This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," August 24, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: So you’re the president and you’re on vacation in the wilds of Texas. And suddenly, there’s a war-protesting mom outside the gates, and the news media can’t get enough of her.
She wants to meet with you. You know what she’ll say. Indeed, you’ve already met with her. So what’s the right thing to do? For answers, we turn to the author and crisis management consultant, Eric Dezenhall.
Eric, welcome back.
ERIC DEZENHALL, DEZENHALL RESOURCES: Thanks for having me.
HUME: So no less a presidential wannabe than Senator Hagel of Nebraska has said the president should have met with her. Others think so, as well. What do you think?
DEZENHALL: Absolutely not.
HUME: Why not?
DEZENHALL: I think you have a lot of P.R. mythology that, if you sit down with your attacker, that somehow that diffuses the problem. That’s really — that works really great in the community college P.R. class, but it doesn’t work in real life.
Here’s why. I mean, wartime communication is about two things: frightening your enemies and rallying your allies. It is not about rallying your adversaries.
And while the president does have an obligation to meet with those who have lost people, he does have an obligation to continue to explain why we are there, he does not have an obligation to sit down with someone whose purpose is to berate him.
And I would not want to be the adviser who said, "Mr. President, I think that this is a good idea to sit down with somebody," because we know what the outcome is. She will berate him.
HUME: Well, indeed, he had already met with her.
DEZENHALL: Exactly. And really, a lot of these situations — I mean, this goes back to President Reagan — you don’t want to put your president in a situation where you know going in he can lose.
HUME: So how do you strike the balance between showing sensitivity and concern for the grief that is legitimately being felt by anyone who’s lost a son or a daughter in the war, or, indeed, for those who simply worry that they might lose those who are serving overseas, and maintaining a certain distance from all of this, as a commander-in-chief, apparently, must?
DEZENHALL: Well, I do think that the president does have an obligation to meet with people. And simply because I’m arguing that he shouldn’t meet with Cindy Sheehan, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have that obligation.
And I think what you’re seeing is today he met with other families. What he should do is what he is doing, which is meeting with those who have lost people or who could potentially lose people and explaining to them why he supports the policies he does.
But that’s a very different situation than putting yourself in a confrontation where the sole objective is for him to be berated.
HUME: All right, so you’re on vacation. You’ve made a decision. You say that it’s the right one on a number of counts not to meet with her. But there she is.
She’s going back as we speak. She’s going back to what she calls Camp Casey, for her son, her lost son, and she’s going to be there. It is not at all clear the news media’s appetite for what she says and her will abate. And obviously, she’s been a big story this month.
HUME: So what do you do about that?
DEZENHALL: Well, first of all, I think that the whole idea that you can make all this vanish with the right P.R. tactic is ridiculous. I mean, the way you succeed, unfortunately, in wars is by winning militarily.
When you win, everybody says, "Oh, the P.R. that’s being handled is wonderfully mastered." When you’re not doing well, it’s difficult to have things look brilliant.
I think that he needs to continue to recognize that the American public does not have a lot of experience with prolonged wars in recent years. We tend to see them all as being mishandled. You look back to the revolution, World War II; more went wrong than went right.
We don’t understand that now, because we’re used to having these things resolved in the time frame of a TV movie. But I think that what he has to do is to continue to meet with the families of those who have lost people.
Today, you heard him using numbers. He was naming the numbers of people who have been lost in this war, which is to convey that he is aware, he is not aloof thousands of miles away from the action. And that’s the best that’s doable.
But no amount of P.R. charm can reverse the fact that we’re at war.
HUME: The issue can be raised on the other side. If a president seems to be, to some extent, at the mercy of these emotional currents during a war, deeply and profoundly sensitive to casualties, is there a danger in that?
DEZENHALL: If he is seen as insensitive to casualties?
HUME: No, no, extremely sensitive to casualties, to the point where, if you’re an enemy, you think, you know, this is a country that, as you suggest, has no appetite for prolonged conflict, which will not, as Usama bin Laden is thought to believe, withstand very many casualties.
DEZENHALL: Well, I think you’re right. And I think that — remember, the only target audience here is not Americans. Part of wartime communications is communicating to your enemy.
And if you have a president who is seen as capitulating and as being overly emotional about losses, they see that as a weakness. They see it as Vietnam.
And I think one of the things that the American media doesn’t get picked up enough is the assumption that the whole objective of wartime communications is making Americans happy about the war. That is less than one half of it. Most of it is letting your adversary know, "We’re coming for you."
HUME: By historic standards, military standards, these casualties in Iraq are quite low.
HUME: Regrettable, obviously, to be sure, every one of them killed and wounded, but, by military standards, very low indeed. To what, then, do you attribute this fact that the sentiment — public sentiment for this war has plummeted, in spite of the fact that, by historical standards, the progress toward democratic government, all that, in Iraq has moved at, I guess, one would say warp-speed?
DEZENHALL: Regrettably, we live in utopian times. I mean, we live in times where we believe there is a magical way to handle things correctly. We believe that Karl Rove is single-handedly responsible for making anything that happens happen.
We don’t believe in anything else. And I think that what would be a valuable lesson is to take a look at a history book and see how disastrous George Washington did in the revolution and how poorly we did in World War II, until eventually we did well.
HUME: Eric Dezenhall, great to have you, as always. Thank you.
DEZENHALL: Thank you.
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