Posted by Thomas Nephew on February 12th, 2007
“Blogs are CentCom’s new target,” writes William Levesque of the St. Petersburg Times; he contacted me for his story about the CENTCOM blog outreach effort that contacted me last year and that continues today. (CENTCOM stands for “Central Command” and is the Defense Department branch responsible for executing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other US military operations in that part of the world.)
Last February, a CENTCOM sergeant visited and very briefly commented about my post “The wheels off the bus go round and round“; that post quoted three mainstream press articles and one polling organization to the effect that things were not going swimmingly for the Bush administration in Iraq as far as the American people, soldiers in Iraq, or facts on the ground were concerned. I added the comment, “Problem is, it’s my bus too.” CENTCOM Sergeant Gehlen’s comment:
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:
I answered asking which item in my post he considered to be misrepresenting what was “really” happening, but never got a response — that goes beyond the team’s rules of engagement, according to a defenselink.mil story about the team. As Levesque reports,
“We don’t tell anyone, ‘You should or shouldn’t say that,’ ” Deiss said. “We stay in our lane.”
With terrorists using the Web as a tool, the military would be remiss if it didn’t also use it to counter misinformation, he said.
As I told Mr. Levesque, I think that this kind of CENTCOM activity “verges on propagandizing people,” which I think is a pretty questionable use of taxpayer dollars. CENTCOM sees it differently, of course:
CentCom officials deny that they are trying to spin anyone.
“With the proliferation of information today, if you’re not speaking to this forum, you’re not being heard by it,” [Colonel Matthew] McLaughlin said. “We don’t want to cede this information arena to anybody. We think we owe it to the American taxpayer.”
But as commenter Paul wrote at the time, “”what’s really happening” …[is] leaving “here’s our information resource” territory and entering the world of advocacy and spin.” As Tom Rosenstiel (“Project for Excellence in Journalism”) told Levesque:
“Americans have traditionally had a great reluctance letting the government get involved in the news business directly,” Rosenstiel said. “We’ve got a name for that. It’s propaganda.”
My post happened to be an nearly unadorned set of four news item quotes. It’s true that they were chosen to make a point that all did not seem to be well with respect to Iraq, but they were as much what was “really happening” as anything CENTCOM had to offer, and there was no reason to think reports of sectarian killings in Baghdad, an opinion survey of troops in Iraq, or the Bush administration’s standing at home were inaccurate — let alone a Defense Intelligence Agency report, even if it was characterized as “gloomy.”
While the example he gives to introduce the story may cause careless readers to think my post was as “patently untrue” as that one, Levesque’s article is useful and pretty fair, with only one minor inaccuracy (CENTCOM didn’t contact me by e-mail, but via a public comment to the blog post). Levesque presents several views, including mine and those of CENTCOM personnel, a journalist watchdog, and a pro-war blogger (Rosemary Welch, “DoD Daily News“). I thank him for reporting the story.
EDIT, 2/12: title changed from “blogger team” to “blog monitoring”; CENTCOM explained.
UPDATE, 2/15: The Project for Excellence in Journalism looks like an interesting site. Also, I’ve joined a discussion of the CENTCOM story at the St. Petersburg Times site. 2d comment there: “Any American that states anything negative about armed forces that are protecting them, should leave the country and go live in France, or Lebanon where the Islamic extremists kill people every day. Shut your mouth and be appreciative.” Sir, yes sir! (I mean ‘monsieur, oui monsieur!’) There are less, um, un-American points of view as well.