The Democracy Papers
Selling a war
The U.S. House of Representatives has angrily and appropriately lashed out at a Pentagon program that used retired senior military officers...
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The U.S. House of Representatives has angrily and appropriately lashed out at a Pentagon program that used retired senior military officers as propaganda surrogates to sell the Iraq war.
Americans assumed all those retired generals and admirals appearing as guest experts on news programs and talk shows were unbiased authorities delivering the unvarnished truth. Nope. They were part of a carefully orchestrated effort by the Bush administration to exploit their credibility to push an optimistic view of the war and its progress.The Pentagon's message machine was shielded from view until The New York Times recently exposed the detailed campaign of disinformation. Dozens of officers were flattered and fawned over and spoon-fed information by the Pentagon. Most were already connected to defense contractors with lucrative ties as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants.
Virtually none were inclined to complain when they heard dubious information that contradicted their own experience or independent sources.
The administration was looking for favorable coverage of the war, and worked hard to produce it. The Pentagon's panel of nodding heads was especially useful to counteract bad news, such as the abominable treatment of detainees at the Guantánamo military prison.
The House action, part of a defense-policy bill adopted by a huge margin, calls for the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Pentagon operations. Domestic propaganda had been outlawed in previous legislation.
None of this is journalism by other means. The retired military officials were never to mention their access to the Pentagon or their briefings. Policy dissent was not tolerated, as a truth-teller discovered when he was abruptly dismissed.
In the words of the public-relations executive in charge of the Pentagon program, the administration was looking for information dominance. It is pursuit of message control that would make Vladimir Putin proud.
Two wells are poisoned. The Pentagon is tainted, but the military's corps of retired senior officers is hurt as well. They want to be perceived as the honest brokers between politicians and the public. Instead, they come across as touts pushing a product.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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