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State Dept. turning to celebs for image enhancement

Ambassador Oprah? Special Envoy Brokaw?

Don’t laugh. While those titles might be a wee exaggerated, the State Dept. is definitely reaching out to showbiz and media stars to help improve the U.S. image in the Middle East.

After a recent tour of the region, Karen Hughes, former Bush confidante and now State’s under-secretary for public diplomacy, hit upon the idea of recruiting American celebs for the agency’s international speakers program. Before, academics usually participated, but Hughes thought “a more strategic program” involving bold-face names would be more effective, a State Dept. official says.

“Someone like Tom Brokaw is very credible and articulate. He could talk about his views of press freedom in America.”

During her stop in Saudi Arabia, Hughes met women “obsessed with Oprah,” the official adds. Hughes thought that because of her popularity, Oprah Winfrey could be a U.S. representative for the annual Intl. Women’s Day (March 8).

There’s even been talk inside the agency of trying to persuade Hollywood to develop a soap opera that follows the lives of an Arab-American family in the U.S.

Objectives are two-fold: Presenting the U.S. perspective through celebs talking about their own experiences, and building bridges between two cultures still eyeing each other suspiciously.

The official emphasizes that speakers would not be asked to flog any administration lines or policies.

Hughes has sent letters “to prominent folks in entertainment and media,” asking if they’d be interested in speaking on “any topic they want to.”

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