Government Intervention

Pentagon Concludes: Pentagon Propaganda Program Perfectly Propa, er, Proper


From the Times of New York:

A Pentagon public relations program that sought to transform high-profile military analysts into "surrogates" and "message force multipliers" for the Bush administration complied with Defense Department regulations and directives, the Pentagon's inspector general has concluded after a two-year investigation….

In January 2009, the inspector general's office issued a report that said it had found no wrongdoing in the program. But soon after, the inspector general's office retracted the entire report, saying it was so riddled with inaccuracies and flaws that none of its conclusions could be relied upon. In late 2009, the inspector general's office began a new inquiry….

The results of the new inquiry, first reported by The Washington Times, confirm that the Pentagon under Donald H. Rumsfeld made a concerted effort starting in 2002 to reach out to network military analysts to build and sustain public support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The inquiry found that from 2002 to 2008, Mr. Rumsfeld's Pentagon organized 147 events for 74 military analysts. These included 22 meetings at the Pentagon, 114 conference calls with generals and senior Pentagon officials and 11 Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Twenty of the events, according to a 35-page report of the inquiry's findings, involved Mr. Rumsfeld or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or both….

The inspector general's investigation grappled with the question of whether the outreach constituted an earnest effort to inform the public or an improper campaign of news media manipulation.

The inquiry confirmed that Mr. Rumsfeld's staff frequently provided military analysts with talking points before their network appearances. In some cases, the report said, military analysts "requested talking points on specific topics or issues." One military analyst described the talking points as "bullet points given for a political purpose." Another military analyst, the report said, told investigators that the outreach program's intent "was to move everyone's mouth on TV as a sock puppet."

The inquiry also confirmed that Mr. Rumsfeld's staff hired a company to track and analyze what the military analysts said during their media appearances. According to the report, four military analysts reported that they were ejected from Mr. Rumsfeld's outreach program "because they were critical" of the Pentagon.

One former Pentagon official told the investigators that when Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and NBC military analyst, "started challenging" Mr. Rumsfeld on air, he was told that Mr. Rumsfeld wanted him "immediately" removed from the invitation list because General McCaffrey was no longer considered a "team player." Mr. Rumsfeld told investigators that he did not recall ordering General McCaffrey's exclusion.

Wesley K. Clark, a retired four-star Army general who worked as a military analyst for CNN, told investigators he took it as a sign that the Pentagon "was displeased" with his commentary when CNN officials told him he would no longer be invited to special briefings for military analysts. General Clark told investigators that CNN officials made him feel as if he was less valued as a commentator because "he wasn't trusted by the Pentagon." At one point, he said, a CNN official told him that the White House had asked CNN to "release you from your contract as a commentator."

Some Rummy loyalists and 63 military analysts all maintain it was all about "inform and educate." While not meaning to suggest that the government had no obligation to answer questions from its citizens or the press, I'm not sure it's part of its necessary powers to gin up a program like this to make sure seemingly independent analysts say what the government wants it to say.

Was it also about improving the business interests of the analysts? Ah, who can say?

The report found that at least 43 of the military analysts were affiliated with defense contractors. The inspector general's office said it asked 35 of these analysts whether their participation in the program benefited their business interests. Almost all said no. Based on these answers, the report said, investigators were unable to identify any analysts who "profited financially" from their participation in the program.

The report, however, said that these analysts may have gained "many other tangible and intangible benefits" from their special access. (Eight analysts said they believed their participation gave them better access to top Defense Department officials, for example.) The report said that a lack of clear "internal operating procedures" may have contributed to "the perception" that participation by military analysts with ties to defense contractors "provided a financial benefit."

 Old-timey 2005 Reason blogging on Pentagon propaganda matters.

When the NYT loved Pentagon propaganda: The Judith Miller/Iraq saga.

NEXT: Crackdowns on Consensual Sex, Veggies, and more! Nanny of the Year (2011)

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  1. So it is another “Bush’s fault” moment?

  2. Wow. I’m shocked.

    1. Government…lying and manipulating? It’s un-possible!

      1. I heard that happened once, but it wasn’t really anyone’s fault.

      2. Geez Epi, lying and manipulating are strong words when referring tou our government. The government didn’t lie and manipulate. Instead, some former government contractors gave statements, and parts of those statements may have contained some inaccuracies. Also, while trying to promote a positive message to it’s broadcast media partners, some former government contractors may have misrepresented the message which resulted in the media partners reporting such misrepresentations.

