I’m on assignment, technically on break from blogging, but wanted to briefly comment on a post Wednesday by Noah Schactman at Danger Room. In it, Schactman said it took him “exactly 23 minutes to get Jason “Armchair Generalist” Sigger and Matt “Mountain Runner” Armstrong signed up” for the Pentagon’s blogger’s conference calls that I’ve been writing about. “And neither,” he adds, “is what you would call a fan of this administration.”
It’s great that Sigger and Armstrong will be joining in, because up until now, participants in the conference calls have been broadly sympathetic towards the Bush administration’s view of national security matters, and the conference calls have thus far served as a vehicle for the Pentagon to communicate with a largely friendly audience. But if the conference calls do in fact become a freewheeling forum, it would be contrary to the clearly defined original goals of the Pentagon public affairs office. As I’ve discussed in prior posts, the blogger calls are part of a broader program that is run largely by the administration’s political appointees. One of the memos I cited said the program would be “synchronize[d] . . . with the military and with policy.”
In focusing on the blogger calls I’ve unintentionally obscured components of the Pentagon’s program that are especially troubling: briefings for handpicked civilian defense and national security analysts, retired military officials, and others who are fed talking points and story lines that the administration wants to get out. Unlike with the blogger conference calls, there is apparently no public disclosure of who is taking part in those briefings and no transcripts of what transpires.
When the Pentagon opens up those components to public scrutiny, I’ll stop criticizing the program.