Karen P. Hughes

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Karen Hughes

Karen P. Hughes was confirmed July 26, 2005, by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. On July 29, the full Senate confirmed her nomination and she was sworn-in to the position on September 9, 2005.[1] She left the position in December 2007. In 2005 President George W. Bush described Hughes as "one of my most trusted and closest advisers".[2]

In July 2008 it was announced that she had been appointed as Global Vice Chair of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M) and will will be based in Austin, Texas and report to the firm's President and CEO, Mark Penn. The announcement stated that "Hughes will also serve as a member of the Burson-Marsteller’s newly formed client Strategy Team, which will be comprised of senior leaders from across the firm’s practices and lines of business."[3] The same month, it was reported that Hughes would be part of the official U.S. delegation for the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, a group headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. [4]


Huges has served as key communications strategist for George W. Bush, both while Governor of Texas and as President. Hughes played a critical role in the election of Bush to the governorship of Texas. In 1992, she became the state's Republican Party executive director. From there, she organized a media campaign that vilified the then incumbent Democratic governor, Ann Richards. When Bush launched his gubernatorial campaign in November 1993, Hughes served as his communications director. Bush won. Hughes and Karl Rove, who also played a central role in Bush's rise to governor, led Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.

"With Bush's assumption of the White House, Hughes rose to become the most powerful woman in the land," Laura Flanders wrote in her book Bushwomen. "Never has there been a woman whose job brought her into closer, more influential contact with the President. As 'counselor to the President' -- Bush created the position uniquely for her -- she sat in on every meeting, oversaw the offices of press secretary, communications and speechwriting, and had the communications directors of every department reporting directly to her."[6]

Hughes served as senior advisor to Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. In March 2004, the Times reported that she was already getting "the message about Mr. Bush in her speeches around the country, for which she receives $50,000 each." [7]

Hughes's book

Hughes authored Ten Minutes from Normal, an autobiography released March 2004 by Viking Books.[8] Hughes reportedly had a $1 million contract for the book.[9]

The New York Times wrote: "Ms. Hughes is the smiling, media-savvy White House representative whose book now wraps her -- and, by implication, the president -- in the heroism of motherhood. Its theme is clear by the identifying lines under her name on the book's front jacket: 'Counselor to the President. Wife and Mother. The woman who left the White House to put family first, and moved back home to Texas.'"[7]

Flanders wrote that Hughes is "a career woman, GOP leader and stay-out-of-the-home mom," who spent years massaging Bush's "compassionate conservative" message.[6] (Marvin Olasky is credited with authoring the "compassionate conservative" catch phrase).

In an interview on CNN Hughes was asked about how significant the issue of abortion would be in the 2004 campaign for President and suggested that public opinion was "changing somewhat."

"I think after September 11th the American people are valuing life more and realizing that we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life. And President Bush has worked to say, let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's try to reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions. And I think those are the kind of policies that the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy, and really the fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life. It's the founding conviction of our country, that we're endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, the right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately our enemies in the terror network, as we're seeing repeatedly in the headlines these days, don't value any life, not even the innocent and not even their own."[10]

Plame investigation & the Iraq War

Hughes was interviewed as part of the federal grand jury investigation into who leaked Valerie Plame's identity.[11] During the buildup to war in Iraq, Hughes was part of the White House Iraq Group, which coordinated strategy for selling the war to the American people.[12]

Public diplomacy

"In plain English, her job is to fight anti-Americanism, promote American culture and above all to do intellectual battle with the ideology of radical Islam, a set of beliefs so powerful that they can persuade middle-class, second-generation British Muslims to blow themselves up on buses and trains," wrote Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum.

It was announced in March 2005 that Hughes was to "take over the Bush administration's troubled public diplomacy effort intended to burnish the U.S. image abroad, particularly in the Muslim world." The Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs position at the State Department, previously held by Margaret D. Tutwiler and Charlotte Beers, uses "exchange programs, foreign language media and other initiatives ... to promote American values" while "combating negative images." It was reported that Hughes will be assisted by Dina Powell, the current White House Chief of Personnel and "an American of Egyptian descent who speaks fluent Arabic." [1]

"Presumably, President Bush selected Hughes for this task because she was very good at running his election campaigns. ... Unfortunately," Applebaum added July 26, 2005, "Hughes's most important constituents aren't going to respond to engagement and empowerment, let alone exchange and education, unless the latter involves those flight schools where they don't teach you how to take off or land. ...

