|Ronald Haeberle's Photo of the My Lai Massacre (March 16, 1968)|
........ that coverage - those images - spurred a near revolt confronting the war paradigm as promoted by the Pentagon and those in support of the Pentagon.
|Lie by Lie - Mother Jones Illustration: John Ueland|
Media coverage of the most recent War on Iraq....
Slick productions; limited ground coverage; military created videos - mainstream media companies ate it up...
And what mainstream coverage was regurgitated 24/7 was interspersed with ...
We were left with jingoistic diatribes repeated, ritualistically, until they became the only message heard on major television stations in the US. The message set for the masses to believe.
From "New York Times," (April 20, 2008)...setting the message:
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.
Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.
Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.
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.
In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access...
...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.”
From Democracy Now! (2007):
(Please note: Night Ridder, noted in the above story, was sold to McClatchy, June, 2006)
And from the "National Security News Service," (September 30th, 2013):
The Department of Defense has turned its huge public affairs program into an offensive propaganda campaign being run by the same contractors that spy on the world through the intelligence agencies, according to a DCBureau-National Security News Service (NSNS) investigation
The positive public image of the military has allowed defense contractors and the military leadership to replace traditional public outreach with an aggressive propaganda effort that has little to do with providing factual information about the armed forces. Nearly every element of outreach now must go through a maze of strategic communication contractors to decide whether or not a reporter is given an interview or information.
While the changes to the Pentagon outreach effort accelerated during the George W. Bush administration, the confluence of a “strategic communications” approach that once was reserved for foreign targets of military operations is now used for domestic consumption. Under President Obama and his defense secretaries – Gates, Panetta, and Hagel – hundreds of millions of dollars in propaganda and strategic communication contracts have been let, with the details of many of them classified...
...In 2009, an Associated Press investigation found that the Pentagon’s public affairs budget had grown by 63 percent in the past five years. Pentagon officials set aside $4.7 billion for recruiting, advertising, public affairs and psychological operations. But that number may not even be the total as millions more dollars are buried in classified budgets hidden from the public. When broken down, $1.6 billion is set aside for recruitment and advertising, $547 million for public affairs, roughly $489 million for psychological operations that reach foreign audiences, and $2.1 billion for staff for these areas. One Navy document posted online a few years ago, reveals that thousands of enlisted personnel and officers are assigned to public relations on every ship and submarine, at every base and station in the Navy. The numbers are similar for the other services.
According to internal memorandum, Pentagon public relation messages are being delivered by new and different means. Emerging technologies have created new opportunities to get their messages out to a wider audience and a narrower audience. E-mail messages can target individuals within the government and military, while Internet websites can blanket mass audiences. Repetition is the key for oral learning. Military themes, phrases, or slogans are repeated to ensure the targeted audience gets the desired message. For example, the public has been trained to automatically thank troops for their service.
Each branch of the military has its own operations. The Navy, for example, has the capability, according to internal memorandum, to produce audiovisual products from the Fleet Audio-Visual Command, Pacific; Fleet Imagery Command, Atlantic; fleet combat camera groups; various film libraries; and Naval Imaging Command. Naval assets have the capability to broadcast AM/FM radio and produce documents, posters, articles, and other materials.
A growing portion of the Pentagon budget goes to contractors who are merging their intelligence and eavesdropping activities into propaganda and media. A former undersecretary of defense during the Reagan years called the changes “absolutely chilling.” He says, “Fundamentally what it means is the contractors now have full control of the military. It is the contractors and not the officer corps that has control of the institution that is our military. The ability for these companies to control all the information and cycle the senior officer corps from the Pentagon to their boardrooms makes the system foolproof and completely corrupt.”
When asked about congressional oversight, the former Reagan official says, “Look at where these congressmen and senators get their contributions. Even when our soldiers, sailors and Marines are damaged by a contractor’s action, there are no hearings, no penalties to pay.”
This is the dark side of the Pentagon’s outreach effort. Defense contractors that are largely reliant on the Pentagon for their shareholders’ profits are deeply involved in what the intelligence community used to call deception operations and what the public relations industry rebranded “strategic communication” or more recently “communications synchronization.” One veteran Washington editor whose publication covers the military told NSNS, “The days of a reporter calling a DOD press representative and getting a straight answer to a question are a quaint part of the past.” Inserted between press officers and the Pentagon brass are the contractors who actually make “strategic” decisions about whether it is in the Pentagon’s interest to provide a reporter with information or withhold cooperation.
