- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

The most daunting challenge facing Karen Hughes as the new undersecretary of State for public diplomacy is not how to get Muslim women to shed their burkas, or getting Arabs to embrace democracy, but how to convince the Muslim world the United States is not cruising the lower circles of Dante’s inferno.

Jerry Springer’s daily romp through human depravity is seen all over the Middle East, courtesy of satellite television. Howard Stern, who orders porn stars to doff bras and panties and then teases them about what he bets their sexual preferences to be, is also among the squalid regurgitations of the ubiquitous satellite dish. This is the image of the United States that Mrs. Hughes has to overcome.

Islam’s clerics have had a field day convincing their congregations that “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex in the City” are true reflections of U.S. secret weapons to destroy Islam. Military might to impose depravity is how the Bush doctrine and its crusade for democracy are explained in countless mosques throughout the Middle East.

Try explaining to sophisticated Arab audiences, let alone the uneducated masses, that New York is not truly representative of the United States. For most foreign visitors, New York is America. If television is not an accurate reflection of manners and mores in the United States, then how does one explain the Olympian ratings of sleaze?

An indication of how the extremes of yesteryear have become the norms of today was a network episode in which three men paid a hooker to sexually arouse a horse by removing her blouse to extract semen from the horse to artificially inseminate another horse. Janet Jackson bearing one breast at the Super Bowl already seems anodyne.

Cable and satellite television providers now account for eyeballs in 85 percent of American homes. Mrs. Hughes will quickly find out that sex, violence and profanity at home automatically undermines her noble purpose abroad. She should be adding her voice to those of senior lawmakers who can see that smut and muck on the airwaves are not covered by the First Amendment. It was never intended to be an elastic band that could be stretched forever without snapping.

That this malignant blight has spun out of control — and harmed America’s image the world over — is born out by complaints to the Federal Communications Commission. From a mere 111 outraged citizens in 2000, there were 1.4 million in 2004 and current projections show even more in 2005.

Traditional newspaper gossip columnists are retreating before the onslaught of the blogosphere where vicious dirt — true or false — is de rigueur. The traditional mean streak of the news gossipers is passe. A razor-sharp edge is provided by bloggers with such names as “Defamer” publishing innuendo, hearsay and rumor as fact on the Internet that would trigger an instant defamation suit in public print. The two-source rule or document-based evidence does not apply for blog sites (now approaching 10 million in the United States alone).

There is an insatiable appetite for lascivious, nymphomaniac material that bloggers take to new extremes as each new contributor piles on with a fresh layer of dirt.

When Mrs. Hughes was at the White House, she set up a 24/7 response center to counteract the propaganda machines of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. In her book “Ten Minutes From Normal,” she concedes, “The world looks at our murder rate, divorce rate, teen-age pregnancy rate and abortion rate and sometimes concludes we don’t value life and family.” The United States she wants the world to see is “full of decent, loving people who care about their families and who care about each other.”

But it would behoove Mrs. Hughes to assess the filth that emanates from the United States, and which allows Muslim clerics to sully America’s good name.

Woody Allen’s comeback with his latest tragic-comical “Melinda and Melinda” film depicts what “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex in the City” may well have done to New York, where adultery appears to be the favorite indoor sport.

Mrs. Hughes is going to need more than her formidable drive and blind faith in decency and democracy to overcome a propensity to shoot from the hip — into one’s foot.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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