Vietnam forever changed the relationship between the military and the Mainstream Media. I think that the case can be made to some degree that the real issue is between various administrations, their Pentagon inhabitants, and the media…not between the media and the troops on the ground. But what happens in this food fight is that the cafeteria fare almost always ends up on the faces, and uniforms of the troops. (good references here…A Bright and Shining Lie, Dereliction of Duty, Once Upon a Distant War, The Best and the Brightest, The Pentagon Papers) And all the troops I know are pretty unforgiving when their uniform is stained by someone else’s careless behavior, or their reputation is smeared through careless and biased reporting. (Hugh Hewitt’s interview with LtGen Mattis makes the case here.)
This fissure, first noticed after ApBac in Vietnam, and widened irreparably by Walter Cronkite’s 1968 Tet reporting, has only festered since. The military has done its part…successful campaigns in Panama, Grenada, Desert Storm and the current war in Iraq. There have been setbacks, Iranian Hostage Rescue, Beirut (driven by political constraints of the day, see The Root by Eric Hammel ), the USS Cole, but-by-and large, the military has more than upheld its contract with the citizens of this country by responding superbly when tasked by the nation Command Authority.
Their reward?...continuous deriding and minimalization of their accomplishments by the MSM corps. The badgering of generals, the callous showing of soldiers and Marines dying at the hands of snipers, the blatant disregard for other metrics of success other than US casualty counts, only reinforces the utter disrespect and disdain that the MSM has for the military, and by extension…the troops in the field.
As a result of the MSM messaging, our field generals, and our troops are being portrayed as failing. I think this is an incorrect representation of what is happening…we are really losing the information war, and as with Vietnam, if we don’t adjust fire soon, we may lose the war in Iraq…a vital battle in the Global War on Terror.
Part of the problem is that the military doesn’t get that trying to deal with the MSM as partners will not work. Even the new Insurgency Field Manual (3-24) still expects the military forces to deal with the MSM as responsible parties…
“5-33. Good working relationships between counterinsurgent leaders and members of the U.S. media are in the Nation’s interest. Similar relationships can be established with international media sources. When they do not understand COIN efforts, U.S. media representatives portray the situation to the American public based on what they do know. Such reports can be incomplete, if not incorrect. Through professional relationships, military leaders can ensure U.S. citizens better understand what their military is doing in support of the Nation’s interests.
5-34. The media are ever present and influence perceptions of the COIN environment. Therefore, successful leaders engage the media, create positive relationships, and help the media tell the story. Operations security must always be maintained; however, security should not be used as an excuse to create a media blackout. In the absence of official information, some media representatives develop stories on their own that may be inaccurate and may not include the COIN force perspective. (See JP 3-61, FM 46-1, FM 3-61.1 for public affairs doctrine.)” (my emphasis)
Sorry…this is Mission Impossible IV. News flash…this is already happening through no fault of the dutiful military PA types. This is already occurring because of an agenda driven media, that is decidedly anti-Bush, then anti-war, and consequently anti-military. PAOs all over the military could run textbook FM 3-61.1 plays, and it would make no difference…it is time to change the playbook when it comes to Insurgency Information Warfare.
To do this we can use some of the techniques that we us in other forms of warfare.
By-pass strongholds of enemy opposition The MSM is a “dead” outlet for the military. Regardless of the hopeful encouragement above in paragraphs 5-33 and 5-34 to commanders and PAOs…the MSM needs to be cut off from military support in the theater. They are of no use, and they are only haggling and counter-messaging the provided information anyway.
By cutting them out of the pattern, you diminish their ability to claim to be “fair.” They are making things up anyway, by cutting off their information and access you publicly cut on their credibility…when they decide they can be fair, they can come back, until then take away their ability to claim to be impartial.
This cuts at the very essence of their existence, and their ability to compete in the information marketplace. Hit them in the pocketbook…they’ll come back, AND play nice. Anyone see the news on the Strib sale?
Establish Air/net Supremacy
The six O’clock news isn’t what it once was…how is Katie doing? Print media isn’t what it once was…anyone see the news on the Strib sale? Skip those, go to talk radio, go to the big blogs. These out outlets that friendly to the effort and will go a long way in letting the military get their information out.
