Sunday, April 20, 2008

NY Times Multimedia Report Dissects the Pentagon Propaganda Machine

The New York Times today published a really interesting story on how the Pentagon orchestrated an elaborate propaganda campaign aimed at dismissing calls for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation in 2006. RollingStone called it a story destined for a Pulitzer. I like this story for a number of reasons: 
  • First, it's a good example of why so many people think poorly of public relations. When the media talks about ethically questionable Pentagon propaganda and refers to it as a "PR" campaign, that certainly doesn't help paint a favorable picture of the profession. Of course, the fact that the government is involved in this type of unethical behavior doesn't help either.
  • Second, it's a great piece of investigative as well as interactive journalism and does a wonderful job illustrating the promises of online reporting. The NY Times article is accompanied by a multi-media feature which examines primary source documents related to the story and gives the reader a chance to examine those documents more closely. In other words, the reader gets to review the documents the journalist used to put together the story. Think about how different from traditional forms of journalism this is, where all the reader gets to see is the edited end-product. Think about how this is empowering readers to formulate more informed opinions about news stories. Case in point: After reading this story, I downloaded a 30 page transcript of a meeting between Rumsfeld and his military advisors, a 6 page analysis of the media coverage received by the propaganda campaign, and a series of memos - much more info than the media could convey in an 11 minute interactive video or a traditional feature story.
Although this Pentagon-sponsored propaganda campaign seems to have primarily relied on traditional media to gets its message across, the Pentagon has long noted the power of the Internet and social media technologies as a dissemination tool for its propaganda efforts. As Rumsfeld noted in the meeting with his military advisors: 

"This is the first war that's ever been run in the 21st Century in a time of 24 hour news and bloggers and internets and e-mails and digital cameras and Sony cams and God knows all this stuff, and wire transfers, all the electronic things that are going on, and it's a different world. We're not very skillful at it in terms of the media part of the new realities that we're living with. Every time we try to do something someone says it's illegal or immoral, there's nothing the press would rather write about then the press, we all know that. They fall in love with it. So every time someone tries to do some information operations for some public diplomacy or something, they say oh my goodness, it's multiple audiences and if you're talking to them, they're hearing you here as well and therefore that's propagandizing or something or it's not fair or it's not right. We don't have the right rules or the right understandings yet for this century."

It sounds like his frustration is referring to Pentagon infop initiatives such as the project - a Pentagon-sponsored Internet news website aimed at the Maghreb region of North Africa, which was investigated for breaking a U.S. law that prohibits the government from exposing its citizens to propaganda. The problem was that although the site was aimed at the Maghreb region, it was a public website open to U.S. readers - readers who could therefore be exposed to government propaganda.

Another indication of the Pentagon's interest in new media technologies can be found in a report published in 2006 by the the Strategic Studies Department of the Joint Special Operations University. The report, entitled "Blogs and Military Information Strategy" suggests the military should clandestinely recruit or hire prominent bloggers (click here to download the report).

1 comment:

maryann said...

Hi everyone – we are trying to give people a way to take action on this issue. An administration secretly forcing favorable views via the press is not a partisan issue. This is a violation of every conceivable standard of journalism -- and possibly of federal law.

It's time the truth about the selling of this war came out. You can help make this happen. Take Action here: Signing this letter does work. If we can get 50,000 people to join this call to Congress, they will likely take action to stop government propaganda. The public has help stop fake news in the past. (

You can watch this video for more information, and evidence of this issue: