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.

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