        1. Who misrepresents the misrepresenters?

        2. That knock EDG is hearing at his door ain’t the Avon lady. He’s headin’ to the Caribbean for New Years!

          1. I just got back from the Caribbean. Conch salad for the win.

            1. When I was running my restaurant in PR, I made a mean conch & octopus salad. We used to go over to Vieques and get conch by the bushel off the beaches the Navy kept closed most of the year. So damn many of them that you had to wear shoes in the water.

              1. We’ve got conch here, but it’s like treason or something to even pull it out of the water. In the Bahamas, they kill it for fun. And for food.

                My brother and I walked over to the Fish Fry, which is a group of shacks and restaurants in Nassau. Guy with a machete hacked up some onions, tomatoes, peppers, habanero, and a couple of living conchs for our edification. Added some salt, lime (lots of lime), and orange, and we were happy, happy.

          2. I’ll pack my cabana wear.

            1. I was biking by some private cabanas on Disney’s secret island in the Bahamas and–I couldn’t stop this–I sang “Copacabana.” Thank God we didn’t actually rent one.

            2. No need. Uncle Sam’s got a nice orange jumpsuit cleaned and pressed for you.

              1. Don’t they now send federal convicts to Caribbean islands?

  3. General Clark told investigators that CNN officials made him feel as if he was less valued as a commentator because “he wasn’t trusted by the Pentagon.”

    I don’t know who expects the Pentagon to be giving anything but “pro-objective” spin while prosecuting a war effort, but Clark’s charge, if true, should be a source of embarrassment for CNN, and any other news organization who acted similarly.

    1. Yeah, I blame the media outlets that parroted the pentagon’s talking points as if they were the gospel truth more than the pentagon itself. Part of their job, as distasteful as it may seem, is to maintain support for their efforts. The media’s job is to report the news as they see it, not report the news as it’s told to them.

      There used to be such a thing as investigative journalism. Today’s news media are more like an extension of their government overlords.

      1. They want to be in the elite club, with access, perks, and sexy girls. Can’t have that if you’re on the outside looking in.

      2. I never watch the nightly news (local or national). I’m always surprised when I do catch the news that every story invariably begins, “According to LAPD…”, or, “According to the Mayor’s office…”, or, “Officials with the Department of…”. It’s just the recitation of the days’ government press releases. Not journalism.

        1. Sad, isn’t it, that our media have become so enamored by power that they cease to be relevant.

          Moths. Flames. Etc.

        2. Yes, don’t government bodies have their own PR departments already?

          1. Yes, don’t government bodies have their own PR departments already?

            They used to until libertarians cut them out of the government’s budgets.

            1. Is there nothing that racist, corporation-thrall libertarians can’t ruin?

  4. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  5. Based on these answers, the report said, investigators were unable to identify any analysts who “profited financially” from their participation in the program.

    And they just took their word for it?

    1. Of course they did. Just as they give Congressmen and Senators a pass when their investments wildly outperform averages. In other words, they like access to power more than seeking the truth.

      1. Listen, the government makes lots of mistakes. There was not some huge conspiracy to lie us into a bunhc of wars. If there had been then surely the information would have leaked out by now, the media would love to tear into a story of corruption like that. So everyone calm down with all these crazy theories about the Pentagon paying all the analysts you see on TV.

        1. You use sarcasm to try to cover your paranoid fantasies; afraid that your libertarian wolfpack will brand you a “tinfoil hat guy”.

    1. Who Nebraskas the Nebraskers?

        1. It’s a rhetorical question, dude.

          Besides, the correct answer is Kansas. The band, not the state.

          1. It was a rhetorical answer, so there! And for the record, Kansas sucked.

            1. I like that song. I think there was another one I liked. Maybe that one by So-crates?

              1. Sorry, but if you’re making a reference, it is lost on me. That and “Dust in the Wind” are all I know.

                1. That’s the one. I also remember a meh song from the video age–“Play the Game” maybe? Something like that.

                  1. The reference was to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Which, of course, you knew but were afraid to admit.

  6. Let me see if get this…Obama is investigating whether Bush used the tools of government to sell his message to a compliant and passive media.

    So who is the pot, and who is the kettle?

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