A former top Army information officer told NSNS, “The change is now complete in the military. The trust between PAOs and the media has been eroded. It used to be if a tough reporter had a story that was going to make us look bad, we would use the trust that was built up with the reporter and the outlet to work the issue through. Now the door is slammed on the reporter and the strategic advice is usually just to blacklist the guy and his outlet. Sometimes the strategic advice includes putting out a fictional narrative and the outcomes have been horrible for the Army. What they call strategic communication is simply deception. We have had horrible outcomes to story after story because of this policy.” The former official cited the phony cover story about pro football player Pat Tillman’s death during the Afghan War. The Army portrayed Tillman as being killed by enemy fire when, in fact, they knew he had been killed by friendly fire. The Army also knowingly distributed a false story about a young private named Jessica Lynch describing her fictional heroics during the Iraq War.
The former Army officer says, “Strategic communications may sound like pr to the public. That is not what it is. These are offensive propaganda operations that often include trying to discredit news organizations and reporters who endanger the military reputation or disagree with the information the military wants out. The truth of the information reporters have is not relevant to these guys…One technique used is to exploit inexperienced bloggers and new media types to put out what they want. They actually hold briefings that target the dumbest of these folks, and they carry the DOD’s message, thinking they got some big scoop.”
A top editor for a major military publication says that the military has “almost no respect for today’s web based reporters.” The editor says, “They hold sessions for bloggers and feed them tidbits and manipulate them because the bloggers, for the most part, don’t have a clue about what questions to ask. The truth is there are very few good reporters still covering the military. Because the news organizations don’t have the resources, the DOD is using contractor-produced, unvetted material to fill this information vacuum. Because of the declining financial condition of the media, this is what has replaced real reporting for many news organizations.”
Many of the major Pentagon exposés of the 1980s and 1990s came from nonprofit watchdog organizations that focused on military waste, fraud and abuse. The handful of NGOs that did the stories like $600 toilet seats, secret multi-billion dollar programs to resume atmospheric nuclear testing, the infamous School of the Americas, and a general flying his mistresses at taxpayers’ expense across the Atlantic stopped getting funding when many of the large foundations’ priorities changed and they redirected the NGOs to other areas. One NGO investigator says, “The money dried up after 9/11. We just don’t have the money to carry out many deep dive investigations anymore. Without the nonprofits doing the spadework on these kinds of stories, the public is being fed a diet of DOD-contractor propaganda.”
According to a senior editor whose publication focuses on the Pentagon, “Every senior commander is expected to take advice from an expert in strategic communication before agreeing to a media interview. Inside every DOD facility is a team of Public Affairs Officers whose first job when contacted by a reporter is to determine if the reporter has been friendly to the DOD or unfriendly. If the reporter has been tough or critical, he or she will not get the interview. It is that simple. They can afford to do this because the media is so ineffective now, they can just communicate through their own outlets. Enough editors will take their unverified, free story packages and run them without warning their readers or viewers that the material is Pentagon produced.”
A veteran civilian Pentagon official told NSNS, “What is more worrying is they are combining public affairs and outreach with propaganda. They consider social media as a propaganda tool. They are treating communication with the public in the same way they do propaganda overseas.”
Nearly every service likes to show a friendly, inspiring public face from military bands to honor and color guards for large and small community and commercial events. What the Pentagon refuses to allow is free access by the media of returning caskets from the war. Studies show that images of soldiers killed in the line of duty undermines public support for war. These actions are all part of the partnership between contractors and the military. President Dwight D. Eisenhower became so concerned about the nexus between corporate money and the Defense Department that he gave a farewell address in 1961 warning the nation of the threat of what he called “the growing military-industrial complex.”
President Eisenhower is the Army general who led the United States and our allies to victory in Europe during World War II. Over the years, others have reinforced the president’s warnings, most notably, an Emmy award-winning CBS News report called “The Selling of the Pentagon” by correspondent Roger Mudd and producer Peter Davis, which aired in February 1971. That report was so devastating, defense contractors conducted a huge public relations campaign to try to counteract its effect on the public perception of the defense and weapons business.
