Posted by Thomas Nephew on March 5th, 2006
Last Tuesday I posted “The wheels off the bus go round and round,” juxtaposing four pieces of rather bad news for, variously, the Bush administration, military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hopes for stability in those countries. It wasn’t exactly my most painstakingly written and researched post ever — more a sort of combined “serves ‘em right,” “how about that,” and “oh my god” post that I concluded with “Problem is, it’s my bus, too.”
The first comment was a surprise; one Sergeant Gehlen dropped in from Tampa, Florida’s CENTCOM command — the folks in operational charge of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — to write:
My name is Sgt. Gehlen and I work for the USCENTCOM public affairs office. To find out what is really happening in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, visit our website at:
“CENTCOM’s reading my blog?!” I thought. I checked my sitemeter visit log, and sure enough, there was a visit from centcom.mil in Tampa, Florida. Judging by the referring page — at truthlaidbear.com, a blog ranking site — I guessed that Sergeant Gehlen had a busy day ahead of him scanning hundreds of other blogs for wrongthink regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom. At any rate, I replied, in part,
Your implication is that one or the other of the last 3 items linked in this post is somehow misrepresenting what’s really happening in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Which one? And how?
Although I’ve waited in vain for an answer from Sgt. Gehlen, my suspicion that my visit was part of a campaign has been confirmed. In a followup comment about the same post, Paul points to a March 2 American Forces Information Service article posted at defenselink.mil, CENTCOM Team Engages ‘Bloggers’:
Blogs sometimes include information — accurate and otherwise — about the U.S. military’s global war on terror. U.S. Central Command officials here took notice and created a team to engage these writers and their electronic information forums.
“The main interest is to drive their readers to our site,” Army Reserve Maj. Richard J. McNorton said. McNorton is CENTCOM’s chief of engagement operations. [...]
The team engages bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information. They extend a friendly invitation to all bloggers to visit the command’s Web site.
While I have little problem with the military blog team clearing up misconceptions or falsehoods, the really elastic phrase in the CENTCOM team’s mission is “bloggers who are posting incomplete information.” After all, that’s pretty much everyone, yet I have a hunch CENTCOM doesn’t bother to leave “hey, things aren’t all that great, find out what’s really going on” comments at, say, Roger Simon’s or Glenn Reynolds’ blogs — after all, what could they direct them to? Hard-hitting exposes of Bagram or Abu Ghraib torture policy? “Let the chips fall where they may” analyses of pre-war intelligence on Iraq or body armor supply problems?
Having left a comment, the team “engaging” bloggers has one simple rule of further engagement — don’t:
“We don’t go in there and get into a debate,” he said. And officials here are quick to point out that they are not policing Web sites. They are simply offering bloggers the opportunity to get raw information directly from the source.
And, of course, simply leaving behind the implication that I’m misleading people with my own post.
Paul’s comments about this are apt; while public affairs/relations have their place in the military, the “what’s really happening” line leaves “here’s our information resource” territory and enter[s] the world of advocacy and spin.” It invites the question of whether CENTCOM’s site actually shows “what’s really happening” any more than my particular selections of bad news did.