Pay for theater insurance twenty more Michael Yons. Get your field commanders on the air with Hugh, Laura, Bill Bennett, Rush, etc. everyday, don’t just chum the waters once a week. This is the “media” in the new information age, not personality driven reporting and anchoring.
Quit caring what the MSM thinks, establish air/net dominance on talk radio and on the internet.
Prepare for Battle The obituaries for former President Ford that are finding their way into the papers and onto television today were not written last night. News agencies, papers, and networks have been assembling files so that a competent story could be written in a timely manner after his death. Good job, good planning.
Coincidentally, a few days ago the MSM took great pains to emphasize that the number of casualties in Iraq and now exceeded the number of casualties that we suffered in the World Trade Center Attacks on 9/11…as if there was some correlation or relevancy. Our military should have been prepared for that messaging. We knew it was coming…it is SOP for the lame, redundant MSM.
We know that the press/networks are numbers, date, coincidence driven in finding angles for their stories; we need to anticipate this and execute pre-emptive messaging and effective counter-messaging. We need to be proactive, and anticipate the MSM moves, so that we are either ahead of them with more effective messages, or able to cover their messages with effective themes and responses.
Yes, we need to counter attack the media when they are out of bounds. When they publish something false, we need to quit ignoring the issue, in the hopes that one day they will be nice to us…they will not…and fire back. We need to put young troopers in front of Ollie North and let them describe to America how CNN, AP, or CBS lied, or misrepresented a story. They need to be getting it back in spades from our generals and field commanders when they imply that we are failing…we need to point out where they are failing…press room composition data, objectivity, and published falsehoods.
It needs to be open warfare, until the MSM realizes that the American public will side with the troops, and the media will be diminished as the fourth rail. The MSM has been firing broadsides at the military for nearly forty years it is time to fight back.
Indeed this is the crux for our victory…this endeavor and our goals to win this intermediate objective in the GWOT, can be all but wiped out by another Walter Cronkite moment. We truly lost Vietnam through a MSM induced erosion of public support and will, and if we do not actively fight their tactics, we are on the precipice of losing in Iraq in exactly the same fashion. Fight back…they are not likely expecting it.
They need to be taken to the woodshed like the impudent child they are emulating.
The current, preeminent measure of success in Iraq is the media “body count.” Iraqi civilian or US military, it doesn’t matter. They keep that metric in the forefront every day. They are intentionally using that metric in an effort to erode support for President Bush and the war. We need to neutralize that as a metric. We need to become metric agile, and metric profuse.
But, before we go there we need to understand, that if we pick one or even just a few alternative metric(s), the enemy, because of our media’s complicity in undermining our effort, will target that/those metric(s). If we define a measure of success, then the enemy will do everything in their power to present to our media, that we are failing. Our media, because of their bias, will do everything in their power to present it to the American public.
Hence we need to be both metric profuse and metric agile. We need to develop dozens of “metrics” that help us define, not military victory, but movement towards a state of normality. These metrics could include GNP growth, unemployment, commercial airliner traffic, gross vehicular traffic, small business openings, construction projects completed, pedestrian traffic in commercial zones, internet address registrations, internet traffic, Iraqi blogs, etc., the more, the better. We need to overwhelm the current metric, and saturate the media with alternative metrics…metrics too numerous to count…too numerous for the insurgents to effectively target.
Essentially, strip them of their metric, substitute with our own, equally…possible more viable, metrics. And don’t let up. Use all outlets, all the time. Change and update frequently. Overwhelm their recourses and their ability to target.
It is time for our military to accept the fact that the media is working against us. Yes, they pretend they aren’t, and they posture behind the thinnest of guises, but they are actively trying to subvert the intentions of the President, and in doing so, “fighting” the military. It is time to fight back.
I am not talking about closing them down. I am talking about countering their methods and their messaging, and rendering their tactics harmless to our efforts. It can be done, and we should start by accepting that we no longer should be seeking their coverage as validation of our efforts or righteousness. They have gone beyond the pale, we no longer need them on our team, and in fact it is time to rid ourselves of them.
Then don’t look back.