It used to be called “the revolving door” – where military officers went to work for companies they had given contracts. One of the issues that worried President Eisenhower was how shamelessly the defense complex would use the reputation earned by the blood of our troops to mitigate contractor abuses. This is why many military leaders favored a draft, convinced that citizens who were forced to serve would keep the entire system accountable. It is not coincidental that the role of contractors increased dramatically after the draft was eliminated. Now the revolving door from Pentagon to contractor and back goes from five star officers all the way down to grunts with specialized training. It is seamless. It has evolved into a very lucrative job-for-life safety net for the military. High-ranking officers become millionaires overnight. There is no “assault on the middle class” among the military, even in many of the lower ranks.
Public affairs is a relatively new addition to the military. During World War II, the Department of War became aware of the need for military officials to be able to supply news to the public. The civilian media was often misinformed about news on the frontline, so soldiers, airmen, and sailors stepped up as public affairs officers. In 1946, the Army formed it first information school to train military members in journalism and public affairs. The DOD has always maintained a longstanding relationship with the American public. Decades ago, posters showed Uncle Sam urging young men outside of recruiting stations to join up. Recently, an “Army Strong” commercial portrays proud men and women jumping out of airplanes to rescue villagers. But as the Blue Angels roar overtop stadiums and children wave their American flags with pride, few are noticing that the Pentagon is reaching deeper into the taxpayers’ pocket.
By 2009, Americans spent over $4.7 billion a year to fund Department of Defense public affairs, a number that has multiplied. A high-level Department of Defense official said the total number “is deliberately disguised in a maze of budgets.” He says, “The real total for outreach and recruitment now exceeds $15 billion annually and is growing.” Adding to the number are contractors who sell systems and logistical support to the government. They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their own public relations and advertising campaigns and charging that money off on their Pentagon contracts.
Fifty-three-years after President Eisenhower’s warning, the situation has gotten far more serious. Even the current Pentagon spokesman is not a distinguished former journalist or service member but George Little, a former employee of defense-intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, the same company that constructs and maintains the NSA-CIA surveillance apparatus for which whistleblower Edward Snowden worked. Attempts to get answers directly from the Pentagon public affairs staff are completely stymied all the way to Little’s office. While he publicly preaches openness when he lectures at the Defense Information School, he and his staff have no real interest in helping the media.
NSNS reporters wanted to know why the military’s public relations apparatus promises cooperation only to violate every promise of assistance it makes. The simple answer turned out to be the Pentagon has no reason to fear the media because it knows that poll numbers conclusively demonstrate the armed forces are the most trusted institution in the country. That support reflects the massive contraction in the news industry since the recession. The remaining news management fear a backlash against any organization that takes on the military. Any criticism will be portrayed as being “against our troops” or “unpatriotic” by a team of strategic communications contractors. Pentagon management now thumbs their collective noses at the news media. PAOs still cater to the large broadcast and cable networks. But producers for these correspondents seldom undertake critical Pentagon stories. As one major network senior news manager says, “We are well aware the Pentagon can deny access. When we do a critical story we understand the Pentagon and services have the firepower to fight back.”
The natural tension between an independent press and government-controlled public affairs is all but gone as the national media has shrunk in both numbers and resources. Corporate style media operations are now common across the government. But no government agency has seen a more profound change than the Department of Defense. The scrutiny of national, local, and regional news outlets that focused on Pentagon coverage has been replaced by bloggers often of dubious origin. Media budget constraints has created an opening for government contracted propagandists to supplant genuine reportage with internally produced news “packages” and “feel good” stories, like service members returning from war and surprising their children or being reunited with their dog. The gee-whiz latest unmanned weapons systems stories are Pentagon-contractor created diversions that consume column inches, web space, and airtime that would be more meaningfully spent on serious issues like contractor fraud, the increased rates of suicides, and an officer corps even more reliant on private contractors.
Equally disturbing is that the oversight committees in Congress have ignored the contractors’ control of Pentagon propaganda and strategic communications. When NSNS reporters reached out to both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee for assistance on how much was being spent on Pentagon public communications, the committees had no comment. The military contractors are generous contributors to members of the oversight committees. One veteran Republican staff member was blunt in laying out the reality: “There is no upside to going after the Pentagon on wasteful spending. The truth is it does not matter what reporters like you do. The public trusts the military over the media. Our polling confirms that. The truth is the media has lost its power and the military establishment no longer needs you to tell its story. …Welcome to the 21st Century.”
