After 9/11, the State Department launched an Arab outreach magazine to show off the splendors of American life. It didn't work and was mired in petty politics. For example: pictures of donkeys on camping trips were deemed too "pro-Democrat".
Randall Lane edited this magazine — which was, incredibly, titled Hi! — and came away with some freaking stories, man. Enough to fill up a new book of his! Here's when he knew he had to quit, before the magazine's funding was pulled in 2005:
One of my favorite sections loosely translated to "Window on America." It was a simple conceit: a photo essay showing what America actually looks like, unfiltered. A bass fishing tournament, a breast-cancer walk, the Puerto Rican Day parade-these were exotic images to most Arabs, too often poisoned about the United States by their inflammatory local press. But during one review meeting, held before a star chamber of 10 high-level State Department officials, the co-leader specifically took offense to a photograph from a classic Western scene: campers and pack mules heading out on a rugged weekend expedition.
Our team always remained vigilant about cultural sensibilities, avoiding the bottoms of shoes, or bare arms, or other seemingly innocuous images that could backfire with the Arab audience. This official's concerns, however, were more parochial. She held up the offending photo, as wholesome as a Norman Rockwell painting, and pointed to a pack mule that, by other names, might be known as a donkey. This has to go, she said. Too pro-Democrat. And out it went.
People really did get ahead of themselves back in the first Bush term, didn't they? The concern wasn't that the magazine needed to be visually stronger or have a more powerful message to effectively break through years of anti-American propaganda. They took its effectiveness for granted, and were more worried about what party these newly won-over Arabs would donate to when they started loving America.
They should totally start making Hi! again. Elephants presumably would be taboo this time around, but we don't go camping with elephants in America anyway.