Thursday, August 14, 2008

Saakashvili’s media onslaught: Is he losing the war?

Janet McBride for the Reuters Blog

Ever since Russia launched a massive counter-offensive in response to Georgia’s attempt to retake the pro-Russian, breakaway region of South Ossetia, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been omnipresent in Western media. He has appeared on CBS, CNN, BBC and pretty much every other English-language TV channel to accuse Russia of penetrating Georgia far beyond Ossetia, planning an assault on the capital and plotting his overthrow.

On Aug 11 he wrote an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal warning Georgia’s fall would mean the fall of the West.

At the start of the conflict the verdict was unequivocal. Saakashvili was winning the media war hands down. While the Kremlin’s press operation was largely silent, Saakashvili, an urbane, U.S.-educated lawyer, was assured in putting Georgia’s case. The world’s media and many political leaders swung behind him (in words if not deeds).

But is the tide turning? Saakashvili’s wall-to-wall media coverage may be starting to work against him and the Russians have become more nimble in dealing with the media and countering Saakashvili’s accusations.

Even close ally the United States has reined him in, knocking down his assertion that U.S. forces would take control of Georgia’s airports and ports. Is Saakashvili’s well-oiled public relations machine starting to work against him? Is he losing sympathy internationally?