"The traditional tools of public diplomacy -- American libraries, Fourth of July parties, 'citizen ambassadors' -- are uniquely unsuited to the task of encouraging debate within Islam as well. But Hughes has nothing to lose by dropping the four 'E's,' going back to the rest of the alphabet, and thinking way, way outside the box. Judging by Bali, Madrid, London and Sharm el-Sheikh, not to mention New York and Washington, whatever we're doing right now, it isn't working," Applebaum concluded. [2]

The Associated Press reported that a Senate Foreign Relations Committee of her nomination "barely delved into what Hughes will do about turning around anti-American sentiment in the world, part of her job if she is confirmed as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs." [3]

"If I had the opportunity to say just one thing to people throughout the world, it would be, I am eager to listen," Hughes told Republican Senators Richard Lugar and George Voinovich. "I want to learn more about you and your lives, what you believe, what you fear, what you dream, what you value most." [4]

During a "town hall" meeting for State Department employees held on September 8, 2005, she described her plans to improve US image abroad in militaristic phrases, outlining a "rapid-response unit" and "forward-deploy regional SWAT teams" to "formulate a more strategic and focused approach to all our public diplomacy assets."

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote: "One of her underlings rose to ask how this effort squared with the administration's famously tight control over its message. … Hughes replied that ambassadors are free to talk -- if they use the talking points she sends them. 'If they make statements based on something I sent them,' she said, 'they're not going to be called on the carpet.'"

In February 2006 Washington Post reporter Al Kamen wrote "In September [2005], Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes ... took 16 reporters on her first trip to the Mideast."

"We all know how well that trip turned out. So this time, Hughes, heading later this week for Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Germany, has reduced the media contingent ... to zero." Hughes did grant an interview to Time magazine, in which she described the State Department's new media monitoring unit. In addition to live Arab TV broadcasts, she says, "We have a young man who's watching the blogs, the Web chats." Hughes also describes public diplomacy plans around the 2006 World Cup soccer tournament: "We're going to have our embassies very involved in inviting kids to come watch the games this summer." [5]

According to a June 2007 Salon article by Sidney Blumenthal: [6]

The resistance within the administration to Bush's torture policy, the ultimate expression of the war paradigm, has come to an end through attrition and exhaustion. More than two years ago ... the tiny band of opponents within approached Karen Hughes, newly named undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, hoping that the longtime confidante of President Bush, now assigned responsibility for the U.S. image in the world, might be willing to hear them out on the damage done by continuation of the torture policy. But she rebuffed them.

In late October 2007 it was reported that Hughes intended to resign from her position later in the year.[13]

Working for Burson-Marsteller

In July 2008 it was announced that Hughes had been appointed as Global Vice Chair of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M) and will will be based in Austin, Texas and report to the firm's President and CEO, Mark Penn. The announcement stated that "Hughes will also serve as a member of the Burson-Marsteller’s newly formed client Strategy Team, which will be comprised of senior leaders from across the firm’s practices and lines of business."[14]

Hiring Hughes is part of a larger effort by Penn to increase B-M's "reach and expertise." Summing up the partnership, Penn said "Karen and I have had so many of the same experiences in the White House and campaigns, and have worked around the world. But we agreed that we won't let politics interfere in our business."[15] The Wall Street Journal reported that the deal for Hughes to join B-M was "brokered by Robert Barnett, a Washington superlawyer who earlier represented each of them on their books." The paper also reported that Hughes "is expected to bring in a chunk of new business, headed up by Republican-leaning chief executives who know her from her political life. She will be based in her hometown in Austin, Texas, and focus on issues from energy to health care."[15]

Shortly after her appointment, Hughes emailed an introductory note to her new B-M colleagues. "A quick note to let you know how excited I am to join the Burson-Marsteller team and become a 'Burson person!'," she gushed.

