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All governments manipulate the media to garner favorable news coverage and spin the flow of information to put their actions in a positive light. But in a story in Sunday’s NY Times (April 20, 2008) entitled “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand,” David Barstow describes a concerted effort by the Bush Administration who used ostensibly objective military analysts to spread propaganda and dupe the American public in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance in Iraq. It turns out that those “independent military experts” consisted of “more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants.”
Once again, John Stewart describes this event with wit so that we’ll laugh rather than scream. So I’ll let him have the last word. And he mentions a GAO report called “Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas” that you can now get your hands on via the Internet Archive.
Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.
These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.
Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”…
…Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.
In an investigation on how the Bush administration uses retired military officers to promote its message on the Iraq war, the New York Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantanamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.
The story based on these documents (Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand By David Barstow, New York Times, April 20, 2008) is supplemented online by “Audio, video and documents that show how the military’s talking points were disseminated” (How the Pentagon Spread Its Message and a “Document Archive,” which allows users to read and download documents and parts of documents. Of the 8000 pages, only a few are available online, but these include emails, a “Talking Points Memo,” excerpts from a Transcript of meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld, and a Pentagon document that reports “Monitoring of Analysts.”
Together, the audio-visual presentation and the documents are a small model for how newspapers could be using the power of the web to enhance their coverage and utility. I would certainly like to see all 8000 pages online!
The story itself is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the daily news.
Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”
…Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.
Iraq: The Media War Plan, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 219, Edited by Joyce Battle, May 8, 2007.
In January 2003 Defense Department planners recommended the creation of a “Rapid Reaction Media Team” to serve as a bridge between Iraq’s formerly state-controlled news outlets and an “Iraqi Free Media” network, according to a White Paper and PowerPoint slides that were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act….
American, British, and Iraqi media experts would be hand-picked to provide “approved USG information” for the Iraqi public, while an ensuing “strategic information campaign” would be part of a “likely 1-2 years . . . transition” to a representative government.