The Pentagon is not a natural career stop for most cable-industry officials. A year ago, Victoria "Torie" Clarke — former vice president and chief spokeswoman for the National Cable Television Association, and someone with no military experience on her résumé— had little reason to expect she would travel that route.
Last April, though, President George Bush tapped her as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. One month later, the Senate approved her nomination and she promptly took office.
Nine months later, Clarke has settled into her position as the Pentagon's top spokeswoman. And her lack of military experience and cable background has been far from a handicap, Clarke said. Rather, they've made it easier for her to inform the public about what the Bush administration has dubbed an "unconventional war" on terrorism.
"My mental thinking wasn't bound by previous experience," Clarke said Wednesday at a luncheon hosted by the Washington Metropolitan Cable Club. "I can easily think about this [war] in very unconventional terms. I've been able to talk about this in ways that a lot of people can understand.
"They don't need another military expert," added Clarke, who had previously served as press secretary to former President George H. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "They need someone who can help explain this to the American people."
After five years at the NCTA (now the National Cable & Telecommunications Association), Clarke is something of an expert on electronic media — and the cable industry in particular. She said her background helps her effectively communicate with the press, the Pentagon's conduit to the U.S. and global public.
In an hour-long talk with an audience of about 100 cable executives and reporters, Clarke described how she has tried to maintain a delicate balance between keeping people updated about the war without divulging information that could endanger American forces.
"We are trying to communicate a very unconventional war to a wide variety of people around the world, 24-7, in many different ways," Clarke said.
While cable news channels don't have the dramatic, Persian Gulf War-style footage of U.S. warplanes and missiles pounding enemy territory, Clarke said the Pentagon has provided the media with "extraordinary access" to certain elements of the war, including video footage of troops parachuting into Afghanistan and preparing for combat.
"Do we ever do as much as the media would like? Probably not," said Clarke, noting that tension between the government and the press is a "healthy" phenomenon. "But I think in general we strike a pretty good balance."
States News Service