the meantime the Republican Party has been through a bad couple of weeks to put it gently.

DEZENHALL: Yes.

HUME: They've -- they hope now, I guess, after the election of Bill Frist to being the Senate majority leader, that they've put it behind them. How does all of this play out and what caused it to be so bad for them and so on?

DEZENHALL: Well, I took the position early on that Lott's situation was largely inoperable.

A lot of people were saying what can he say, as if, you know, he comes on your show and touches his nose and says cook-a-doodle doo and says I'm sorry three times that will make it go away.

Certain situations are beyond spin. They're viral. They become larger than what anybody can do.

And there's a reason for that. The public asks themselves when they're accused of a sin, whether or not it is aberrant or chronic.

The problem with Lott's situation is it came off as being chronic, something that he had done repeatedly and it tapped into a larger issue. If you had done something aberrant or stupid, an apology will work.

When you are accused of something that hits a deeper issue, you can apologize to the end of time, but the whole P.R. myth that the apology works, it doesn't with something like race.

HUME: Well, now, in the case of Bob Byrd of West Virginia, however, Republicans are saying he had an entirely different standard applied to him. He is a former KKK man whose association with the Klan, it turned out, although it was a long time ago, but it was the same decade in which Thurmond ran for president, lasted longer than he ever said he did.

And he voted against, you know, the only two blacks ever nominated to the Supreme Court. He voted against his 27 colleagues in the '60s against civil rights legislation, and so on.

He uses the "N"-word sort of flagrantly, as what happened on FOX News Sunday, but he apologized. But there it was. It was over before it starred, it seemed.

DEZENHALL: Well, I think that he collided with different times. He was able to point to a record that was very different from Lott's. And the other situation is, you can't separate the action from the time in which it occurs.

Lott got nailed, in part, because the Republicans just had this massive victory and he became the Senate majority leader. I don't think that Byrd's situation collided with those same circumstance. And I think he was let off light for that and it was viewed as an aberration.

HUME: No double standard?

DEZENHALL: I think there probably is because he's a Democrat, and I think that one of the -- Lott might be hypersensitive, but he's not wrong in saying when you're a southern senator from Mississippi and you make statements like that, I do think that there is a double standard.

HUME: All right. Talk to me now about Bill Frist and his new task.

He got up today and made this windy 15-minute statement to get himself started. What about that statement and what about what he needs to do and to what extent is the GOP, in your judgment, going to have to compromise to what it believes to accommodate an agenda that will be acceptable to civil rights groups, for example?

DEZENHALL: I think that the fundamental problem has been knocked out. I mean, Lott was very much a flash point of concern. Frist comes off like a gentle snowfall. I mean, it's very hard to pin racism on him.

I think that last week it was about race. Now it's just about politics as usual. And I think that is a critical difference.

I don't think that the public really looks at the Republican Party and sees racists. I think that they looked at Lott's statement and saw a huge liability.

But I think in the absence of controversy, what my focus would be on the Republicans, if you win the war and address the economy, these other issues will just be cocktail conversation.

HUME: But from the perspective of the White House, there's a need to enlarge the support of minority voters, if not African-Americans, certainly Hispanics. Does this mean that the Republicans will need to mend their agenda in some way, adjust it, soften it on issues like racial quotas, preferences, that sort of thing?

DEZENHALL: As much as rhetoric didn't work for Lott, rhetoric might work a little bit more when you take the flash point of concern away. Yes, they might have to modify it somewhat. But I don't think that people fundamentally expect a political party to change everything it's been known for.

What we do expect is an end to the abrasive rhetoric.

HUME: All right. Eric Dezenhall, thanks very much. Good to have you with us.

DEZENHALL: Thank you for having me.

HUME: Have a great Christmas.

DEZENHALL: You, too.

HUME: We have to take a quick break for other headlines.

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