Washington Babylon — July 16, 2007, 3:27 pm

Meet the Pentagon’s New Spin Unit: Bush Administration hacks court bloggers, talk radio

pentagon

The Bush Administration has installed hacks across the federal bureaucracy, with Michael Brown, the man who helped destroy New Orleans while director of FEMA, as only the most notorious example. Now the Pentagon’s public affairs division has become a dumping ground for administration cronies.

I touched upon this topic last week in an article about Dorrance Smith, a former senior advisor to President Bush 41 and now assistant secretary of defense for public affairs under Bush 43. In 2006, when the press and retired senior military officials were pummeling Donald Rumsfeld, Smith created a rapid-response team of die-hard loyalists to defend the then-defense secretary.

The rapid-response team has been shut down but several sources tell me that another of Smith’s spin projects is ongoing. This project seeks to bypass the traditional media and work directly with talk radio and bloggers, mostly those with a heavily conservative tilt. The unit, which one source says was originally called “Surrogates Operation” but was later rechristened “Communications Outreach,” also reportedly provides talking points and briefings to retired military officials who now support the administration in appearances as media pundits. (I haven’t been able to learn which blogs and individuals the unit has been working with, but urge anyone with such information to contact me via email.)

To head up the unit, Smith brought in Erin Healey, a former junior assistant press secretary at the White House. (Healey has not replied to a phone call seeking comment; if she does, I’ll update this story.) She was reportedly hired as a contractor, and later given a political appointee position. Also reportedly working with the unit is Julie George, who formerly worked as deputy coalitions director for Rick Santorum’s losing senatorial re-election campaign in 2006. Curiously, Santorum was one of only two senators to vote against the confirmation of current defense secretary Robert Gates, who Santorum said was not “up to the task” of fighting terrorism. Another person reportedly involved with the operation is Jocelyn Webster, who formerly worked in the White House’s political operation for Sara Taylor, the Karl Rove aide who now finds herself in a bit of hot water.

Webster’s name has surfaced twice in investigations led by Congressman Henry Waxman, head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. First, she was found to be on the list of current and former White House officials who used political e-mail accounts provided by the Republican National Committee. Webster was also found to have used that e-mail account to send a message about the controversial briefing that her former boss, deputy White House political director J. Scott Jennings, gave to Lurita Doan and several dozen political appointees at the General Services Administration. The e-mail contained a copy of the slides Jennings used in the presentation and said, “Please do not e-mail this out or let people see it. It is a close hold, and we’re not supposed to be e-mailing it around.”

Healey may have some knowledge of defense matters, but she’s certainly no expert. Webster and George were described to me by one well-informed source as “very young with no background in national security or foreign affairs.” This person said that some defense officials have been “put off to say the least by these neophyte political appointees telling retired and active personnel in uniform what to say and what to think.”

All this is typical of the current dysfunction at public affairs under Smith, who has surrounded himself with inexperienced political staffers. An example came with the bungled announcement last month that Marine General Peter Pace would be replaced as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pace was widely liked within the military, and the mishandling of his departure–he was not reappointed to his position, and submitted his resignation only after Gates announced he would be replaced–did not sit well with many in the armed forces.

The irony here is that Gates has a far better relationship with the media than Rumsfeld, who treated journalists as the enemy. But with Smith running amok, Gates’s honeymoon with the media and with the military may be coming to an end.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
Giving Up the Ghost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Stories about past lives help explain this life — they promise a root structure beneath the inexplicable soil of what we see and live and know, what we offer one another.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:

Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.

An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today