The fact that the Pentagon dissembles to the media on a regular basis is also ignored by most of the major media. For example, the DOD has made much of sequester cuts damaging national security. One way the Pentagon PR machine tries to get attention is to tug on the national heartstrings. Recently there were news reports that a fly over Arlington National Cemetery to salute two MIAs being interred had to be canceled because of budget woes. What is not shown are a laundry list of other activities that are ongoing. For example, there is plenty of money to allow West Point cadets to parachute out of a Lakota Helicopter for fun several times a week as part of an informal jumping group. It costs thousands of dollars per hour to keep a Lakota chopper with a full crew in the air...
...The Pentagon and national security establishment are using the same contractors who have built the post 9/11 spy apparatus to control the U.S. military version of its activities. Corporations with no stake in openness or experience in providing the public information are being paid hundreds of millions of dollars to fend off reporters and control what comes out of the battlefield and from the Pentagon. These same companies, reliant on the Pentagon and intelligence community for more contracts, have no motivation or incentive to release information that might embarrass the national security establishment. So when wrongdoing does take place, there is virtually no chance of it being revealed to the American public. For example, when hundred of National Guard reservists during the Iraq War were exposed to cancer causing chemicals at an Iraqi power plant that supposedly was made safe by defense contractor KBR, the Pentagon and Army sided with the contractor when reservists came down with cancer. The contractor’s influence was so great that the sick veterans could not even get an official hearing from the Senate or House Armed Services Committees. Instead, only the Democratic Policy Committee, which has no official standing, bothered to hold hearings.
The worry about unfavorable publicity seems to dominate every aspect of current Pentagon media policy. Directly attacking reporters came into vogue in the 1990s after the Navy’s Tailhook scandal. The Navy’s aggressive head of public affairs at the time, Rear Admiral Kendall Pease, set a new harsh tone toward reporters who took on the Navy. After Pease retired from the Navy, he, too, went to work for a contractor, General Dynamics. The training for Navy public information officers changed dramatically under Pease in 1996, and this new aggressive attitude toward reporters deemed unfriendly was adapted by the other services. For the first time reporters were openly seen as adversaries. The policy was to assist “friendlies” and discredit “unfriendlies.”...
...Perhaps the most embarrassing failure of the major networks was their complicity in selling the invasion of Iraq to the American public. It is also an example of how the Pentagon’s strategic communications efforts were used by willing network executives. The networks had on their payrolls retired senior officers who were telegenic and seemed authentic heroes. What was not mentioned is many of them were also working for defense contractors who had a vested interest in keeping the wars going. Bush administration Pentagon officials brought these former officers in regularly for special briefings. The idea behind the briefings was to give these network consultants special access so they could be “message force multipliers” to sell the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the American public. The trouble is that much of the information given to them was wrong. NSNS assisted New York Times Reporter David Barstow with his investigation into these retired military officers. The devastating stories revealed both the mendacity of the consultants and the indifference by network news management. NBC News fared the worst. The Barstow stories revealed the hold the military industrial complex has on network media. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for these stories.
The Pentagon investigated and cleared itself in the consultant scandal. The networks, with the single exception of Public Broadcasting, accepted no responsibility for misleading the public, and in the case of NBC continued to use a former general who had the greatest conflicts of interest.
...U.S. military propaganda is everywhere. It’s on Netflix, ipads, cellphones, television sets and movie screens.
....Offensive operations are run against reporters critical of the military and intelligence communities. In addition, the Obama administration has aggressively prosecuted military and intelligence whistleblowers and allowed wiretaps and surveillance of reporters and news bureaus. One recent court decision suggests it a crime for a reporter to receive classified information from a source. The country was founded on the concept of “checks and balances.” There are only two institutions large enough to provide “checks” on the military and intelligence communities: Congress and the media. Congress chooses not to do its job. The media no longer can.
There were a few smaller stations and web-based publications reporting more accurate accounts of the lead up to war:
Democracy Now! September, 2002:
White House officials say a centerpiece of the strategy is to use Bush’s speech on September 11th to bolster support for an attack. Chief White House political adviser Karl Rove said, quote, "Everybody felt that was a moment that Americans want to hear from him, to seize the moment to make clear what lies ahead." Toward that end, the White House picked Ellis Island in New York Harbor for Bush’s September 11th speech. The television camera angles were most spectacular there, where the Statue of Liberty will be seen glowing behind Bush. His September 11th remarks are to serve as the emotional precursor for a tougher speech at the United Nations General Assembly the following day. The White House has dispatched envoys to Moscow, Beijing and Paris for follow-up discussions to the UN speech.
Democracy Now! brought stories of the human toll, the effect of destroying water and power systems on the innocent people of Iraq
And brought coverage of the deception used to promote the war
...And after and continues to report on Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia (now sold as "The War On Terror")...
Jason Leopold wrote about the behind the scenes stories of corruption and manipulation from the planning of the War on Iraq (February 23, 2003):
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz undertook a full-fledged lobbying campaign in 1998 to get former President Bill Clinton to start a war with Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein's regime. They claimed that the country posed a threat to the United States, according to documents obtained from a former Clinton aide.
This new information begs the question: what is really driving the Bush Administration's desire to start a war with Iraq if two of Bush's future top defence officials were already planting the seeds for an attack five years ago?
To the big money received by preferred companies formerly run by White House officials (May, 2003):
Halliburton Corp., the second largest oil services company in world, is the poster child for corporate greed and terror. And it seems that nothing will stop Vice President Dick Cheney's old company from repeatedly breaking the law to save and earn mountains of cash.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing this week, Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton unit that won a controversial no-bid contract to extinguish Iraqi oil well fires, disclosed that it paid $2.4 million in bribes to a Nigerian tax official to obtain favorable tax treatment in the country where it's building a natural gas plant and an offshore oil and gas facility.
The bribes were paid between 2001 and 2002 to "an entity owned by a Nigerian national who held himself out as a tax consultant, when in fact he was an employee of a local tax authority," the company said in the SEC filing, which was discovered during an internal audit...
...News of KBR's expanded role in Iraq prompted criticism from some congressional critics who were under the impression that the company's job would be limited to putting out fires and repairing damage to Iraq's rich petroleum fields. The Army Corps of Engineers said KBR actually had been authorized under the original contract to operate and distribute oil produced in Iraq, but the Corps of Engineers played down that aspect of the deal in its initial communications with Congress and the media. For pumping oil from Iraq's oil fields and importing gasoline and propane from Turkey and other countries, Halliburton will receive $24 million, raising to $76.8 million the amount it will have received since being awarded the contract in March, said Scott Saunders, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers. Saunders said the Halliburton subsidiary now is pumping 125,000 barrels of oil a day, far short of the demand that is expected to reach 400,000 barrels.
Meanwhile, while KBR is skirting U.S. laws and profiting off rebuilding Iraq's oil fields, the SEC is still investigating the company for alleged accounting fraud. The SEC is examining how Halliburton booked and disclosed cost overruns on construction contracts beginning in 1998, when Cheney was chief executive officer. The SEC, according to a lawyer familiar with the matter, has not contacted Cheney. Cheney's office confirmed he hasn't been questioned, Reuters reported.
The company said Thursday it turned over about 300,000 documents to the SEC, a process that "is essentially complete," according to a regulatory filing. The company said it is continuing to make people available to testify under subpoenas.
... Michael Hastings, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, James Risen and other practitioners of adversarial journalism all tried to get these stories out in front of the people. Many ended up on web based publications like "Salon," "AlterNet," "Truthout," "Buzzfeed" or outside the US, published in Al Jazeera or the The Guardian.
Even today, 12 years after "Shock and Awe" (Isn't that a great soundbyte?), many in America still think Saddam Hussein was building WMDs; Iraqis welcomed us as "saviors" (Cheney, circa 2003); and the 6 slaughters of Fallujah were well justified. Many still believe Guantanamo is a "resort" filled with evil terrorists, that they were all captured on the battlefield trying to kill Americans, and that torture works.
America (and the rest of the planet) needs more Amy Goodmans, Jeremy Scahills, Jason Leopolds, Michael Hastings, Glenn Greenwalds, Laura Poitras', and James Risens but get more Bill O'Reillys, Brian Williams', David Gregorys, and Chuck Todds. Talking heads replace investigative journalists and propaganda replaces adversarial journalism.
We need journalists with big brass balls instead of tiny, fearful hearts.