Washington Babylon — April 20, 2008, 11:20 am

Return of the Pentagon’s Media Surrogates

The New York Times has a terrific piece today called “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand, which focused on how a Defense Department program worked with retired military officials and prepped them to serve as “military analysts.” The Pentagon program “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…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.’

I wrote a number of stories last year on the Pentagon’s “surrogates” program, which offered “briefings and support for handpicked civilian defense and national security analysts, pundits, bloggers, and others who, with a few token exceptions, reliably support the administration.” I cited an internal 2006 memorandum from the Defense Department, which said, “Because the stakes are so high, and the war on terror so urgent, we need to move fast on all fronts.” Furthermore, the memo said, the Pentagon would be “working closely with the new Strategic Communication Integration Group (SCIG) to synchronize our efforts with the military and with policy.” The program described by the Times today was clearly past of this broader effort.

After I wrote about the program, the Pentagon broadened the group participating in the “blogger roundtables” it organized and allowed for more ideological and political diversity. A number of the bloggers taking part criticized me and defended the roundtables as merely opportunities for them to meet and be briefed by senior military officials. Also, as the critics, noted, some of the bloggers taking part went on to write pieces critical of policy.

But as I noted at the time, the lion’s share of the coverage generated by the blogger calls was favorable to administration policy. “The list of bloggers who regularly participate in the conference calls is overwhelmingly conservative and friendly to the goals of the Bush Administration,” I wrote. “While they’re not public, I’m told that the lists of military analysts, pundits, and others working with the Pentagon are even more uniformly hawkish. [Note: This is precisely what the Times has now uncovered.]

And that’s the problem I have with the whole Pentagon P.R. project. The government is picking certain people as ‘surrogates’ to the exclusion of many others and feeding them news. These bloggers purport to broadly represent military and national security opinion, but there are plenty of military officials and conservatives who disagree with the administration’s policies in Iraq and elsewhere. With rare exceptions, those people are not invited to the Pentagon’s briefings.

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 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
New Television·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Season 5 of Louie (FX), Louie is a new kind of superhero. Like Wonder Woman, the canonical superhero he most resembles, Louie’s distinctive superpower is love.”
Illustration by Demetrios Psillos
Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.

In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today