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Mr. Kohut said he could not connect the survey results with anything coming from Mrs. Hughes office.

It’s hard to know, he said, “how much preventive work she’s done.”

The plan

Last month, Mrs. Hughes released a National Strategic Communications Plan, which was distributed throughout the federal government.

It speaks of lofty goals, such as “offering a vision of hope and opportunity, marginalizing extremists and nurturing common interests and values.”

Mrs. Hughes also created a rapid-response unit to monitor the international press, television and Internet postings around the clock.

The unit produces a daily bulletin, with talking points that policy-makers and diplomats can use when speaking publicly.

“Many Cabinet secretaries have told me it’s the first thing they read every morning,” she said. “It gives our policy-makers a larger view of the way U.S. news is perceived around the world, as well as providing our ambassadors and military commanders with policy points on major news around the world.”

The effort reflects an attempt to adapt to a battleground that continues to evolve with breathtaking speed.

Al Qaeda, whose own multimedia branch, As-Sahab, crossed a threshold last week by releasing a video of its deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, reacting to breaking news almost as quickly as a pundit on an American cable-news channel.

On Wednesday, even before a bloody battle over a militant mosque in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, ended, Zawahri appeared on video condemning the siege and urging Pakistanis to wage “holy war” against their government.

Shifting priorities

Mrs. Hughes‘ 2005 appointment was widely welcomed in Washington as an indication that the Bush administration was taking seriously the damage the U.S. image had suffered abroad.

A trusted adviser to Mr. Bush taking charge of public diplomacy — which had been neglected since the end of the Cold War — won bipartisan praise.

Then, Mrs. Hughes got off to a rocky start.

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