The Military-Media Relationship: A Dysfunctional Marriage' | Article | The United States Army
THE world over, the media and the military have never had an easy relationship. In Pakistan's case the issue is more than usually complicated. In addressing the military-media relationship in , we expanded our focus . the political battle among Iraqis over their political future; the con- tinuing war on . military/press relationship, explains how the story of the Iraq War was told through the use of .. Future media effects research could also examine if watching.
The embarrassing announcement comes after other instances in which the military has come under fire for misleading or withholding information from the press and public, most notably in the cases of the rescue of Jessica Lynch and allegations of prisoner abuse in AfghanistanIraqand Guantanamo Bay.
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I spoke to reporters and military analysts about what kind of impact these revelations have had on the relationship between the military and the press, and how each party views the other. There is a strongly held perception in the military — particularly the Army — that the media is doing the enemy's work. You guys are seen as the Jane Fondas of the Iraq war.
And so the military attitude is, 'why should we level with you, because you're going to screw us. Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that "the steady stream of errors [by the media] all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq. The token strike continued for a couple of weeks until an ISPR official regretted the incident.
This was not the only incident of its kind. Other incidents have ended in violence. This was followed by a three-month boycott by journalists, which ended after an army official visited the local press club to mend fences. Traditional interventions such as these as may work, but the security forces have yet to learn how to handle journalists professionally and responsibly. During the Iraq war, the US military embedded journalists in tactical units; the experiment was considered a success.
In reality, however, the US military came out smelling of roses mainly because embedded journalists had compromised their professionalism. Wide knowledge about the absence of weapons of mass destruction may well have changed the course of the war had the journalists been free. While the concept of embedded journalism is generally considered a black chapter in the history of the military-press relationship, it has firm foundations — though in a different vein — in Pakistan.
Selected groups of journalists are taken to the militancy-hit areas where they work in a controlled environment.
Ideas are not electrons that you can positively charge, and then measure the illuminating effect. I have sat with strategic effects officers who counted the number of so-called "positive" stories they have placed in Iraqi media as if that tally meant anything in the real world where content is suspect-and the supplier of that content even more so.
I spent five years in Moscow-although my wife marked the time as five winters-and so I have learned how citizens of a dictatorship, or of a former dictatorship like in Iraq today, distrust their local media. These tallies of so-called "positive" stories in Iraq are meaningless in the real world. You can't spread democratic values through means that are undemocratic. And if there are cases where, perhaps, such propaganda or deception is required to reach a specific tactical end endorsed by senior leaders, then it should be done by those people who operate under Title and not those in uniform who operate under Title In a world linked by Internet and satellite TV, tactical information operations downrange, even in enemy territory, will play to folks in Peoria in a few hours.
I admit, we're wrestling with all this We're finding it's like nailing Jello to a wall. There are some studies done that prove there is no silver bullet in this arena, and the quantification of "messaging" is certainly not a refined science. But the military is a culture where metrics are important, and there are some well-meaning individuals in our ranks who need a little more experience in strategic communication.
Fact is-and we in the military need to focus on this critical point-while information and public affairs are still called "non-lethal fires," we usually can't ensure they have timely or reliable effects.
You know, the chairman of the joint chiefs recently said that information is the critical realm of the future battlefield. Military leaders try to control all aspects of every fight, but the fact is, a message-centric battlefield is hardly manageable because it changes and the messages that are sent are so unreliable to read in the receiver. But this gets back to the point about our relationship, because as we-military and media-interact, our responsibility remains giving the most informed, best analyzed, and factual information to the public.
That's tough for us, because our profession has so many complications. What kind of "fixes" do you think are appropriate to help our relationship improve and help our marriage get beyond dysfunctional' Shanker: I can offer some rules of the road for this military-media relationship.
Maximum disclosure with minimum delay. When a question is asked, there are only three allowable answers: Or, as a very smart captain once told me: Once something bad has happened, you can never change that. All you have control over is how the public learns about it. Ever since the invasion of Iraq, senior officers like to speak of "the speed of war.
