Sunday, April 20, 2008

How the Pentagon spins the war on terror

As someone who is involved in the PR business, which often means working hard to get favourable coverage in the media for a client, this story from the NY Times strikes a nerve.

In a lengthy piece, published Sunday, reporter David Barstow details the complicated and close relationship between the Pentagon and the so-called "military analysts" that have become so familiar to TV viewers on American networks.
To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.
On one hand, I'm tempted to say "Holy crap! These guys (the Pentagon) are really good at what they do!"

But I'm not really serious (although they are obviously good.)

Instead, I'm dismayed at just how much the media is being played by influential interests. In this case, it's the US administration, making sure that the facts don't get in the way of telling the people what's happening with the war on terror. But similar examples (here and here, for instance) exist in other areas as well.

Kudos to the NY Times for writing about this and giving it the space they have. And note as well the other web-friendly features they've included to add to the story.

They have a multimdedia feature that offers clips from TV shows (many of which are included in the print story.) There's also a detailed document archive where you can see excerpts from the documents the Times received during their research.

As with more and more news features these days, we get the print version, enhanced with extras that take advantage of web features. It makes for a rich experience.

Still, we have to admit that its not like we don't know this sort of thing happens. I hope the TV networks who were so lenient in checking the credibility of their military analysts are going to clean up their act a bit in the future - but I'm not holding my breath.

The responsibility for figuring out what's really going on remains with us - the consumer of the news. After all, there are always at least two sides to every story.

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