"Today's leaders in business and government face the challenge of thinking globally and acting locally, developing broad umbrella themes that shape perceptions of their industry, brand or product, while also customizing those messages for many different customers and cultures ... I've always considered myself an advocate for the people I’ve advised, and I’m looking forward to advocating on behalf of our clients and this great team. I love communications and feel my strengths are in the areas of strategic positioning, message development, writing and speaking," she wrote.[16]

Biographical timeline

  • Hughes graduates from Southern Methodist University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in journalism.[17]
  • 1976-1984: Television reporter in Texas for for the NBC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth.[17][18]
  • 1984: Texas press coordinator for the Reagan-Bush campaign.[17]
  • 1985 - 1992: She worked as a political PR adviser for candidates in Dallas.[17]
  • Late 1980's: "I worked as Director of Media Relations for a small boutique public relations/public affairs firm called Halcyon Associates in Dallas for several years in the late 1980s," Hughes wrote in 2008.[19]
  • 1992: Executive Director of the Texas Republican Party.[17]
  • 1995 to 2000: Hughes was director of communications for Texas Governor George W. Bush.[17]
  • 2001 to 2002: Counselor to President George W. Bush.[18]
  • March 2004: Hughes book Ten Minutes from Normal is released.
  • 2004: Consultant to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.[18]
  • August 2005 to December 2007: Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.[18]
  • July 2008 appointed as Global Vice Chair of Burson-Marsteller.[18]
  • July 2008: George W. Bush appointed Hughes to West Point's Board of Visitors oversight committee.[20] Bush also announced that Hughes had been included in the "Presidential Delegation to the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing, China on August 24, 2008."[21]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Anne Applebaum, "Think Again, Karen Hughes", Washington Post, July 27, 2005; Page A21.
  2. President George W. Bush, "President's Statement on Karen Hughes", Media Release, March 14, 2005.
  3. Burson-Marsteller, "Karen Hughes Joins Burson-Marsteller as Global Vice Chair", Media Release, July 9, 2008.
  4. "Statement by the Press Secretary", Media Release, July 23, 2008.
  5. Leadership, United Against Nuclear Iran, accessed February 3, 2009.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Laura Flanders, Bushwomen:Tales of a Cynical Species, Verso, March 2004, ISBN 1859845878 ISBN 978-1859845875, page 105. This book has a chapter on Hughes tittled "Cover Girl").
  7. 7.0 7.1 Elisabeth Bumiller and Richard W. Stevenson, "The 2004 Campaign: The Republicans: A Trusted Bush Aide to Return, but Not to Washington", New York Times, March 28, 2004.
  8. Karen Hughes, Ten Minutes from Normal, Viking Adult, March 2004. ISBN 0670033057 ISBN 978-0670033058
  9. David Paul Kuhn, "Karen Hughes Back In The Fold: Longtime Bush Adviser Returning To Campaign Team", CBS News, March 31, 2004.
  10. Wolf Blitzer, "Interview With Karen Hughes", CNN.com, April 25, 2004.
  11. David Johnston, "For Two Aides in Leak Case, 2nd Issue Rises", New York Times, July 22, 2005.
  12. Walter Pincus, "Records Could Shed Light on Iraq Group", Washington Post, June 9, 2008; Page A15.
  13. "Key Bush image adviser to leave", BBC NEWS, October 31, 2007.
  14. Burson-Marsteller, "Karen Hughes Joins Burson-Marsteller as Global Vice Chair", Media Release, July 9, 2008.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Monica Langley, Clinton, Bush Advisers Steeped in Crisis Join Forces: Penn and Hughes Also Have Sights Set on Comeback", Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2008; Page A6.
  16. Joe Nocera, "Would You Take Strategic Advice From This Woman?", "Executive Suite" (Blog), Washington Post, July 14, 2008.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 Dan Balz, "Karen Hughes: A Texas-Size Job", Washington Post, July 23, 1999.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 Burson Marsteller, "Karen Hughes Joins Burson-Marsteller as Global Vice Chair", Media Release, July 9, 2008.
  19. Joe Nocera, "Would You Take Strategic Advice From This Woman?", "Executive Suite" (Blog), Washington Post, July 14, 2008.
  20. "Bush names former aide to West Point oversight board", Times-Herald Record, July 17, 2008.
  21. "Statement by the Press Secretary", Media Release, July 23, 2008.

External resources

White House Statements on Hughes

Testimony by Hughes

Speeches by Hughes

Department of State press notices

External articles

Articles by Hughes

Other articles

For other news articles related to Hughes, see Karen P. Hughes: Articles