Posts Tagged ‘US’

A gift for causing offence…

April 3, 2009
You dont even know what you did wrong, do you?

You don't even know what you did wrong, do you?

International relations is fraught with danger at the best of times, but perhaps the most awkward gaffes occur when presenting diplomatic gifts. These presents have to be just right: valuable but not gaudy, meaningful but not obvious… and sometimes things go horribly, horribly wrong.

During his recent visit to the US, Obama opted to give Gordon Brown a box-set of 25 classic American movies and a couple of toy helicopters from the White House gift shop. This might have been seen as a cheap and thoughtless gift at the best of times, but it gets worse: the DVDs were Region 1 encoded, and so were completely unplayable in the UK…

Well, never mind, Gordon probably didn’t put too much effort into his gift either…

Think again: he presented President Obama with an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet. The oak from the Gannet’s sister ship, HMS Resolute, was carved into a desk that has been displayed in the White House since 1880. And that’s not all. Mr. Brown also gave President Obama a framed commission for HMS Resolute – a ship that came to symbolise Anglo-American friendship – and a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert.

When a public relations furore kicked off, a senior White House official didn’t help by saying to The Sunday Telegraph: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.” Now that’s diplomacy!

Here are some other classic failures of diplomatic gifting:

  • In 2006, the Sultan of Brunei gave tongue-tied President Bush Forgotten English, a game for improving your vocabulary.
  • Hilary Clinton gave a red button marked “reset” to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as a light-hearted gesture to symbolise the thawing of relations. Unfortunately, her staff had mistranslated the word and it actually meant “overcharge”.
  • George W again. This time he received a high-powered assault rifle and a copy of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook from Gabon. Very appropriate at the time!

Election 2.0

October 9, 2008

If New Labour’s landslide election win in 1997 marked the year parties woke up and recognised the importance of the media, will 2008 be looked back on as the year of new media? – If the flood of buzzwords emanating from both camps in the US presidential race is anything to go by then, yes.


Obama’s iPhone application, which turns the device into a political recruiting tool, is the latest example. But putting my initial cynicism aside, it does appear as though the application may actually serve a purpose other than having Apple’s uber-cool brand rub off on the would-be president.



2008 has demonstrated that YouTube and other video-casting sites have the potential to become the soap boxes of the digital era. Both US parties have been extremely proactive in uploading content to either endorse their candidate or cast doubts over the opponent, even throughout the primaries. Several clips suggesting McCain has more in common with George Dubya than just being a Republican have perhaps been the most influential.


I’m sure those of you who regularly check out viral video charts will have noticed how they’ve been dominated by US presidential videos. The sheer volume of these videos has hampered my personal crusade to find the next Star Wars Kid or fat guy falling off a diving board but it is evident that, crucially, these videos are reaching a wide audience, particularly notoriously apathetic younger voters.

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