Yet your system for reporting information up the chain of command for release to the media is shackled by the rusty chains of the industrial age. I have been with your forces in contact with the enemy.
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I know that when you cover a war it covers you, and completely, and so I cannot expect a new directive for a squad leader to break contact just to file a press release.
And I know to distrust first reports. Even so, when it takes 8, 12, 16, or 20 hours for the military command or the Pentagon to comment-perhaps clarify, perhaps correct-reports from downrange on an incident that was broadcast live over satellite TV-well, you have surrendered several news cycles before your version of events is laid before the unblinking judgment of public opinion.
That time can never be recovered. Those first impressions may never change. The adversary responds faster with its statements, whether truth or falsehood. Absent your timely response-you lose.
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You raise some interesting points. I'll take a few for comment. First, you've only given me three allowable answers for any question, but I would contend there needs to be many, many more.
I certainly agree with you on always telling the truth, but often the truth is extremely complicated and reporters are usually looking for quick and easy answers that can be either written succinctly or pushed into a video sound bite. In war as old Carl Clausewitz said-even the simplest things are difficult. Those difficulties are not always understood immediately, and even if they are, they are hard to explain.
The Military-Media Relationship: A Dysfunctional Marriage'
If a reporter is willing to spend the time and discuss the implications of an event, most of us in the military are willing to expand on the story. In combat, time is a scarce resource. Along with this, I've seen an inherent lack of trust when senior military leaders attempt to provide answers to the press; I always get the impression you think we're trying to "spin" you.
I know that's sometimes the case, but I also know that many reporters are always looking for the "gotcha" moment when they can spin a story to cause more conflict. So speaking the truth-without all its complications-is sometimes something a soldier doesn't have time for, but reporters on deadline often discount. Second, the military maxim of "never believe a first report" is one that-with age and experience-I put increasing stock in.
Military commanders with any savvy will always allow even the most seemingly disastrous event to percolate. But the reporters seem to have a need for instantaneous gratification. So how do we fix this problem' Earned trust-on both sides-may be the only solution. You are absolutely right on the increasing ferocity and tempo of combat.
But you make a good point in that "first impressions never change. To us, that means getting whatever report to the press as accurate and informative as possible. Truthfully, I've been in organizations that have taken an inordinately long time to get our press releases out, and on several occasions it hurt the cause and frustrated me as a commander.
But no matter how hard we try, I don't ever think we will get those releases to you as fast as you would like them. We need to continue to address this in our relationship. Finally, our adversaries do often get information to the press, the TV, the Internet faster than we do.
That's because we have an enemy that is preplanning and entrapping, not "responding. But as you know, there's a difference between info ops and public affairs. We have to be truthful when we talk to the press; our enemies do not. I know that men and women in uniform justifiably rankle when media describe the armed services as a monolith, as if there is some "capital M" military.
Of course, there are different branches and, within each, different occupational specialties and so on. So tell me, please: Why do so many in the military criticize my profession as if there is a news monolith, a "capital M" media' We are different.
There is the big-time, mainstream media with vast resources to cover this building, to maintain large staffs in such places as Baghdad and Kabul, and to publish numerous stories every day on those missions. There are small-town outlets that depend on the wire services for their information from the front.
Some reporters have studied the military, some have not. TV has different needs. There is foreign media, and divided again between reporters from allies and those from more, shall we say, hostile capitals.
Then there are the blogs, where increasingly persuasive reporters show up for work at their kitchen tables in the standard uniform: T-shirt and boxer shorts. Just as you study an adversary, you must tell your subordinates in the field that they must strive to understand how different are the reporters in contact with you. And just as you conduct disciplined planning for possible contingencies, with branches and sequels for potential outcomes, you are not completing the planning process without doing the same for your media engagement.
As I became more experienced with the media, this is the one area that I realized needs Ph.