Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More watchdogs needed

Generations of military officers who came along after the Vietnam War rejected the myth that the war was "lost" because of U.S. media reporting.

President Lyndon Johnson's inept micromanagement from the White House, which tied the hands of field commanders, was the cause, as the late Defense Secretary Robert McNamara belatedly confessed.

The impulse for managing war news survives, however. The military newspaper Stars & Stripes reports that a Washington public relations firm, The Rendon Group, has a Pentagon contract to examine whether reporters who want to embed with troops in Afghanistan have "positive," "negative" or "neutral" attitudes.

The Pentagon stoutly denies it wants to shape news by selecting reporters with "positive" attitudes. But in the next breath it admits it refused to accredit a Stars & Stripes reporter to a combat unit because the reporter refused to highlight good news demanded by a unit commander.

The Rendon Group is a master of shaping information, albeit false. It helped create the Iraqi National Congress, which misled Americans with the fiction that Iraq had doomsday weapons.

Some Pentagon official has a tin ear. This unknown bureaucrat is using a public relations firm that helped deceive the American public and Congress into a war to classify news reporters as cheerleaders or critics and thus assign them where they can best help the Pentagon image.

For an organization that tolerates billions of dollars in cost overruns and tried to hide horrific torture methods, the Pentagon needs more, not fewer, media watchdogs to report facts, not just what's "good news."

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