Washington, D.C., October 14, 2008: “It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to realize that we are living in an era of tighter and tighter governmental control of the public. The Bush Administration has deliberately embarked on a course of greatly heightened surveillance, or potential surveillance, of a public that might, at some future point, wish to physically become in open rebellion against governmental institutions. In this study, I am going to consider one aspect of this control: The influence of the American military over the American press and other forms of media
As a legacy of the Vietnam War, the politicized U.S. military of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries became ever more deeply engaged in “perception management.” Convinced that hostile reporters harmed the war effort in Southeast Asia, buoyed by favorable public reaction to its domination of the press during the First Gulf War, and capitalizing on the media’s own negative public image, the armed forces has come to regard the media and information more generally as something to be manipulated for the military’s own purposes.
The current American military has devoted enormous energy to learning how to manipulate the media. As a measure of how far the armed forces are willing to go, consider the following 1993 statement by a military instructor: “Learning to deal with reporters is just as important as learning to kill the enemy.” “Spin control” was critical as well. An Army instructor, for instance, insisted that soldiers tell not just any story, but a “positive Army story.”
The Army, in particular, aggressively has sought to maintain spin control. It imposed, for example, the so-called “Ricks rule” in 1996 to counter frank, but politically incorrect, comments by its troops in Bosnia. Ultimately, discouraging candor proved to be counterproductive. A participant in a 1996 Army survey glumly reported that “telling the truth ends careers quicker than making stupid mistakes or getting caught doing something wrong.” Ironically, the Army’s success at suppressing the media during the First Gulf War planted the seed of its own demise. With the public uneducated about the Army’s capabilities, the Army was reduced to only four active divisions and followed the Air Force into disestablishment in early 2007.
Not surprising, the Defense Department, which tends to lead agencies in adopting new technologies and management techniques, has leapt boots first into blogging. The department allows soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to blog as long as they don’t include sensitive or classified information in their posts. In October 2006, Defense formed its New Media office, to explore collaborative tools with government-friendly blogs or outright controlled outlets. The push to experiment came from the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, which says the department operates in a 24-7 new media environment.
Defense officials have found that blogs, along with wikis and social networks, promote collaboration better than traditional communication methods such as e-mail.
“If you have one location, and people can add or exchange comments, it creates more active, viable collaboration ability,” says Roxie Merritt, Defense’s director of new media. “It’s more efficient, faster and more in-depth. With the advent of text messages and all the rest, e-mail is becoming obsolete.”
When Defense assembled the new media team, officials first considered creating a blog, but then decided to rely on the network of bloggers who already were writing about Defense operations, including Doc in the Box, The Long War Journal and Andrew Lubin’s The Military Observer. The office began including the bloggers in discussions about operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans health care and other military issues, similar to the way the department talks with the media – setting up conference calls with traditional bloggers and top Defense officials. The access helps bloggers write about the topics in-depth and gives the department more opportunities to get its perspective out on the Web.
Defense hosted its first roundtable for bloggers in February 2007, with Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, then-head of communications for the Multi-National Force – Iraq. Caldwell, who is now commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., discussed how smuggled explosive devices and other weapons going from Iran to Iraq had increased casualties.
The department also posts videos of news briefings, speeches and combat footage on its Web site and YouTube.
We also have the example of The Lincoln Group (formerly known as Iraqex) that is a Washington, D.C. contractor with operations in Iraq hired by the United States military to perform public relations. They operate from the Green Zone at Sector 222, 34th St, Bldg 5 Karatet Mariam, Baghdad, Iraq and 1130 17th St. NW Suite 400 Washington, DC. On November 30, 2005, the Los Angeles Times revealed that the company had been paying for news stories in Iraqi newspapers. Prior to that report, Lincoln Group of Washington, DC was awarded an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, with a potential maximum value of $100,000,000, for media approach planning, prototype product development, commercial quality product development, product distribution and dissemination, and media effects analysis for the Joint Psychological Operations Support element and other government agencies.
Their work is performed CONUS and OCONUS and task orders may be issued from June 7, 2005 – June 6, 2010. This contract was awarded on a competitive basis pursuant to FAR 6.102. The contract number is H92222-05-D-1010.”
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